Criticisms towards 3D VR in 1998

Kaplan, F., McIntyre, A., Numaoka, C. & Tajan, S. (1998). Growing virtual communities in 3D meeting spaces , Proceedings of the First International Conference on Virtual Worlds, pp. 286 - 297. The paper describes essential or desirable features needed for community formation in "3D virtual world systems" and discusses how the requirements are met in existing text-based and 3D environments. IMO the paper, though old, is still relevant when it comes to criticizing different dimensions:

An attractive 3D interface is assumed to be sufficient to encourage the emergence of a community. (...) The promotion of 3D virtual world systems for this use appears to be motivated by the assumption that the ’familiarity’ of the world – with its physical spaces and embodied avatars – will make it more accessible and intimate than more abstract environments. (...) is the ’meeting place’ model of community necessarily the most appropriate one for exploiting the potential of 3D virtual worlds? If we adopt this model, what can the 3D world contribute in terms of improved interaction quality which can justify the extra cost of the client? Are there other techniques we could also use to promote community-building in our virtual worlds?

The paper goes on by identifying "some essential or desirable features needed for community formation – Identity, Expression, Building, Persistence and Focus of Interest". For each of them, it criticizes how the virtual worlds available in 1998 perform and propose improvements. Though the problems they raise have been solved (identity or building are now well taken care of), some are still present:

"Expression support in 3D virtual worlds is problematic. Gestures and facial expressions are often exaggerated, and do not necessarily map well to different avatar types (if your avatar is a fish, how do you convey surprise or happiness?). Moreover, it appears that users do not easily mix text and graphics. (...) observation suggests that users are likely to be more tolerant of the limitations of a tool if they have a valid external reason for using it. If we want people to use our 3D virtual worlds instead of the simpler, swifter channel of IRC, we need to look for applications in which the use of a 3D virtual world provides an added value, rather than merely an encumbrance. Finding suitable applications is a wide-open research area. One possibility would be to move away from the ’meeting space’ model towards the ’role-adopting’ model, and use the power of the 3D world to create a compelling context for interactions"

Why do I blog this? gathering some elements for a presentation about the evolution of 3D digital worlds (to provide some context for a seminar about SL). The last point about ’meeting space’ versus ’role-adopting’ model is quite relevant (see WoW versus SL... although Habbo works pretty well with that model).