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.