Worlds Challenge

MEHopper / Worlds / Challenge

A key goal of Mary Hopper’s career has been to create 3D interfaces to large bodies of content that enable truly spatial Knowledge Navigation. She has used a wide variety of software platforms for doing this since the 1980s. The first generation of experiments were created with Apple’s HyperCard that ran in color on an Apple IIGS with ProDOS. Since that time experimental interfaces have been created with most of the “hypermedia” software that could support making such interfaces (MicroWorlds Pro, HyperStudio, Power Point, Director, etc.).1

It’s been quite a journey, and the saga continues because there is no ideal software platform available to the general public at the present time. Below is a history of past interfaces, current work and pointers to future directions.

Knowledge Places2
Knowledge Navigation & Exploration Centers
Second Life (2006-Present)

Knowledge Places Welcome Center

The Knowledge Places (K-Places) project used the virtual world named Second Life. It was the longest running and most extensive experiment so far. Initial development began in 2006, and at the height of the project in 2010, there were many highly visible sites that covered more than a million square meters of land in Second Life.

The virtual sites were made up of thematically organized “spaces” within “places” that used a variety of metaphors (Port, Park, Plaza, Pier, Palace and Paradise). The most important content of the sites was a cadre of 3D links dubbed Knowledge Objects (K-Objects), and they enabled truly spatial Knowledge Navigation.   Magic Windows were 3D hyperlinks to Cosma, and Magic Doors were 3D hyperlinks to locations in Second Life. There were also other K-Objects that served as “typed” hyperlinks to other valuable Web sites besides Cosma. You can find out more about them on the K-Objects page.

Knowledge Objects Cast

Hundreds of content specific versions of each of the K-Objects were generated and distributed throughout the multitude of content specific “spaces” in the K-Places sites. This enabled a thematic approach for exploring Cosma, other Web sites and Second Life.

The K-Places sites continued to be expanded and maintained until 2014. At the height of development in 2010, wandering the grounds of the sites would take visitors to over a thousand interesting things to see and do.

Dr. Hopper also presented about K-Places at a number of professional events that were attended by thousands of people — some of the attendees of those events were also likely visitors to the sites in Second Life.3

Here are links to the three main versions of K-Places.
Knowledge Gates to Second Life (K-Gates, Alpha)
Knowledge Palace (K-Palace, Beta)
Knowledge Paradise (K-Paradise, K-Places 1.0)

Unfortunately, it became clear that Second Life was not the best platform to be a 3D interface to Cosma. It was too expensive, required powerful computers, plugins and downloads, forced anonymity, had rampant X-rated content and limited access to large numbers of simultaneous users. These where just a few of the issues among many. Therefore K-Palace, K-Paradise and most of the K-Gates sites were discontinued by in 2014. Then their contents were consolidated into extremely scaled back “archival” sites that only hold a small sample of the spaces and objects that made up the K-Places between 2006 and 2014.

The largest archival site is K-Park — it preserves the spaces and objects that were an interface to the Knowledge Realms on the Cosma Web site.

Knowledge Park@Maryport

There is also a “sky-space” above the ground-level sites — it preserves the spaces and objects that were an interface to the Knowledge Forms on the Cosma Web site.

Knowledge Palace@Maryport

Here is a video of an extended walk-through of the K-Places archival sites.

This map shows where the archival sites are in Linden Village. If you have a Second Life account and the software is installed on your computer, then you can click the map to teleport there.

Knowledge Port & Knowledge Park Map

Cosma Welcome Area
Knowledge Navigation & Exploration Center
Unity 3D (2015)

Once it was obvious that Second Life was not going to be the platform that would be serving as a 3D interface to Cosma, the search was on for a new platform. That led to an experiment with using Unity to create a “Welcome Center” for Cosma. The demo is not available to download, but here is a video of what it looked like and how it functioned. Notice that the application uses Magic Posters and Magic Objects to serve as 3D links to Cosma and other Web content. They are the simplified siblings of the more extensive K-Objects used in K-Places.

Unfortunately, while the experiment was “somewhat” promising, the ongoing limited and shifting nature of Web publishing options and some other factors led to the decision to shelve the idea of investing time and resources into creating a 3D interface with Unity. It hasn’t been completely ruled out, but “wait and see” remains the best description of the status right now.

Cosma Welcome Area
Knowledge Navigation & Exploration Center
Second Life & Kuula

There are a number of promising platforms that have been emerging lately (Alt Space, Mozilla Hubs & Spoke, etc.), but none are overwhelmingly clear cut choices for the next platform to serve as a 3D interface to Cosma. One method that is being used compare platforms is the creation of “parallel places” with a small set of similar content and objects.

Second Life is being used as a baseline for comparison between platforms. The chosen set of content and objects are framed within a Welcome Center for Cosma. There are five rooms with numerous Magic Posters and Magic Objects that link to Cosma and other Web content. These are simplified siblings of K-Objects in K-Places.

