One of the really great things about the WWW, as opposed to the Internet in general, is that the Web separates the concept of naming from everything else. A URL is bit of text that names a resource. You can type it. Except for some long URLs used by banks and in ecommerce, you can often even remember it. But most importantly, you can include the text in some other technology such as an email, an instant message, a calendar invite, a Web page, or even in a book or piece of paper. It can be sent and stored. The URL can be transmitted through this separate non-WWW media, and it still works on the other end.
When you name something, you have power over it. Like the dreidel mnemonic of the title, names help you to remember stuff. You can speak clearly about places and objects instead of just using misunderstood pronouns and long descriptions. And best of all, if you know something’s name, you can use it in casting a spell. (We call them programs.)
So a big part being able to work with virtual worlds, talk about them with other people, and use them in programs is to have a name – a URL that corresponds to each interesting thing about a virtual world.
Our Qwaq Forums virtual worlds can be hosted by us on our servers, or by the customer on their server. Each Forums user is a member of one or more organizations and can only visit the forums in the organizations that they are a member of. Finally, each forum is its own private virtual world. Most organization have a forum for each project.
So the first interesting thing is the host:
http://forums.qwaq.comfor worlds hosted by us.
The Web page at this address lists all your organizations and the recent activity among them. We have chosen to make all activity in Forums (even the Web pages) require authentication (login), so the list you get at that page (if you have an account) is different than the one I get. Also, all activity in Forums is encrypted in transit. On the Web, the way this is done is to use “https”. You may notice that if you visit your bank on the Web using a URL like
http://MyBankName, you find yourself redirected to
https://something-else/…. Forums does the same thing: you might start with something like
http://forums.qwaq.com, but it redirects you to something that use https, such as
The next interesting thing is the organization:
http://forums.qwaq.com/Acme-Metalsfor a fictitious company named Acme Metals.
Here you would find a list of all the forums used by this organization, and recent activity within those forums. In addition, there is a link back to the host, and a new thing: a special URL that launches the Forums client and puts you in the “lobby” for that organization. We use the term “QRL” for any URL that launches Qwaq Forums. I’ll discuss them more in another post.
The next interesting things is the forum:
Here you find recent activity for just this forum, a recent picture from inside the forum itself, and links back to the host and organization. The picture is actually a QRL link that takes you right into the forum. (I.e., you click on the picture to “dive in” to the place shown. Ever watch “Blue’s Clues”?)
We think of each forum as a resource like a Web page. There is a bit of Web technology called a “fragment” URL that scrolls you to particular named line on a Web page. We have something similar that refers to a particular named place within a forum:
These display specialized pages. The QRLs teleport you to directly to the specific location within the forum just as fragment URLs scroll you to a particular line. Other stuff I’ll describe later, along with more on what I mean by recent activity. My point for now is just to tell you how these names work.
All of this is intended to give us some nice characteristics:
- meaningful and obvious to read – You can often guess what you’ll find at such a URL by looking at its name.
- creatable by hand – You can often guess how to create one that you don’t know.
- citeable in other media – Since each host, org, forum, and place within a forum has a URL, it can be embedded in an email, IM, calendar invite, Web page, blog, wiki, and so forth.
- citeable in print – The URLs are human readable and more-or-less easily transcribable
- citeable by programs – We’ll see examples in later posts of how such names gives us something to use when casting spells.
- not demanding to use, but still useful — Following the link still requires authentication, but it does not require the Forums client. You need the Forums client to synchronously work with other people or live media – that’s what Forums is for. But you don’t need it to asynchronously work with the artifacts produced within Forums – that’s what Web browsers are for.
As a result of all this, you can safely send any of these kinds of Forums URLs to someone in email or embed them in, e.g., an extranet Web site, in order to refer to your virtual worlds or material from your virtual worlds. You don’t have to do anything to create the pages, you just use Forums and they get created for you automatically. The people visiting the pages do have to have permission to view them (a Forums account in your organization), but they do not have to have the Forums client unless they want to dive in-world. They don’t need to know anything except how to use a Web browser (and their login).
A lot of programs now recognize text of the form
http://… and automatically create a clickable link from it. This happens in email, IM, wikis, and office apps. However, a lot of these stop as soon as they reach a space. Web browsers replace spaces and other characters with special sequences of not-very-readable characters (e.g., %20 to represent a space) in process called “url-encoding”, but email, IM, wikis and such do not. Forums organizations, forums, and places are allowed to contain such troublesome characters. The Forums hosts will recognize url-encoded names, but they also recognize the obvious human readable versions. For example, they will recognize an underscore or hyphen as matching against any sequence of such troublesome characters.