e-learning worlds are designed with elements of "fun" in mind). Outside of some reports that virtual worlds will replace web conferencing in the enterprise, we haven't seen a lot of innovation in this space which would make businesses sit up and take notice. However, that may be about to change thanks to new software that lets you perform data visualization and manipulation techniques within the virtual world environment.When you think of virtual worlds, the first one that probably pops into your head is Second Life, but in reality, there are a number of different virtual worlds out there. There are worlds for socializing, worlds for gaming, even worlds for e-learning. But one thing that most virtual worlds have in common is that they are places for play, not practicality. (Yes, even the
The software, Glasshouse by Green Phosphor, lets you take data from either a spreadsheet or database query and place a 3D representation of it into a virtual world environment where it can then be explored interactively. Users are inserted into the virtual world as an avatar which can then manipulate the visualization of the data by drilling down into it, re-sorting it, or even just spinning it around to see it from all angles.
The benefits to working with data in this way don't really need to be touted too much - many businesses already perform data visualization, often using expensive software and powerful computers to do so. What makes what Green Phosphor does so interesting is not that they've come up with a way to visualize data - it's that they've come up with a way to leverage the platforms of virtual worlds to do so.
How it Works: CICP (Think HTTP for Virtual Worlds)
Some of the company's solutions involve using a proprietary virtual world, "Glasshouse," for data visualization, but for Second Life, Sun's Wonderland, and other virtual world users, they've developed adapters that project graphs from Glasshouse into whichever virtual world you're using. The only requirement is that the virtual world be CICP-enabled.
CICP, or Content Injection and Control Protocol, was developed in-house by Green Phosphor CEO Ben Linquist and released to the public domain. The standard, cross-platform protocol essentially serves as HTTP for virtual worlds where it works as a communication mechanism that the Glasshouse gateway can use to generate temporary artifacts in the worlds. Already it has been added to Sun Wonderland and released under the GPL license there. It has also been implemented in Second Life with the help of a Java servlet and released under a BSD license. The company is currently working to add it to other virtual worlds, too.
Data Viz for Anyone: From Spreadsheets to Biotech
Depending on company size, there are three different levels of service available. First, a spreadsheet world lets you upload Excel spreadsheets that can then be visualized in a web interface. Next, there's a workgroup appliance that delivers data visualization and virtual conferencing needs to small or medium-sized businesses. And finally, enterprise solutions designed especially for virtual markets like bio-technology have also been developed as more customized solutions.
As Linquist explains in this YouTube video, the technology is even advanced enough to produce a virtual laboratory where researchers can perform model-based drug development.