Home 3D Interfaces on the Web – Useful or Novelty?

3D Interfaces on the Web – Useful or Novelty?

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
, 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
, 3D has its place in enabling in-depth views of products. In fact a New Zealand
company is making waves doing just that. Right
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.

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
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.

What about other practical uses of 3D, such as 3D
(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
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


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?

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