Virtual Community Practice Toolkits Using 3D Imaging Technologies

The author lauds three-dimensional (no special definition: this pertains to "3D" visuals) as being aesthetically fascinating as well as a method for making an experience seem more "real" then a flat 2D image, and intends to consider the potential value of 3D technology to virtual communities.


The author describes some of the approaches to provide a 3D experience to users. Most commonly, a standard two-dimensional monitor is used to depict a 3D model by various techniques, such as perspective and shading, which have been in use for centuries (even paintings attempted to depict depth). While users have learned these conventions over time, and can recognize the ways in which a 2D rendering attempts to depict a 3D environment, the mimesis is still exceptionally artificial.

(EN: a good analogy can be made to flavor. The "lime" flavoring of candy tastes nothing like a real lime, but people who taste it identify it as lime, even if they have tasted a real lime and know it to be entirely different.)

3D imaging is applicable to an enormous range of things, since it is both useful and entertaining. The application of 3D has been thought in nearly any field of science, techniques, and arts. The three-dimensional representation of data is very much related to the human experience: The main sensor of a human being is its visual system, which is developed as a 3D-system. Nobody can really think in two dimensions. According to this, it is an essential fact, that in all sciences the models of the described objects are three-dimensional (3DTV - Potential applications, 2006). Therefore, 3D imaging is a huge effort since modern imaging methods are invented.

Another attempt to create a perception of depth involves the use of stereoscopic imagery - in effect, presenting a different image to each eye, whether they are projected onto a single plane and then separated (by use of 3D "goggles") or providing a separate image directly to each eye (such as the" view master" toy or a headset that provides separate monitors for each eye)

(EN: The author provides a list of some of the areas in which 3D imaging is being used - engineering, architecture, chemistry, e-commerce, entertainment, etc. - but this is all beside the point of the present article)


The author defines "virtual community" as a group of people who regularly interact with one another in a defined virtual space, and suggests that 3D imaging can be helpful in making the experience "fuller." The remainder of this section provides examples of ways in which 3D technology has been used to enhance online interaction.

(EN: I draw a distinction here between the concept of "interaction" and "community." By the examples he gives, I have the sense that his approach is to present multi-user applications rather than virtual communities - which may be of interest, but isn't entirely analogous).

One project the author describes is "VR Labs," which created a graphical representation fo a laboratory to enable high school students to conduct experiments in physics and chemistry in a safe and cost-effective manner (as opposed to having a 'real" lab in the school). This system was used both for modeling experiments (students would view a 3D "animation" in which the action was scripted) as well as using mouse and keyboard to manipulate objects within a simulated laboratory environment and witness the outcome of their actions. While only one person at a time could interact with the virtual lab, others were able to witness their interactions, and communicate via a chat option.

(EN: to nitpick, this is not really interaction in a virtual community setting, nor is it clear whether the students were able to freely interact with the model or were put "on rails" to step through the experiment, nor is it reported whether this had a positive impact on their understanding of the subject matter. It's a neat gimmick, but there's insufficient detail to assert that it provides any value.)

VR Theater is a productivity suite that has applications for a number of theater professionals (set designer, costumer, director, choreographer, actor, etc.) who work cooperatively to put on a performance. The author goes through a fair amount of capabilities description (various people can create scenery, lighting effects, avatars in costume, marry it to a timeline to show motion and sound effects, etc.), and the overall impression I take is of a storyboarding tool with some added features to envision the scene.

(EN: Again, interesting capabilities, but not really a "community" experience, but a tool used by multiple people to collaborate, much as an artist, typographer, writer, and editor can collaborate in a page layout tool to produce a book.)

Another example of 3D technology is found in archaeology, where a 3D model can be created from photographs taken from various angles, such that a user can move about in the environment or even manipulate it using mouse-and-keyboard or a haptic (glove) interface. It is noted that, in recent years, technology has become quite good at creating 3D models from 2D photographs.

(EN: I'm skipping his other examples - an application that enables people to see wildfires on a #D map, the development of 3D "tours" of remote locations or museum exhibits, and the ability of customers to interact with models of physical merchandise. All of it is very keen, and the technology has dramatically improved in recent years, but none of it has anything to do with the topic of virtual community.)


The author forecasts the evolution of 3D technologies to the point where individuals can interact in 3D, much as they may presently do in a teleconference, but in a shared environment in which they interact with the 'tele-presence" of others.

Various prototypes have been developed, though there are still significant problems to solve, such as balancing the "realism" of the scene against the amount of data that must be managed, interacting in real time through devices that are less cumbersome and artificial, etc.


The author concludes that there is "great interest" in 3D presentation technologies and much work in flight to improve upon their capabilities. He suggests that the inclusion of 3D technologies in virtual community "appears to be very important" to creating a richer experience for the users by creating an environment that better mimics real life and "engages all the senses"

(EN: This chapter has been a lemon - touring of some of the "gee whiz" ideas for using 3D, barely tied to the topic of virtual community. I would not dispute that there is value for 3D technologies to enable individuals to interact in ways that the traditional media do not facilitate, but the author describes things that are more along the lines of productivity applications rather than virtual communities. And while technology may evolve to the point where it can provide the same quality of "virtual reality" as sci-fi novels suggest, I'm dubious of its ability to add real value to virtual communities. In most virtual communities, real-time interaction in chat is less used than time-shifted communications such as bulletin boards and member-to-member messaging, and I don't have the sense that it's because of the text nature of the medium. "Enhanced" chat environments such as Palace and Second Life were faddish and short-lived, and unless the 3D developers can provide something of genuine value, I expect VR chat may head in the same direction - though I would concede that they are presently working on basic functionality and, once they have that licked, they may be able to refocus their efforts on something other than mimesis that would constitute a valid value-add for virtual communities.)