Guest Post from Cara Bonnett of Duke's Office of Information Technology:
Instead of clicking through a series of hyperlinked websites, imagine moving through a three-dimensional Web of interconnected virtual worlds.
That’s the idea behind OpenCobalt, a toolkit of open-source software in development at Duke.
The free toolkit allows developers to build and share their own virtual 3-D environments, interacting in real time via video and voice, with collaborative access to Web browsers, 3-D models and documents.
The current 2-D Web interface – a collection of hypertext “pages” on a “desktop” – was designed primarily for sharing text and simple graphics, not for facilitating deeper kinds of social interaction, according to Duke researcher Julian Lombardi, who demonstrated the OpenCobalt technology at Duke’s biweekly Tech and New Media Tuesday forum.
“Wonderful stuff can happen when you move away from the page metaphor,” said Lombardi, one of OpenCobalt’s architects and assistant vice president of Duke’s Office of Information Technology. “We’re living in a 3-D world. We need to interact with each other and with information in 3-D spaces.”
Commercial vendors of today’s virtual worlds – from Second Life to World of Warcraft – offer “walled garden” services, much as AOL, CompuServe and other Internet service providers did in the 1990s, with little incentive to leverage open community standards, Lombardi said.
Built using the earlier open-source Croquet platform, OpenCobalt provides a way to easily create and connect virtual worlds. It works on all platforms and relies on peer-to-peer architecture that doesn’t require dedicated servers.
In his demonstration, Lombardi used the technology to quickly create a virtual workspace, adding 3-D models, audio and video files, then moved into another virtual space created by one of his collaborators in California.
The OpenCobalt project – funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and two awards from the National Science Foundation – aims to build a viable, scalable infrastructure that supports the needs of education and research.
Developers can learn more about the project and download OpenCobalt at http://www.duke.edu/~julian/Cobalt/Home.html.
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