Inventing the Future: the Croquet Generation

Older academics generally like Croquet demos, but they often give me the impression that they’re not quite sure what they’re looking at. We gave a demo this week to a young local reporter and she was much more enthusiastic. She wants to use it right now, as is. Julian tells me that anyone under 25 who sees Croquet goes nuts over it.

I was surprised. I assumed that younger folks would be jaded by video games. Our demos don’t have drop shadows or reflection. The fish world is not as cool as the one at the Boston Museum of Science. The avatars don’t walk and bend like the Sims. It’s a proof-of-concept, and the features and effects just aren’t like what you would find in a movie.

But I think people under 25 see Croquet and feel like it’s made for them. What school and office programs are really of their culture? Windows isn’t. (Maybe its for old farts that were too conservative to buy a Mac 20 years ago.) The closest thing to a mainstream generation Y app might be chat rooms, which are not rooms and you don’t actually chat, you type. Successfull, yes, but not exactly laden with Y culture.

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. I remember being at SIGCHI in Austin in, what, 1988 or so, when the term “Virtual Reality” was just coming into vogue. (Forgive me, I don’t recall who coined the term. But Google can tell you if you ask him.) Anyway, I remember what a radical context-shift it seemed to me and to many people there– and we were the so-called vanguard.

    I remember that the keynote speaker (Google?) pointed out that on the entire planet earth there were only about 2,000 people actively working on the human/computer interface, and that half of them were in the auditorium at that moment.

    It would certainly appear that we’re not in that Kansas anymore, and it’s clear that Croquet or something like it (ORSON the overmind?) will emerge. Certainly there are millions of young people around who have the mindset to contribute to its evolution now– as opposed to the few thousand of just a few years ago.

  2. I have a confession to make: I haven’t spoken to any CHI folks at all. Here we are, designing all this stuff with the power to transform how we work with computers, and I haven’t spoken to the experts. I don’t even know who the local experts are. There’s one guy in the next room I’ve been intendending to talk to…

    There’s a zillion technical features that we just generally think are “a good idea,” and I’ve been spending all my time trying to build, understand, and plan how to build them (in that order). No time to figure out what makes sense for users…

    Clearly that’s not right and we’ll have to redress, but as of 2/21/05, that’s the situation.

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