This is a picture of the Welcome Area. If you have a Second Life account and the software installed, then click the image to explore it and the other four rooms (Solar Extremes, Gaia’s Greenhouse, World Travel Lounge and Walk-in-Art).

Cosma Welcome Area SL

Another platform that provides a baseline for comparing platforms is the Toy Worlds that are serving as an interface to the Cosma website for now.

They are literally “Toy Worlds” because they are dioramas created with dollhouse furniture and other miniature toys that are photographed with a RICOH THETA S 360° Camera. The resulting 360° photos are posted on the Kuula 360° photo sharing service in order to overlay links to YouTube videos and web pages.

They are also figuratively “Toy Worlds” in that they are intended to be entertaining placeholders for more sophisticated Worlds that will hopefully be created with more advanced software in the future.

You can find out more about them on the Toy Worlds page and this post.

The interactive 360° image below is the Cosma Welcome Area, and it is parallel to the one in SecondLife. Click on objects to find out about them, and use the menu in the lower left or door knobs to visit rooms that are semi-identical to the other rooms in Second Life (Solar Extremes, Gaia’s Greenhouse etc.).

You can also explore this on Kuula.

Note that Toy Worlds have Magic Posters and Magic Objects that link to Cosma. These are siblings of the K-Objects in K-Places.

Athena’s Castle
Knowledge Palace Redux
Second Life & Kuula

Another experiment with “parallel places” in Second Life and Toy Worlds is a bit more fanciful. It is a relative of Knowledge Palace at the old Knowledge Point in Linden Village.

The Second Life version has two main rooms. There are also other rooms in the castle that are parallel to some Toy Worlds that exist, but they will probably not be recreated for comparing other platforms. Click this image to teleport to the outside of the building.

Knowledge Palace@Knowledge Point

One of the rooms is called Athena’s Office. Click this image to teleport there.

Athena's Office in SL

Here is the Toy World version of Athena’s Office.

You can also explore this on Kuula.

The other room is the Muse’s Playroom.

Click this image to explore the SecondLife version.

Muse's Playroom in SL

Here is the Muse’s Playroom Toy World.

You can also explore this on Kuula.

Future Worlds
What happens next?
Time will tell …

The degree to which Second Life, Unity and Kuula differ is the main point to the “parallel places” experiments. However, specific conclusions drawn from the exercise are a topic for another time. The most important point to make is that, while all three platforms have strengths and weaknesses, none are ideal for creating an interface with the full power and breadth of the vision of a 3D interface for Cosma.

The search is still on for a platform available to the general public that can support sufficiently high resolution, complex 3D worlds that can be embedded on a Web page and viewed with standard browsers without requiring downloads, plugins, logins or unacceptably load times.

While the content in the simple spaces above will be used to test potential future platforms before an extensive new 3D interface to Cosma is built, that will only happen after a highly likely candidate is in the wings.

The process of finding that candidate for a future software platform using the strategy of “parallel places” is actually going to start with content from Hopper’s personal Web site first and her New Media Museum web site second. The results of those experiments will be posted on those two Web sites.

The tests of the platforms with Cosma content will only appear there after the question of the best platform is resolved. So, keep an eye here for updates on the progress with the ongoing experiments.

In the meantime, Toy Worlds will be serving as the main interface to Cosma.




1.   Hopper worked on a number of academic projects that used Logo and HyperCard during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and she also co-published about some of her work on those projects.
Hopper, M. E. and Lawler, R. W. (1991, August). Pre-Readers’ Word Worlds: Results of experiences with young children and new directions [Poster]. Thirteenth annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Evanston, IL.
Hopper, M. E., LeBold, W. K., Feghali, A. A. (1991). A hypermedia-based problem solving approach to engineering, learning, working, and playing. Frontiers in Education Conference Proceedings, 73-78.

2.   Knowledge Places and Knowledge Objects were developed by Dr. M. E. Hopper while she was President of Knowledge Foundry, a small company that developed traditional Web, social media, 3D, eBook and mobile sites. Remnants of the original website are still online.

3.   Some of the content on this page was originally developed for two presentations at MIT.
The first presentation in April 2007 was attended by Cory Ondrejka (SL Alt. Cory Linden, Chief Technology Officer@Second Life/Linden Lab) and John Lester (SL Alt. Pathfinder Linden, Second Life Lead Evangelist, Market Development, Boston Operations Director, Market Development in Education@Second Life/Linden Lab).
Hopper, M. E. (2007, April). The Knowledge Gates to SecondLife. Media in Transition 5 Conference: Creativity, Ownership and Collaboration in the Digital Age, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Hopper, M. E. (2009, April). Cosma: Constructing a Kingdom of Knowledge. Media in Transition 6 Conference: Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.