Is the future of the Internet three-dimensional?

It could already be said the Internet is multi-dimensional given how hyperlinks replacing linear text made up the heart of the World Wide Web. But now an Intel representative is predicting a 3D internet within five years.

The comments come from Sean Koehl, a man with the somewhat awesome job title of “technology evangelist” for Intel Labs. He told PC World that the company had initially been quick to work on 3D online apps but slowed that process to spend more time refining the quality and functionality of those apps. He said that “making 3D environments broadly accessible is probably capable within five years.”

According to Koehl, people will want to stick with two-dimensions for many online activities such as reading text (and frankly, who would want to read 3D text?), but that 3D could be particularly popular in uses such as webcasts of conference speeches. His logic is that a three-dimensional webcast would psychologically improve the experience by allowing users to feel closer to the presentation.

He also argues that many uses of 3D would be for activities which aren’t currently carried out online and perhaps haven’t even been conceived because they are technically impossible with traditional 2D screens.

The interview is short on technical detail about how Intel’s 3D technology would work. If it requires special monitors or glasses, it would face a tough challenge in taking off. It would also run the risk of widening the existing gulf between different web users, for example when it comes to access speed and cost.

I also question whether the net would really benefit from three-dimensional material. If it’s simply a case of 3D video content, it’s difficult to see how the costs would be justified unless the material was also used for Blu-ray or television broadcast, in which case why would people want to pay to see it on a small monitor?

So for a 3D internet to really succeed, it would have to incorporate interactivity as well as the extra visual dimension. Unless and until people can come up with ideas which would truly benefit from that interactivity, 3D on the web is likely to remain a technological solution in search of a problem.

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