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Inhabited Infomation Spaces:
Living with your data

David N.Snowdon, Elizabeth F. Churchill & Emmanuel Frécon (eds)




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We have divided the chapters in this volume into a number of broad areas, although observations made by the authors often cross across these areas. The areas are pure virtual environments; mixed reality; communication oriented systems and applications; construction; and community. Below we describe the contents of each part of the book, the detailed contents is here

Pure virtual environments

Stenius and Snowdon, in their chapter 'WWW3D and the Web Planetarium' describe the WWW3D 3D web browser, and how it turns browsing the web into exploration of a 3D space. The chapter describes the initial version of WWW3D and describes how it evolved into the Web Planetarium. Not only is the Web Planetarium more aesthetically pleasing and more scalable than WWW3D, but in this incarnation it also has been re-purposed to serve as a gateway between 3D environments.

Pettifer describes the Placeworld system, and its implementation in the Deva virtual environment. Placeworld was inspired by Jeffrey Shaw's artwork "The Legible City" and, like the Web Planetarium, aims to provide a connection between virtual spaces. The chapter describes the series of user trials that led to the final Placeworld design and how the Deva system is used to create a high performance virtual environment that implements the Placeworld design. This chapter also gives some insight into some of the issues that must be tackled to implement large scale IIS and CVE systems efficiently and serves as an appetiser for topics covered in more depth in the Construction section of this book.

The final chapter in this section is Wallberg and Stahl's, who use a pond metaphor for information visualisation and exploration. The Pond is a system that allows people to browse collections of multimedia data, such as music albums. The interface is presented in the form of a large back projected display on a table surface allowing several people to gather around it and use it collaboratively.

Mixed Reality Environments

Chalmers, in his chapter entitled "City: A mixture of old and new media", argues that one of the problems with "traditional" CVE systems is that they are disconnected from the physical environment and from other media (for a review of CVE systems see Churchill, Snowdon and Munro, 2001). He calls for an approach in which there is an explicit linking between different media, where people are considered to inhabit the 'real' (physical) world, not the virtual, and have a number of media both "old" and "new" available to them. The chapter presents an experiment where visitors experience a gallery via different media - one by physically experiencing it, one via the web and one via an immersive 3D VR environment. All three are able to communicate via an audio link and are given awareness of the locations and actions of the others. The chapter presents the results of this experiment and the ways in which the participants used the features of the technology to interact and share their experiences.

Brooks describes the Soundscapes system, which allows unencumbered interaction with visual and auditory systems projected into the physical world. This work illustrates a different form of information system, an auditory one, and offers an example of a mixed reality system and example applications are covered including therapeutic use and public artistic performances.

In the next chapter, Plaza illustrates the computational interplay of physical space and information space. Drives within mobile computing push computers further "into" the physical world (see also mark Weiser's vision for ubiquitous computing, Weiser, 1991). In order to design tools that are context sensitive and not inappropriately intrusive, it has been argued that such devices need to be 'aware' of the activities of their users. This chapter describes the approach used in the COMRIS project in which wearable computers were linked with an information space composed of agents who attempt to find information useful to a person at a given moment.


Bullock describes human-human communication via the medium of an IIS, considering design issues in the development of virtual conferencing. He makes the points that, for an IIS to function effectively, all technological elements need to work in concert. With video conferencing as a backdrop, Bullock explores opportunities and pitfalls of using IIS for mediated communication.

Fraser and Hindmarsh in their chapter "Getting the Picture: Enhancing Avatar Representations in Collaborative Virtual Environments" discuss how humanoid avatars are the mostly widely used type of avatar in VR systems. They note that, although the avatars have humanoid forms they don't have human-like perceptual abilities within the virtual worlds - the data that are relayed back to people from their avatar as prosthesis-in-the-virtual-world is in fact often misleading. This chapter examines some of the problems inherent in using different forms of avatar, and the problems this poses for collaboration in IIS. The authors describe some extensions the authors have made in an attempt to rectify some of the problems they have encountered.

Bowers and Jää-Aro describe some new ideas on navigation and view control that have been inspired by cultural applications This chapter describes the lessons learnt from a number of public VR and mixed-reality performances. The authors discuss what they learn in terms of the content of performances, the pacing the means given to participants to navigate within the space. An important issue addressed is how such performances can be made accessible to non-interactive audiences who can only see a TV-like rendering of the event.

