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Separating Interface from Content - Why?

In March 2008, Multiverse, a virtual world foundation company, made headlines by announcing they had created multiple ways to view their product worlds. The choices were a traditional high-fidelity, computationally intensive, power guzzling and ultra-realistic 3D view, or a 2D flash-based view of the same environment, which showed the same elements and avatars, only from a raised, isometric viewpoint and squished into a 2D view before being sent to the client.

This allowed users with equipment that was either less than state of the art, or had a limited battery life, to continue to enjoy the same environment, interacting with their friends and colleagues within, for the price of drastically reduced immersion.

Separating content and interface into tro discrete entities is a good idea, as it frees the user from a single enforced usage paradigm.

Not everyone dreams of immersing totally within the virtual; casting off the physical body like yesterdays clothes, and embracing digital life. Not everyone desires a full-blown interface. It is undeniable that those who do desire it, do so for good reason, but choice is paramount in life and it should never be forced. Certainly not if you desire to keep paying customers.

Multiverse's idea was good, but in the months since, no-one else, at least, in the established platforms, has yet shown any interest in migrating to other platforms, show casting multiple views of the same virtual world. This is slightly silly, as to do so opens up so many possibilities. Here are just a few:

  • A busy businessperson can conduct a long-distance virtual presence meeting via the 3D virtual environment; using an avatar means they save time on bedhead,.make-up, or just generally not looking presentable in the early hours.

  • The same businessperson can use their WAP mobile phone to check up on events in the VR, whilst on the move - it can alert them if someone enters the sim office, and they can interact with say, potential clients.

  • A student on a low-end computer system can use the same VR as a high-spec gamer, with the interface scaling back for lower performance hardware.

  • Laptops can see different views than desktop machines, allowing the battery powered smaller cousins, longer battery life.

  • There is a lower learning curve for casual users, as they can use a minimalist interface that is not too confusing, and maybe upgrade later on.

  • It allows those who truly desire to go further, to customise the interface to their requirements, potentially bolting on additional non-standard hardware as the interface is a discrete entity from the VR.

The paradigm of separating content and interface is thus compelling, even from these few examples, as it allows true diversity in the user base, and potentially attracts uses to which it would not ordinarily be put.

Other than Multiverse, platforms currently considering this approach include Areae, Metaplace, Andromeda 3D, and Vivaty.

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