Flatland and Open Source, Mike Powers Speaks

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You have not joined the Web3D consortium....why not? and how would you like to see the Consortium change?

Joining the consortium has been expensive and has also seemed inhospitable to companies that are not developing VRML or X3D solutions. 3DML is an attempt to develop a parallel format to X3D that enable people with limited knowledge of 3D or 3D tools to make interesting places on the Web. Neither X3D or VRML address this concern. I would love to see the BLOCK format extended to enable X3D descriptions of building blocks. I would also love to have Flatland involved in the consortium. I think the way forward is for the consortium to change it's perspective to embrace all the 3D web activities going on and foster them. It is now fairly clear that a single all purpose Web 3D format is not the way to go. The consortium should be more like SourceForge in it's support of Web 3D (SourceForge is an opensource support site). The consortium should also be pragmatic about developing smaller 3D format and tool initiatives that meet the needs of the various companies involved in Web 3D - for instance by developing an XML interchange format for 3D model data.

What would you like to see the next version of VRML do that it's not doing now?

I would like to turn this question on its head. I don't think extending VRML is the way forward. I think we need various (smaller) formats and tools that solve specific problems. Look at what is happening around XML for the browser and server systems - there are all kinds of specific formats that are coming out of IBM, Microsoft and much smaller companies. The consortium should support the development of many complimentary formats for Web 3D tech.

You have placed a high emphasis on ease of authoring, what has been your experience with novices?

We have had great success with novices using 3DML. Just take a look at the directory on the flatland.com site and you will these hundreds if not thousands of sites by newbies to 3D. In that regard 3DML is doing exactly what it set out to do, lower the barrier to entry for new 3D builders. Who doesn't know how to build a house out of Lego block pieces? That is what we are offering in the 3DML format.

Do people really like to use the Web based authoring tool?

First timers do, but after that they drop it. One 3DML fan made a standalone builder in Visual Basic that is much more useful (you can get this on the flatland site as well). I would say that a standard text editor is the most used authoring method currently. Since a single letter represents a building block you can basically draw a 3DML spot in your text editor.

So how can people contribute to the 3DML opensource effort?

What the effort needs most now are engineers who either understand 3D engine technologies or XML development. If you are an engineer and interested you can go pick up the source from the 3dml.org site. I would also ask that you email me with the area you are interested in developing so we can have an idea of who is doing what to extend the code. We have been accepted as a SourceForge project and that will be live soon with forums and CVS tool support. Write to me for the address (pow@flatland.com). If you are not a programmer but have ideas on how to extend the BLOCK or 3DML formats, check on the 3dml site for the discussion forums and offer your suggestions!

You point out that there is not going to be any "one" 3D standard for the Web, but how are content authors then going to create 3D content that will be viewable by a reasonably large audience?

I believe that 3D is more expressive and flexible than 2D documents. In the 2D arena HTML became the standard base format for the Web. There are many document needs that HTML does not meet: scientific papers, 2D animation, professional layouts. These needs have been met by other formats such as Adobe PDF and Macromedia Flash. I believe the same will happen with 3D, there will be some base format or formats that the majority of users with have present on their systems and then other supporting formats for things things the base format does not do well. The problem that I see with the one universal format push over the last five years has been that it has to encompass need of smaller audience groups, for instance the community that requires scientific visualization measurement accuracy for molecular imagery. A web game developer or a commerce store creator could care less about this level of accuracy.

Do you folks have any interest in developing content or technology for delivery platforms other then the Web, such as set top boxes or game consoles?

Sony should be looking for a simple XML format to build a 3D browser into their system - they just can't compete as yet another 2D browser, it is a waste of their platform. They should take the lead as the 3D platform of choice for the Web. I think the Sony Playstation II is a perfect platform for 3DML. It is the right architecture for the PII since the building blocks could be stored at ultra high res to take advantage of the local PII hardware and the bandwidth would be retained for layout, audio, graphics and video content. The core engine for 3DML would have to be performance upgraded to take advantage of PII performance. But to answer the question, yes, we are very interested indeed.

Thanks for all the great info Mike and good luck!

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