What's in a name?: Application Collaboration

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It has been hard to express the character of this new way of working through collaborative 3D virtual worlds. I’ve made lots of explorations of the many ideas, but two of the biggies have been that:

  1. Applications are shared by many people simultaneously. This does not mean just that one application program license can be used on many computers, or that copies of an application’s document can be passed around, although these are true. I think the unique thing is that the live combination of application/document can be used by many people simultaneously, as though looking over each other’s shoulder.
  2. Each person can use many applications simultaneously. This does not mean just that a user can switch between application windows on their own desktop, but rather that they can easily be arranged and used in a persistent context that is shared in real-time between users.

We call this “application collaboration” to distinguish it from other forms of collaboration that do not have this dual nature. I’m still wrestling with the term.

I think the above picture of today’s Forums gets at this very nicely. Below is a picture of Croquet from more than two years ago. It’s interesting to me that they are functionally equivalent, and yet today’s picture makes the point of application collaboration so much clearer in both picture and practice. (I showed the two pictures to my wife. She said it was my strength and my weakness that I could see that both were illustrating the same concept.)
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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. One of these days I’m going to have to get qwaq running so I can experience this. Last time I tried there were some proxy issues or some such, if I recall. . .

    It does sound intriguing, and the evidence is mounting that this kind of stuff is where the web is, indeed, going.

  2. The older picture does not illustrate the first point well at all. It is not obvious that there are multiple people involved, although it is quite clear that there are multiple applications. I would often prefer to present myself to other people in a virtual space as something other than a human figure just for fun, but it wouldn’t be clear in a static picture that I was in fact a human behind the avatar, but only by my avatar’s behavior. In my case one might not be able to tell at all. Ha ha.

  3. Indeed. David will already know this, but for the record, the blonde girl in the blue dress (Alice), the horse, snowman, and the purple dinosaur are all avatars for human users. The purpose dinosaur also has a video screen attached behind his head, with a Webcam (of myself) being displayed live. The black panels are a slide show, and the two white panels are live Web browsers. All of this is in in the shared 3D world that everyone sees. The text chat panel is shared by everyone in the space, but it is 2D and it’s placement and dimensions are under each individual user’s separate control.

    In the newer picture (on top), the avatars have labels that are billboarded to face each user in their own view of the 3D world. Everything else shown is in the same 3d world, including the live video, slide show, and Web browser. The pink note is a sticky note left by Joe in the 3D space.

  4. By the way, we have some rather impassioned debates about avatars at work. We currently offer a bunch of human ones in business or industry-specific attire, a simple cartoon balloon head (complete with dangling string), and our original lego-man looking cubist thingie on which you can attach still or video head shot and a chest badge. I’m a big fan of making the avatars obviously represent a human, but in an abstract way that looks really cool and distinguished from other users, but not necessarily at all realistic or like the human behind it. For better or worse however, our paying customers all absolutely want realistic-looking humans in business or industry-specific attire.

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