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Future Tense: Rebirth of Worlds

Rumilisoun in Lord of the Rings Online

Rumilisoun lecturing you at Elrond's Library in "Lord of the Rings Online."

Credit: William Sims Bainbridge

Build a digital library of pioneering virtual worlds as a living laboratory of history and social science.

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CACM Administrator

The following letter was published in the Letters to the Editor in the May 2011 CACM (
--CACM Administrator

The Future Tense essay "Rebirth of Worlds" (Dec. 2010) lamented the demise of historic, online interactive 3D destinations. Since 1997 when they first appeared on the Web, virtual worlds have inspired artists, engineers, and scientists alike to explore and build the emerging frontiers of cyberspace. As Rumilisoun (a.k.a William Sims Bainbridge) wrote, despite the wonderful destinations across entertainment, education, and community, we are left to ask, "How can I still get there?"

What came through clearly in "Rebirth of Worlds" is the author's nostalgia for the experience of those worlds their realities and possibilities. Such compelling emotional, perceptual, existential content may indeed be gone for good. Loss of an appealing game world is lamentable, but it is even more disheartening with engineering and scientific content, where we require the durability and reproducibility of our interactive 3D digital content models, behaviors, worlds, and scenarios for decades to come.

Enterprise-scale adopters, along with many others, also feel the pain of virtual-world babelization, as developing and maintaining innovative assets like worlds, avatars, and business logic across platforms become increasingly complex. Content models and network protocols are fragmented, making it difficult to create integrated information spaces and a compelling user experience. In the tumult of proprietary virtual-world technology, lack of reuse is a major obstacle to achieving improved efficiencies and economies of scale.

In the face of this market churn is a proven path for interactive 3D environments that includes royalty-free, extensible content models designed for the Web and semantic integration. Consumers and computer professionals alike should therefore demand and participate in the development of international standards needed to raise the greatest common denominator of future-proof 3D content.

Nicholas F. Polys
President, Web3D Consortium
Blacksburg, VA

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