3D interfaces have been around since the Web began - and more than one dot com fell by the wayside partly because of an over-reaching 3D interface (cough, boo.com). Indeed as we noted in December, virtual shopping malls are still alive and kicking. But is 3D of any use on the Web, or is it just another cool novelty feature?
3D does have some real world use and there are 3D software companies emerging that are proving very profitable. As Glen (comment #4) pointed out in our December post, 3D has its place in enabling in-depth views of products. In fact a New Zealand company is making waves doing just that. Right Hemisphere sells Product Graphics Management software, that allows people to view products in either 2D or 3D. This has many uses, from marketing to education to product documentation. Also Right Hemisphere technology is used in Adobe Acrobat, for 3D technical documents.
Example of Right Hemisphere 3D usage
3D is undoubtedly proving useful and popular with Second Life and other virtual worlds. Also Robb (comment #8) in our December post pointed to the MOJI Intelligent Messenger - which features 3D artificial life forms, within an Instant Messenger that combines AI and computational linguistics. With game playing or social communications, 3D could prove to be a winning feature - because if done right it enhances the user experience. 3D photos and photo effects also seems to be a nice value add.
Emergence Media noted in response to our December post, 3B has built a virtual mall in Second Life - featuring affiliate stores by the likes of Amazon.com, eBay, Old Navy, Delia’s and Barnes & Nobles. 3B was a company that caught my eye at the Web 2.0 Summit last November. At that time it was promoting its use as a social networking tool, which is kind of what Second Life is anyway.The jury is still out on virtual shopping malls though, although they may actually work inside an existing 3D world such as Second Life. As
What about other practical uses of 3D, such as 3D Digg (which just makes me dizzy) or in search, as noted today by Google Blogoscoped. Web statistics software VisitorVille 3D is another one. While all of these are undoubtedly cool, it's questionable whether they add much in the way of practical value. Having said that, Microsoft is exploring 3D interfaces as its next generation of search. In November, I had a chat with Microsoft executives Steve Berkowitz and Christopher Payne about their new 3D version of Virtual Earth. As I noted then, Microsoft is positioning Virtual Earth as "the beginning of the 3D Web" - a quote from Steve Lawler (General Manager, Virtual Earth Business Unit) during the launch of Virtual Earth.
So all in all, right now 3D interfaces seem best suited to virtual worlds like Second Life - and things that complement that (like 3B's shopping inside SL). But 3D undoubtedly has its uses in product management, as Right Hemisphere is proving. Also I think 3D has its place as a value add for communications and photos. Where 3D is not quite ready for prime time is with general browsing things like search, shopping on the Web, and services like Digg. I have a feeling the time will come when those things are commonplace, but could be a few more years yet. What do you think?