Monday, May 20, 2013

Old 2.0: How Old becomes the New New


The San Francisco WebGL Developers Meetup held on 15 May at CBS Interactive was in many ways even more mind-boggling than our normal meetup.

The usual type of things we see at the meetup is some sort of visualization that we have all seen before. The only difference is that we last saw the thing in a mega movie such as Minority Report or on a $75 game DVD running on a computer with dual GPUs. And now we are seeing it in a browser, for free, no plugin necessary. It's so much deja view all over again that we can hardly Yogi Berra it.  It's huge and we think its normal.

Things are moving so fast and yet it feels like we are standing still. Is there a reason for this?  The present and the future are fast moving, but we actually live slowly in the present and present. Is it because we live in our own legacy?

And that was the fun fact of this WebGL meetup. Every demo was trying to speed up the past, to bring our legacy up to modern capability, to make the past go faster miles an hour.

Let me count the ways.

First up: Tony Parisi - along with Remi Arnaud and Fabrice Robinet - showed off glFT. What does glFT do? It's like a hose that sucks 3D models out of people's hard disks and gets them up into the cloud. If we are going to move from Computer Aided Design to Internet Aided Design then we have to get the last twenty years of design data online - quickly, easily and cheaply - without coders always having to rescue stuff. And Tony gave us a presentation of an open-source and probable industry-standard method for doing so - truly a free glFT.

After Tony, up came Aleksandar (Aki) Rodic who showed a 3D editor built using Three.js and connected to the cloud via Google Drive. I logged in to the online demo while Aki talked and happily added an icosahedron and scaled torus knots while he demoed. So what was the old bit here? The editor did not have much power. Apart from the amazing collaboration ability - it was more like AutoCAD 2.18 from 1983 than an editor of 2013. But that's not the point - and I will come back to Aki's demo at the end of this post.

Then came Iker Zugaza from Ludei. OMG. Now we are not just talking old. We are talking archeology. Iker showed us the Ludei game system running on old Blackberry tablets, early Kindles and even an iPad 1.  Each of these ancient devices displayed 3D graphics with webGL-like speed even if the device did not support WebGL.

More than that: you can use your wacky Android dev tool or Objection-C or whatever. Just get your stuff to run in a browser, send the blob to Ludei and they will send you back the code for just about any platform out there - living or dead. For free (well until you get enough users).

Finally there was Robin Willis from sunglass.io.  Think GitHub for designers. Use the tools you like to use. SketchUp. Inventor SolidWorks or whatever, and then easily and quickly obtain a representation that can be shared, and viewed and commented (and blamed) by the whole design team online. Your project is no longer stuck on a hard disk in some office but is available to the world.

So all of the demos gave the old legacy data and devices a kick in the pants and said "back to the future with you!" All very cool.

But the demo I keep thinking about is Aki Rodic's collaborative 3D edit demo.

And I think I am beginning to understand why.

When we think of the past we think of all that data from 3D Max, Maya, ProE, SolidWorks, Rhino and whatever. trillions of point and faces.

But the future is not about data, it's about code.  You don't send monster data down the interpipes, you send the code for building and animating monsters. Architects don't send you buildings, they send you the instructions for creating the building. Your DNA does not contain a miniature you, it only holds the the code for re-creating you.

Three.js is not a tool for building CAD models, it's a library of WebGL tools. It's the equivalent of DNA. What Aki is sending around is just the instructions on how to use the DNA. He's transferring the Internet equivalent of RNA. I think the future of 3D on the web will be based on techniques that move code as much as data. It's a fast and proven idea.

Speaking of fast and proven, hats off to Tony Parisi for yet again showing that he 'gets' what happening in 3D and 'puts' on a great event.