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Tip of the Day
Language: DHTML
Expertise: Beginner
Mar 25, 1997

VRML displaying information on a Web site

Question:
Is there a site where VRML is being used to display information in a unique way?

Answer:
Yes, the most innovative site I have come across is that of Aereal Inc. This site and its linked site, Scott's Virtual Theme Park, presents a database of information on VRML sites using a mixture of VRML, Java and CGI scripts.

Aereal's creator is Adrian Scott. His declared aim is to help create cyberspace on the Internet by showing how it is possible to create virtual infrastructure. He also aims to produce dynamically generated sites, optimized for transmission over the Net, and with consideration for users with low-end machines; i.e. ones that use low polygon images. You can rely on finding experiments here, but you may not always recognize what they are. The first VRML 1.0 multi-user world was here, but you could only see other users as red cubes hopping about on the same set of stepping stones as your cube. This used CGI scripts linked to a database to track each user's position; a mouse click caused an update to be delivered to that user.

The Aereal site was the first corporate home world back in May '95 and its Virtual World Factory provided the first Web based authoring tools. I stopped by and wrote myself a purple cone many months ago. It didn't seem a lot at the time but it was a first, and each step is part of the development of VRML. A new improved subscription version of the Factory is coming soon.

Nowadays Adrian is working on integrating Java with VRML and using the combination to present information from databases for online commerce organizations. To search for a particular world there is Serch, a way to look for VRML locations using a VRML interface. Buildings of different types represent different types of information: a tent for fun things, commercial buildings for business links, a temple for sources of art and knowledge. Then there is a Java based VRML graphing device you can interact with and a beautiful animated graphic on the FAQ which again uses new Live3d extensions to VRML.

A novelty available on this site is the Aereal Phonts 3D Font set. You can use these fully three-dimensional, VRML displayable fonts to write a message or draw a picture as demonstrated by ProteinMan. You can then create a link to your creation from your own Web page. The HTML or VRML is kindly provided for you to copy. The image you create can also be used as a link to another Web-site.

At the moment these fonts are only available as this linkable toy, called "Instant Home World" as it is hosted by the Aereal server. The built in "tell your friends about it" feature clearly works; there are more than 8,000 members signed up for this particular make-it-yourself delight. A more elaborate subscription version is due that will allow users to modify their creations, use multiple colors and have other advanced features.

It is a quick task to download the instant worlds; the file sizes are only around the 4K mark. You are warned in advance that the process of visiting VRML worlds so painlessly can be addictive. It's true.

An even more impressive demonstration of VRML is BOOM, a random link generator that can connect a visitor to any of 1,000 VRML worlds (a world is a single VRML file).

After visiting the randomly chosen world you are asked to rate it, using a star system on a 3D rating device. As a world gets a higher rating it is more likely to appear. The top 10 worlds are displayed in ingenious VRML environments starting with ProteinMan's Top Ten. I liked the Valentine's Top Ten featuring a bird flying around in the cloud of hearts 3D scene (the animation is a new command "spin" from Live3d, the Netscape VRML browser). See which one is your favorite.

What's next on this site? I can only quote its creator, Adrian Scott: "I'm working on a new generation of stuff that will turn the whole Web into VRML." He's looking for development funding, so if you're interested take a look at: www.aereal.com.

Find out more about the Aereal team -- they're an impressive collection of VRML, Net, graphics and gaming pioneers.

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