with 3-D objects and characters online or using 3-D
graphics in Internet-based communications might not be
commonplace just yet, but if the Web3D Consortium gets
its way, that's going to change fast.
One of the group's most recent missions is framing
3-D technology less as an academic pursuit and more as a
practical application for the Web.
"Our concern is that the work we do would be useful
to commercial companies and not just a topic of
discussion among technical people and professors," says
Sandy Ressler, vice president of the San Ramon,
Calif.-based Web3D Consortium and project manager at the
National Institute of Standards and Technology,
until now, 3-D on the Web has been used sparingly, with
most applications based on proprietary technology,
Visual Net could stir up business for
solution providers, as it allows users to explore
large, strategic networks through 3-D
"There are lots of interesting tools out there for
3-D rendering online, but they're not user-friendly,"
says Ressler. "These technologies are fairly good at
what they do, but they exist in a fragile way. You have
to install a plug-in or other piece of software, and
sometimes it doesn't work once you install it."
Companies that offer their own flavor of Web 3-D
technology include, among others, Viewpoint, Shout3D and
Pulse Entertainment. Ressler says more than 40 such
developers exist globally.
The Consortium, the principal group responsible for
virtual reality modeling language (VRML) and its
continuing evolution, aims to establish an open industry
standard for Web 3-D.
The next official release of VRML, due out within six
months or so, will consist of X3D technology, which
Web-enables VRML by wrapping XML around it, Ressler
"The first generation of VRML never caught on because
there wasn't a wide enough selection of high-quality
software to support it," says Tim Bray, CEO of
Antarcti.ca Systems, which rolled out its debut product,
Visual Net, last month. The situation has improved
considerably since then, he adds. "It'll be pretty easy
for us [today] to slip in support for the next version
of VRML once it's available," Bray says.
Visual Net showcases one of the more novel
applications of Web 3-D technology: representing
corporate networks, extranets and the Internet as 3-D
The product allows users to explore networks through
3-D visualizations. A Web search on a particular topic,
for example, might yield a map of a region where
buildings, representing sites, sit on platforms
representing subject categories. Other enhancements,
such as three-dimensional direction arrows and in-page
keyboard representations, may be added in the future,
The surging interest in 3-D implementations online
may also lead to additional business opportunities for
solution providers, sources say.
"We want to sell Visual Net to companies with big,
strategic networks, and those people generally work with
integrators to build their infrastructures," says Bray.
"This product is certainly a quicker install than [those
of large companies such as] SAP or Oracle, but it will
require a certain amount of work in designing the look
and feel of a customer's map and working out update
By the looks of things, Web-based 3-D technology has
enough of an idea about its role in the future of the
commercial Internet to definitely go the way of
Last month, Britney Brands teamed with Los
Angeles-based iToymaker.com and 3-D technology developer
Pulse to develop entertainment programming for Britney
Spears. In an effort to give additional exposure to her
official Web site that was relaunched last month, the
teen pop idol unveiled her 3-D alter-ego, slated to make
big-screen appearances at upcoming concerts.
Rumors about further integration of the 3-D
technology are flying rampant, with some sources
claiming that a 3-D voice-enabled version of Jeeves (as
in AskJeeves) is on the way, and others suggesting that
a number of companies,the Sharper Image, for one,are
collecting evidence of how 3-D content has increased
A number of applications already exist that offer
individual users, vendors and solution providers a
glimpse into what's possible in a Web 3-D world.
"If you're buying concert tickets online, certain
venues offer a 3-D look at the stadium," says Ressler.
"Seeing products in three dimensions works sometimes for
product demos and sales, too. At nike.com, you can view
some of the sneakers in 3-D," he says.
While some sources remain skeptical about the
practical application of 3-D online, others view a
multidimensional Web as the wave of the future.
"Our goal is not to promote VRML or X3D as the only
way of doing 3-D on the Web. It's to help build the 3-D
industry and encourage its growth," says Ressler.