Re: WEB : Mapping out communal cyberspace

Brian Behlendorf (
Thu, 16 Jun 1994 01:07:03 +0000 (GMT)

On Tue, 14 Jun 1994, Mark Waks wrote:
> Brian writes:
> >This topic (grand unified shared coordinate space vs. local coordinates
> >only) is one which sparked a lot of, er, conversation between Mark
> >and I at WWW'94. Mark has his CP proposal embedded in his papers on
> >VRML, but he and I have both agreed that the development of VRML must
> >come about totally independent of the development of the Cyberspace
> >Protocol. This topic should be revisited, in my opinion, after we have
> >achieved the first level of a distributed VRML system.
> Can it be? Maybe I'm being dense, but it seems to me that navigation
> is integral to the concept, and probably needs to be integral to the
> language. I'm not clear on how one can really accomplish anything
> *without* at least rudimentary navigation. And this question seems
> to cut to the heart of navigation -- if the language permits a
> web-like mode of navigation (where any scene can point to any
> arbitrary other scene), then you're never going to *get* a unified
> coordinate space.

I'm going to indulge in this at length for one post, mainly to show
why I don't think a shared 3-d registered coordinate space for all of
cyberspace is needed. Mark, forgive me. :) A CP mailing list/work
group might be called for, but here's why CP and VRML can (MUST) be
separate entities.

Look at it this way - we already have an addressing scheme for the
net, and that's IP numbers. Now, IP numbers are, for most intents
and purposes, random - Wired's subdomain is 140.174.72., so you know
every IP address starting with those 24 bits belongs to Wired. 140.174
is (one of?) the Class B subdomains for The Little Garden, which is
where we get our feed from. So, everyone under that shares a common
IP server, TLG, but *semantically* we don't share much more than that.
Now, all the machines under 140.*... who are they? ANYone. So
essentially, IP-number space isn't semantically meaningful. could be light-years different from

Now, I understand the CP proposal (the Labyrinth groups' proposal
for a shared 3-d address space) to essentially be the same as
IP-number space, with many times more bits for aligning yourself.
The argument was made that the main benefit for this is that items
which are semantically linked together could be positioned near
one another, and thus "traveling" from one subject to another would
take you across the spectrum of concepts and ideas encompassed between
those two subjects. This sounds great, really - and while the shared
system makes sense from a scalability point of view, it just doesn't
seem to stand up to a pragmatic view.

Say, for example, NCSA is the first group to register their address,
and goes to coordinate 0,0,0. Now, surely there will be other companies
who want to be hip and will try and align themselves with NCSA, so
links at 0,1,0, 1,0,0, 0,0,1, etc. are made. Now, do these links
have volume in 3-space? Either answer is sure to create problems -
if yes, then it could be very easy for one competitor to subsume another;
if the answer is no, then we have lost one of the key points of CP,
which was that objects in cyberspace would be represented by whatever
they wanted to look like - Mark's paper has Wired's web site in the
shape of a banana. :) Who will do the link/object registration? Who
will decide how much cyberspace an object can contain? Who will
resolve property disputes? Will ghettos be created? Will there be
stratification? See, what I *love* about the web now is that everyone
is an equal - it is as easy/difficult for me to access Joe Blow's
World Wide Web Site as it is NCSA's. In the CP proposal, it could be
VERY hard to get that same level of even-playing-level feel, even with

The issue of navigation is no closer to being solved, and it's
basically because it's very difficult (Gavin, you claim impossible -
references?) to create a complete n-dimensional semantic map. The
Dewey decimal system was a one-dimensional attempt, and it works, more
or less, mostly the latter, but should not be a model for us.
Navigational tools which are coming out of the WWW effort will help us
here - web robots that wonder the web looking for certain semantic
files at servers are used in a couple cases, and looking up stuff in
the databases they create can be amazingly efficient. The WWW
community is also hashing out ways to express semantics in HTML files,
going beyond keywords and into structural comments and typeifying
text. We should observe these as ways to improve the navigational
abilities, but I don't see them as crucial at this point. Putting
everything into 3-d space is NOT going to make it more navigable (only
worse, in my mind). Let private universes come about, and if
people want to make them shared spaces, let that develop naturally.

Okay, sorry for the detour. Back to VRML...