Of UI and Narratives

There were some comments to a previous entry that I thought were worth calling attention to all by themselves. The general theme of these was that of user interface and how the role of media in storytelling can inform the design of new UI paradigms. Highly appropriate for Brie.

So I’m moving those comments here. I want to keep the original page for the my attempt to define the heart of Croquet independently of UI, applications, and software distributions.

Darius wrote:

I think that some more insights along this line of thinking can be gleaned from Janet Murray’s “Hamlet on the Holodeck – The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace”.
One needs to understand first that most of communication, advertising, education, etc. is in some form of narrative, not disjointed facts without context.

Her premise: the physical properties of the technology of the medium defines the form, many customs, and much culture of the narrative.

Her summary of the 4 physical properties that will mold Croquet type environments:

1. Encyclopedic knowledge source
2. Rerunable, consistent rule base
3. 3D sense of place
4. Collaboration

It’s the “Encyclopedic” that Croquet is missing.

Croquet’s Achilles’ heel will be the temptation for too much integration at a very, very fine granular level and the disruption that could bring. For example, imagine all the MMOGs mashed together into one game, including the rules and art all mashed together. Or, if you think the web is messy, imagine if it was not combined at, navigated at, and visual graphic designed at the page level of granularity but at the word and sentence level of granularity.

Maybe insights might be gleaned from the 8 W’s of education that Croquet can fulfill better than the web or other tech:
Watching (Exploring)
Wondering (Questioning)
Webbing (Searching)
Wiggling (Evaluating)
Weaving (Synthesizing)
Wrapping (Creating)
Waving (Communicating)
Wishing (Assessing)


I wrote:

Wow, HOH gets a bookmark. John, ya gotta check out Darius’ first link, above.

However, while I think this is all relevent to Croquet, I think you’re talking about a higher level thing than I am. Are you not talking about the media: the applications and the culture built on the technology? HoH and MMOGs and Learning Environments are analagous to novels, maps, textbooks, menus, or maybe (stretching it?) to books at large.

On this page, I want to think about the underlying enabling technology. More like the idea of page numbers, the printing press, moveable type, and libraries.

Yes, the applications are where the action will be, and many of my blogs are about things on that level. But I’m sort of calling a “time out” to look at the foundation.

Now, I could be misinterpreting. For example, I’m taking it for granted that, like the Web, the technology for indicating collaborations (my success factor 1.1) is world-wide, and that encyclopedic search and out-of-band cache can be built on top. Indeed, I want to avoid putting too much “integration” into the lowest levels of infrastructure.

John wrote:

I’ve been working on one of my rather rare longer essays for wetmachine.

It’s called:

“Cultural Anthropology”

it’s right down this alley. I’ll see if I can finish it over the weekend (and then maybe also work on that thing I’ve been promising Harold for the last 1 year. . ..

Darius wrote:
At the level of user interface and concept representation widgets…

That’s what this post is about:

Murray goes into the mechanical details of such an environment herself in her book. Please scan the book if you can. I only quoted her summary.

“Narrative” may sound high level, but the movie industry has tools that break it up into more mechanical pieces, including the mechanics of perception and information by implication. (It’s scarier what you don’t see, but think is there.) Some examples should be found in their vocabulary. In Croquet, you’re not talking about “pages” but “act 1, scene 3”.

The “Matrix” movie method of selection in VR in a white room many users can relate too, but has its flaws.

“Narrative” is a cognitive way our minds think, analyze, prioritize, remember, create and communicate labels that evolve the language, create identities, and role play for intellectual and emotional needs.

This day in age, with a mobile, active youth that moves in groups with longer range mobility not attached to the 3D PC, I think we must create Croquet with a mind to remote access. This would be via telephony on cell phones in combinations with IM as well as Croquet’s current total immersion. Sometimes you’ll need to just call/IM your avatar from time to time. Access will be high density relevant information packed snapshots of the Croquet world sent to the cell phone.

Augmented Reality should be a strong consideration too.

I fear that the Dynapad has already become too heavy before its creation, unless it can be rolled up or folded into one’s clothes.

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. There’s some beautiful stuff about Jeff Raskin’s Archie interface (aka The Humane Interface, THE, and ZUI) at http://rchi.raskincenter.or

    Gosh this sounds like Brie. Holy Cow, I’m so excited:

    Instead of overlapping windows, you zoom in and out to individual objects. Instead of links, you have instances of the actual objects (perhaps just very small). More generally, you manipulate objects directly, rather than through text or graphical proxies. Of course, in Croquet zooming in and out is synonymous with moving your camera closer or farther from the object in virtual space, so it’s that much more “real.”

    The ideas also have the meta-medium idea that you get to combine separately developed active content. No windows means no borders between applications. You can mix and match. “Applications” consist of objects and commands added to your repertoire, not a separate set of windows. You don’t save, because everything’s persistent. With persistence and direct manipulation, you don’t need filenames and save dialogs and other junk that’s only meaningful to the computer and not part of what you’re trying to accomplish.

    And there’s even the idea that applications don’t have modes and their owns sets of commands and gestures, but that it’s shared by all in the interface. David Smith’s task/interactor concept has the mini-mode/state and the commands be shared by all application objects using the same interactor, lets you have multiple interactors (i.e., multiple UIs) in a scene, and lets you share interactors (i.e., share state and UI) between people working collaboratively. Brie combines all these ideas.

  2. I forgot to share a little narrative about the CITRIS Gallery Builder (http://www.citris-uc.org/ho…). This is a very cool proof-of-concept application for collaboratively building virtual museums. The resulting museum is then collaborative, so you’ve got the whole shared experience thing going.

    The first attempt at this had a “2D mode” for building walls, and a separate “3D mode” for walking around in the result. But they dropped the idea. I assume that it was too disorienting to switch between the two modes. Instead, you’re always in 3D, but can easily change your viewpoint from “first person shooter” through “bird’s eye view”. (I’ve seen the same in a game called “Rome: Total War.” Maybe this is not uncommon in games.) In the gallery builder, you can also make the walls retract down into the floor, which makes it that much easier to see the layout when you’re positioned somewhere less than directly overhead.

    The point is that rather than separate modes, with separate commands, you have a single command set and a single mode – you just zoom between different (3d) point’s of view.

Comments are closed