Controlling Time: What Have We Made?

Previous: Demoed

In 2003, two of the world’s top computer scientists introduced their latest project: Croquet. David Reed and Alan Kay proposed a radical model for making computers work together on the Internet. With co-authors David Smith and Andreas Raab (old profile!), they developed the ideas over the next three years in conjunction with teams at HP, Intel, the Japanese National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, Viewpoints Research Institute, and the Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Teleplace was formed in late 2005 (originally named Qwaq) to transform this research into a practical commercial system.

And the results are in.

Today’s commercial Teleplace product has created a virtual world that provides true connectivity and workplace collaboration. It does so solidly, and resiliently. It reconnects and recovers automatically after network interruption. Users can come and go without interrupting others.

Indeed, Teleplace may be one of the only systems in the world in which multiple apps and live media can be shared among multiple users using high quality voice. It is certainly the only one to securely do so across mixed standard-grade networks and computers.

The iPhone and iPad versions are probably the only mobile systems with multi-person audio and user-chosen viewpoint. (Try to find anyone else doing even a single live video in one direction over cellular!)

You would think Teleplace would be hard to use, but it isn’t. Some folks just take right to it, while some need a little intro from another user. Most feel it is easier to use than a wiki, or a conference/presentation system, or a media player/recorder, or an IM system, and yet it does all of these in one system.

But maybe the most gratifying part is that it is fun.

All of the contributors combined from all institutions involved never exceeded 40 people. Meanwhile, Cisco has spent billions of dollars to do just some of this. (That’s billions with a “b”.) How did we do it?

Because in 2003, David Reed and Alan Kay had figured out how to control time.

It is a trick, and it is very powerful.

Next: Weapons of Math Destruction

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. Fascinating. So why aren’t we all using it? If it’s so much better than all the other telepresence and collaboration tools, why hasn’t it taken over the world? Speaking as someone who spends way too much of his time sitting in corporate videoconference sessions, and sharing my Mac desktop using Adobe Connect, I’m really curious….

  2. What makes you think we’re not taking over the world?

    OK, I have my own ideas on why it hasn’t happened yet and I’ll add those after this series concludes in three more entries.

    In the mean time, I’d like to know why YOU feel we are not already even more widely used.

Comments are closed