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3 Dimensional Websites: Coming Soon?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

With the recent launch of Google Lively, in addition to the already established ExitReality, it looks like the three dimensional world has begun its invasion of the two dimensional browser space… or has it? Is 3D really the future of web design?

What are they?

They are both small downloads that allow you to use your internet browser to enter a virtual 3D space. However, these two plug-ins take two very different approaches to dealing with 3D: while ExitReality allows you to view any existing website in a 3D space, a Google Lively environment must be created before it can be viewed.

Both applications are still betas and therefore a little ropey around the edges, and still ironing out bugs. Here is one quick review of ExitReality, and this video gives you an introduction to Google Lively:

The ability of ExitReality to turn ANY existing website into a 3D space is ExitReality’s biggest selling point and gives it a potentially crucial headstart. This feature opens up the whole Internet to a 3D ExitReality experience. Google Lively, on the other hand, requires a sufficient uptake of users willing to create 3D environments before there are many 3D environments to visit. This is no doubt Google’s intention: a gradual increase in websites offering Google Lively spaces, leading to increased incentive for users to download the plug-in, leading to more growth etc. And with the financial and marketing powerhouse of Google’s name behind it, it stands a good chance of succeeding.

Will either of these pioneering programs prevail? At the root of this question is another more fundamental one: do 3D websites have any advantage over 2D websites?

Benefits of 3D

Familiarity with our real world
The closer computers get to emulating the real world, the easier they will be to handle. At times, the ability to provide a 3D environment will make possible some online tasks and improve the ease of others.
Allows “face-to-face” interaction with visitors
When browsing a website with others, interaction with other visitors is limited to, at best, a list of names. With these plug-ins, visitors can “see” other visitors as other avatars, and over time the level of interactivity will increase.
Potential for commercial use
A 3D environment in programs such as Second Life, has already made possible conferences and meetings. While a separate program such as Second Life is a burden to download and learn, a 3D environment incorporated in a browser will make it easier to use as a tool, allowing e.g. online business meetings, educational opportunities
Greater opportunities for design and communication with visitors
Rather than being limited to a two-dimensional canvas, designers are able to create objects, textures and other elements of a 3 dimensional world. This freedom allows far greater opportunities to effectively convey the message of a website, and can enormously improve usability.

Problems with 3D

Unnecessary complexity
Often a user does not want the added functionality of a 3D world to navigate, they just want to “get in and get out”, e.g. read a news article. A 3D world requires greater bandwidth, and processing power and for a simple site will not improve ease of navigation.
If you visit a website, you do not necessarily want to be seen by other visitors, or interact with them.
2D does not transform easily into 3D
While ExitReality makes great efforts to convert the 2D world into 3D, there are real problems in doing so. Good website design involves the careful alignment of page elements, such as headers, content boxes, sidebars, buttons etc., to communicate effectively with an audience. If an automated application tries to convert these, something is always lost.

What does the future hold?

There is a sort of inevitability to 3D. It’s been a long time coming, but it has long been a holy grail for technologists, and we are seeing it mature with more and more films being made in 3D. Looking at these two latest offerings, there is still some way to go before a 3D website is a stable option for any company, but this is a technology in its infancy, and future changes will bring better results. As many aspects of computer technology develop exponentially, we can expect to see this sooner rather than later.

However, whether or not all websites will adopt 3D interfaces is another question altogether, due to the diverse goals of different websites. A more likely scenario is that some websites, e.g. social websites such as Facebook, will be early adopters, while others websites will remain flat and 2D for a good time to come.

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9 Responses to “3 Dimensional Websites: Coming Soon?”

  1. Aleister Kronos Says:

    An interesting thing about 3D virtual environments is that, for the most part, they don’t actually benefit from a familiarity with the real world. While this seems counter-intuitive perhaps, it is a widely observed feature - and one I have recognised myself. I think the difference lies in the disconnect between actually moving in the real world - and using a mouse and keyboard to move (something I mercifully don’t need to use in the real world!).

    However, it is certainly true that anyone who has ever played an immersive computer game - regardless of the platform - will find the 3D virtual worlds familiar. And the numbers of such people are now enormous!

  2. Rob Says:

    I agree with you that the 3D web isn’t really a stable option for a company to use as their only resource for customers on the web. The web 2.0 standard has a strong hold on this already. Sites slowly offering a 3D interface is similar to cars being offered the option of a mixed ethanol fuel, something new may take a while to sink in as some type norm for the web.

    A good example that websites may not change no matter what their competitors or other sites are doing is Google. Google could make their search more fancy like Yahoo or Cuil, but they’ve kept their default look to the simple interface they’ve had for years.

  3. Real Free Websites Says:

    Very good point. The interface for interacting with a 3D world is something that will have to change to really bridge that gap between real and virtual.

    I see what you’re saying with your analogy with ethanol-powered cars, but I think it’s a bit misleading, as adding ethanol fuel support does not fundamentally change the experience of using the car; adding 3D to a website does.

    Yes, agreed: I doubt Google will be switching to 3D! Flash is a good example of an additional feature that is useful for some websites, but not at all relevant to others.

  4. Rob Says:

    You’re right it can be misleading. I guess I was leading more towards design/development of a website more than the user experience. I could build a website in 3D, but are most of my customers/visitors going to want to use 3D or have to use 3D? Somewhat like having the option of ethanol fuel, are most of my customers using it, or do they even want to use it? Some countries offer it at their gas stations, but not in America (from what I’ve seen), and some countries even consider selling only ethanol fuel in a few years. OK I won’t get anymore off topic :)

    Bottom line: Would we ever be a 3D only web? yikes! probably not.

  5. Real Free Websites Says:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    And good luck with Google Lively!

  6. Rob Says:

    lol, anytime. Thanks!

  7. Real Free Websites Says:

    Or should that be Google-Lively? :)

  8. Skinny Ties Says:

    You have inspired me. Thank you very much. Good luck with your site

  9. ps Says:

    Well, let me emphasize something - the adoption of 3d websites will be more for fancy (or rather fanciful reasons) and less for utility. How many websites in 2.0 you see with flash, and all? Hardly any, except those of major companies like Nkia, samsung etc, whose designers donot really want interactivity, but just a singel one way channel - zooming from their side to the consumers.
    The sd site will not come easy, and not come good - the simplicity, and utility last longer in the technology world than baseless additions.

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