Sunday, February 27, 2005

Croquet 3D group collaboration environment

Croquet is a really cool 3D graphical group collaboration environment from Alan Kay's Viewpoints Research Institute. It is based on Viewpoints' Squeak rendition of the Smalltalk programming language and environment. As the Croquet web site notes:

Croquet is a combination of computer software and network architecture that supports deep collaboration and resource sharing among large numbers of users within the context of a large-scale distributed information system. Along with its ability to deliver compelling 3D visualization and simulations, the Croquet system's components are designed with a focus on enabling massively multi-user peer-to-peer collaboration and communication.

Croquet's treatment of distributed computation assumes a truly large scale distributed computing platform, consisting of heterogeneous computing devices distributed throughout a planet-scale communications network. Applications are expected to span machines and involve many users. In contrast with the more traditional architectures we grew up with, Croquet incorporates replication of computation (both objects and activity), and the idea of active shared subspaces in its basic interpreter model. More traditional distributed systems replicate data, but try very hard not to replicate computation. But, it is often easier and more efficient to send the computation to the data, rather than the other way round. Consequently, Croquet is defined so that replication of computations is just as easy as replication of data.

It is impossible to convey what the Croquet system does without first describing its various components and the ways they interrelate. In its simplest form, Croquet is a complete development and delivery platform that enables people to carry out highly collaborative work. It is an infinitely scalable architecture that can serve as a basis for delivering a scalable, persistent, and extensible interface to network-delivered resources, tools for knowledge management, and deep social presence. The resulting 3D wide-area environment makes it possible for large numbers of people to enjoy shared telepresence, shared authorship of complex spaces and their contents, and shared access to network-deliverable information resources.

Even the still 2D color screenshots are awesome, so you can imagine what the system must look like in motion. Croquet may still be experimental and not well integrated with the web and existing information environments, but it does give us a good feel for one of the directions that group collaboration will be headed.

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