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The Immersive Interface

Steve Dietz, November 1998
When an acquaintance first navigated the virtual reality modeling language (VRML) version of the interface to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, her knuckles whitened from her grip on the mouse and she asked if she could blow away the sculptures she didn't like.

In extensive user surveys about visitors' reactions to a VRML version of Darwin's Endeavour at the Museum of Natural History in London, a significant difference in interest was found between users under age 20 and everyone else, especially visitors over age 50. Younger users not only preferred the sense of control that VRML allowed--being able to navigate wherever you want at your own pace--but anything less bordered on the unacceptable.

Despite the obvious limitations of a technology like VRML--early on in the project, for instance, a decision was made not to try to depict the sculptures in the Garden realistically, with the majority of them represented by a generic marker and a small 2-D photographic image when the viewer gets close--one can also glimpse what it will mean to have immersive experiences online rather than framed views.

While this shift from seeing through the frame to being immersed in an environment is not a new desire, it is newly possible. When you take this tour through the VRML Garden, you'll see (feel) how it is more like walking through the Garden--without pretending to be a substitute--and less like surfing Web pages.

"The artisans of interface culture . . . have become some new fusion of artist and engineer--interfacers, cyberpunks, Web masters--charged with the epic task of representing our digital machines, making sense of information in its raw form."
Steven Johnson

Marek Walczak and Remo Campopiano, master artisans, created this elegant premonition of digital machines' ability to interface culture.