Sense of Place

I think we normally speak of work being done “in Powerpoint,” “in Word,” and so forth. This morning I looked at a transcript of people discussing virtual worlds while in one. The words “Qwaq” and “Forums” appear once each. The word “here” appears 49 times. We are finally getting to the point of having discussion about the results, not the technology. The program itself disappears, in just the same same way as we usually discuss being “at a Web-site” rather than “in Firefox” or “in Safari.” (Internet Explorer users may indeed reflect their tool’s relative intrusion by thinking of their activity as being “in IE” more often.)

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Multi-Bandwidth

A number of folks here have independently started to plan conferences in which Croquet would be used for presentation and interaction during the conference, and would continue after the physical conference ended. I think there’s a good reason that people want to do this.

Face-to-face meetings and conferences are very high-bandwidth encounters, but do not persist well.

Sharing ideas by publishing (e.g., papers in a professional journal) has excellent persistence, but is extremely low bandwidth.

Croquet is multi-bandwidth.
< %image(20060507-multi.jpg|875|556|Four users spontaneously discussing a slide presentation, and sharing other resources such as a Web site and search engine. One user is presenting live video.)%>

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Brie Demos

I gave a demo of Brie at the OOPSLA Croquet workshop in October, and Julian gave one a couple weeks ago at C5. Alas, no video, but the Brie papers are here and here.

This terrific video of the Alternate Reality Kit was made at Xerox PARC in 1987. So, of course, it’s not actually Brie, but it does give a lot of the feel of what we’re going for. There are a few UI differences and the ARK is only 2D, but the main thing is that Brie is synchronously collaborative, and therefore eminently shareable.

Another related thing (without a cool video) was PARC’s Thing Lab.

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communication modes

My wife is getting frustrated with the medium as she constantly checks for the latest in the raging debate in her favorite mailing-list. Meanwhile, writers and researchers lament the loss of the art and practice of writing letters.

There’s no spec for Croquet. Although the architects have mature experience and good taste in evaluating technologies for what does and doesn’t work, I don’t think they set out to achieve a particular set of characteristics. Yet one of the things that appeals to me about Croquet is the characteristic that it is agnostic about what mode of communication works best: Synchronous like face-to-face conversation and chat, or asynchronous like email or a handwritten letter; Seemingly anonymous like most of the Web and multi-player games, or full of social cues like voice and video communication. Croquet is equally facile at all.(*)

But what works best? When? In what ways? My boss, Julian, has been bringing together a very interesting group of educators and scientists as initial users of a Croquet Collaboratory that we are building. Although they come at it from perspectives that range as far as art, public health, and games, I think they are all vitally interested in this issue. By having a single medium that provides all – a meta-medium – they can study group interactions and observe how different communication techniques affect outcomes.

(*) I’m not quite sure what it says that I’m comfortable saying this, even though the effectiveness of both persistence and naturalistic voice and video have only been suggested in demonstrations, rather than proven in practice. Is it vision, confidence, or faith among the developers, or naiveté and the academic environment?

Inventing the Future: electronic discourse done right

Maybe we don’t have to choose between persistence and spontaneity, between synchronous and asynchronous.

Consider threaded blogs vs live chat. The former has a permanent record and structure, and people can collaborate asynchronously, but lacks spontaneous give and take. The latter is spontaneous, but lacks permanence (unless someone saves a transcript, and manages their collection of transcripts, and the sharing of same with others). But do these have to be different mechanisms? Maybe we can have everything with a single interface, so people don’t have to choose?

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Inventing the Future: Jasmine release

Croquet is still being designed. Personally, I’d like to see something useable this summer, but that remains to be seen.

There is a “developer’s version” available now, called Jasmine, but there’s some confusion as to what Jasmine is in relation to the real thing. I’m going to try to straighten that out here.

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