Prinz et al consider how to present awareness of the activities of others for better support of collaborative work. This chapter describes the TOWER (Theatre of Work Enabling Relationships) system which provides a number of mechanisms to communicate awareness information to members of a work group both via 3D displays and also via Smartmaps integrated with the BSCW document management system. Smartmaps are 2D displays based upon the tree-map visualisation technique. The TOWER world is an automatically constructed 3D environment that represents both users and documents and indicates the actions that users are taking with respect to the documents via symbolic actions and gestures performed by the avatars. DocuDrama allows 3D presentations of the past actions taken by members of a project team as a sort of 3D virtual theatre in which avatars look and turn towards one another to enhance the impression of an ongoing conversation and camera navigation is carefully controlled in order to generate an interesting presentation. Finally small simple robots were employed in order to give a tangible presentation of the activities of other users.


Frecon's chapter introduces readers to DIVE, a programming environment for prototyping IIS. The DIVE CVE system is described, with a focus on the mechanisms it provides to allow developers to rapidly develop VR applications, including IIS. DIVE provides several different APIs and mechanisms for creating dynamic 3D content thereby allowing developers to choose the combination that works best for them. The chapter concludes with a number of examples that show how significant applications have been built using DIVE. DIVE is one of the oldest and most mature VR systems and the current version is the result of many years of experience; both the Web Planetarium and Pond systems are built in DIVE. Readers are urged to read these three chapters (2, 4 and 12) to fully understand what is possible with a mature VR system.

Roberts considers communication Architectures for IIS, describing the most important networking issues that need to be faced when trying to construct distributed IIS systems. He also details some of the techniques that can be used to create an illusion of a shared space in the face of delays caused by communications technology. A number of different CVE systems are described in order to give concrete examples of the techniques described in the earlier part of the chapter.


Robinson's chapter deals with peer-to-peer networks and communities. Robinson argues that the concept of peer-to-peer and notions of community are heavily interdependent, and that the design of IIS would benefit by focusing more closely on community as the organising principle of peer-to-peer. The author first considers the early days of research into computer supported cooperative work (CSCW), analyses the metaphor of community and how it relates to electronically mediated communication, and draws parallels with the current state of peer-to-peer systems today.

Smith and Burkhalter move away from what might be considered a true IIS this chapter to explore how the availability of social accounting data can help the auto-regulation of online-communities. The authors consider Usenet news but the principles could just as well be applied to other systems. The intent of this chapter is to show how similar information might be used to help CVE-based communities such as those being created by ( if they ever reach the scale of communities such as Usenet.

Inhabited Information Spaces: Living with your data

  • Contents

  • List of contributors

  • Acknowledgements

  • Foreword by Jakub Wejchert
  • Part 1 Introduction
    • 1. Inhabited Information Spaces: An Introduction
      Elizabeth Churchill, Dave Snowdon and Emmanuel Frécon
  • Part 2 Pure Virtual Environments
    • 2. WWW3D and the Web Planetarium
      Mårten Stenius, Dave Snowdon
    • 3. PlaceWorld, and the Evolution of Electronic Landscapes
      Steve Pettifer, Jon Cook, and James Marsh
    • 4. Using a pond metaphor for information visualisation and exploration
      Olov Ståhl, Anders Wallberg
  • Part 3 Mixed Reality Environments
    • 5. City: A Mixture of Old and New Media
      Matthew Chalmers
    • 6. Soundscapes
      Tony Brooks
    • 7. The computational interplay of physical space and information space
      Enric Plaza
  • Part 4 Communication
    • 8. Communicating in an IIS - Virtual Conferencing
      Adrian Bullock
    • 9. Getting the Picture: Enhancing Avatar Representations in Collaborative Virtual Environments
      Mike Fraser, Jon Hindmarsh, Steve Benford and Christian Heath
    • 10. New Ideas on Navigation and View Control Inspired by Cultural Applications
      Kai-Mikael Jää-Aro, John Bowers
    • 11. Presenting activity information in an inhabited information space
      Wolfgang Prinz, Uta Pankoke-Babatz, Wolfgang Gräther, Tom Gross, Sabine Kolvenbach, Leonie Schäfer
  • Part 5 Construction
    • 12. DIVE - A programming architecture for the prototyping of IIS
      Emmanuel Frécon
    • 13. Communication Infrastructures for Inhabited Information Spaces
      David Roberts
  • Part 6 Community
    • 14. Peer-to-Peer Networks and Communities
      Mike Robinson
    • 15. Inhabitant's uses and reactions to Usenet social accounting data
      Byron Burkhalter and Marc Smith
  • References

  • Subject index