Re: Some Questions About VRML

Anthony Parisi (
Sun, 26 Mar 1995 12:56:02 -0500

Justin -

Thanks for this message. It's an excellent restatement of the original
goals of the VRML working group. It also reflects a viewpoint that is
shared by the Community Company: to create cyberspace is to tend a garden,
*not* build a gothic cathedral. Today we plant seeds. Tomorrow we care for
the garden. Soon-- but not before the proper time-- we reap the harvest.

I would recommend to anyone who is not clear on the goals of this list to
check out the digests of back mail, and to have a second look at the web
site. Since last summer we have been working on agreed-upon goals which
emerged from discussions last spring. As VRML 1.0 takes root we will gain
experience from which we can develop goals and working strategies for
version 2.0. We may find that our direction changes at that time. If so,
so be it. Until then, I would like to see us move forward according to=

Tony Parisi
General Partner,
The Community Company
>Len asks:
>>1. What is VRML for? "bringing VR to the masses" isn't too=7F
>>specific. DOOM, 3-D Dinosaurs, Myst, et al. do that at the level
>>the masses care about such things.
>Far as I'm concerned, the answer is straightforward: cyberspace. My
>interest grows out of the simple observation (which I think I and a
>zillion other people made simultaneously a year or so ago) that the
>Web + VR =3D cyberspace. Of course, it probably won't come out
>resembling the common media version much, but I still think it has
>some *very* intriguing possibilities for changing the way we view the
>Net (and, indeed, all communications-oriented media).
>No, I don't have a clear idea of where it's going to go. On the other
>hand, nobody had the *foggiest* notion of where HTML was going to
>take us, either. I mean, you write:
>>Tim Berners-Lee had a task and a user
>>base in mind: researchers communicating across the Internet.
>And while that was the real user base, HTML was a nice little
>curiosity. Then came Mosaic, and *boom* -- it revolutionized the
>Net (and I mean that *quite* literally; the Net is a very different
>place than it was even a year ago, for better and worse).
>This strikes me as another likely "steam-engine time" technology,
>one where we're only going to really understand the potential when
>we can get it out onto peoples' desks and let them play. I *suspect*
>that it's going to be pretty revolutionary as well (although probably
>slower to catch on, since it's more resource-intensive in every way
>than HTML). We'll see.
>Anyway, this is why I care particularly about getting prototypes out
>there *now*; we're really not going to understand what we need until
>people start screwing with it. Yes, this opens us up to the sort of
>developmental chaos that HTML has gone through (and continues to go
>through), but I'd rather a little chaos than being stifled by
>attempts to get it perfect upfront...
>>2. Who will use VRML? Programmers or VRAuthors?
>Ultimately, scene builders. I think it unlikely that, after about the
>second generation, anyone but serious hackers are going to program in
>raw VRML. It's useful to have it be comprehensible, so that hackers
>*can* work in the guts, but I take it as an article of faith that 95%
>of all developers are going to work in higer-level tools pretty quickly...
>>3. How complex can a VRML simulation become? If the PC
>>environment is your target, will VRML be too simple for
>>the industrial designer and too difficult for Joe Homepage?
>>Where is its niche in the scale of systems?
>I expect this to evolve upwards; I'd expect us to start with simple
>simulations, and gradually increase in directions as the "market"
>>4. What will VRML apps be used for? Touring a museum
>>is great. Looking around the space shuttle is great. Using
>>VR as an interface to find a file ain't so great. Like the ancient
>>debate over GUIs and command line prompts, it was always
>>easy to show that for efficiency, entering whereis and
>>cd was a lot better than click_on_icon_that_might_be_it and
>>explore_next_set_of_icons. Hieroglyphs and ideograms
>>are poor ways to express complex concepts over time.
>>That is how text came into being.
>Yes and no. There is considerable potential in VR worlds for
>making things simple, by relating them ever-more-accurately to
>the real world. This, I think, is where the media version of
>VR is basically rubbish. While I suspect there will be some
>cool innovations, I'd say that it's a good bet that most real
>VR will look a *lot* like the real world.
>Comparing it to old GUIs is misleading. The early GUIs weren't used
>much because they *were* far harder to use than simple text. But
>that's gradually been evolving away, as designers start to
>understand the "ergonomics" of a good GUI, and develop systems
>that are more and more intuitive to the average user. The DWIM
>factor of the average GUI (that is, the level to which is just
>does the right thing when you click somewhere) has been increasing
>quite steadily. I've been finding, over the past few years, that
>the current GUIs *are* awfully nice for many tasks. (This from a
>long-time keyboard snob.)
>Similarly, I expect the early VR systems to have a relatively low
>utility, and be basically toys, like the early Macintoshi. But
>that *will* evolve away, as people learn how to use the content-rich
>environment to make tasks intuitive. I really believe, deep in my
>gut, that an interface that is closer to the real world will be
>faster to grasp and use for most people, once we understand which
>real-world limits deserve to be overcome...
>Ultimately, there's an element of faith here. I suspect that what
>we're putting together here is going to be nothing more than a cool
>toy for a year or two, as we internalize the lessons we're learning.
>Sooner or later, though, I suspect we're going to start finding
>applications for which it really works nicely...
> -- Justin
>Random Quote du Jour:
>"(cosmologists, after all, undergo years of training so that they can say=
> things like `When the universe was the size of a grapefruit' without=20
> blushing or laughing)"
> -- The Economist