3D web browser shows the future of the web

Tired of viewing boring flat web pages on a boring flat screen? Well, the future looks pretty sweet. Now you’ll be able to zoom around your web pages in pseudo 3d space as if you are superman flying around in a world of flat plastic billboards, stopping to peruse them from a funny angle.

This futuristic vision comes from an article about the SpaceTime browser, which even has screenshots of what the 3D plastic web pages look like.

It isn’t the first of April and this is a real, downloadable product, so maybe I’ll have to actually address some of the things wrong with this glowing newsvertisement and prediction of the future of the web.

It looks like there’s a lot of screen space dedicated to displaying empty space, a faded grey-black gradient in front of which the web pages you’re viewing ‘float’. Web designers are forever trying to fit more onto their pages, for better or for worse, and as monitor resolutions increase, web pages will try to fill them as much as possible. Browser designers think (and argue) long and hard about how they can improve screen space by removing unnecessary elements. That’s why the web page in Firefox goes all the way to the edge of the screen, the tab bar and scroll bar is hidden when not needed, and Internet Exploder 7 does away with the menu bar.

When I am browsing with multiple tabs, the tabs are lined up from left to right in a linear fashion along a bar. I don’t have to remember the vertical and horizontal position, depth and angle of each tab. In 3D if I move my viewing position, particularly angle, in the 3D space then I’ll be completely lost. This happens whenever I click on a different tab. More wasted space, too: each tab has its own fat title bar and close button.

Each floating ‘tab’, which is the wrong word to use in this 3D environment, is fairly small. A ‘zoom’ function enables you to make it bigger, but this just zooms into the same small window onto a web page; it doesn’t show more of a web page.

Am I expected to read any text on one of those ‘other’ tabs (or search results) which is floating away in the ‘distance’? It looks like they’re there just to remind you that you have other stuff open, which can be done a lot better if it is done sparingly and isn’t constantly distracting me from what I am doing on my chosen tab and taking away valuable screen space.

Thankfully, I can ‘maximise’ a tab, and it will fill the screen like a normal web browser. For a little while. As soon as I go and open something in a new tab, or switch tabs, or go ‘back’, everything goes back into 3D view and my pages get really small and text becomes fuzzy and most of the screen is filled with blank space.

What is the point of using a 3D interface to display things which are inherently two-dimensional? It adds complexity to the simplicity and lets you get lost in a whole new dimension.

Why should a web browser include a ‘gravity’ toggle and buttons like ‘straighten up’, ‘fly’ and ‘reset scene’. Isn’t that just kind of insanely ridiculous? And what is the point of being able to ‘walk’ or ‘fly’ behind a web page? The back and sides of a web page are grey, by the way.  Maybe HTML will evolve so that someday we can put stuff on the back of a web page.  Not.

History is always repeating and people are always going to claim something is new when it isn’t. For decades people have envisioned future user interfaces as being inherently three-dimensional, but shown on two-dimensional media such as computer screens or big glass displays. It’s reflected in futuristic movies and TV shows too. It’s become such a trite view of the future that I have seen it used to comic effect, and to pretend that this prediction of future web browsing interfaces is in any way new and innovative is laughable.

It isn’t a 3D web browser. A 3D web browser would browse a 3D web, but the web is only 2D. It’s browsing a 2D web and hanging the two-dimensional web pages in a 3D space. At best that’s 2.5D. VRML was a 3D web and an alternative to the text and 2D graphics based HTML, but it is all but unused now. It didn’t turn out to be a handy way of representing things on the web. Now some people are claiming that Second Life is the future of the web, but it isn’t really going to take over from the web and isn’t intended to. It is an interesting virtual world to walk around in and interact with people, but what if you just want to look something up? I use the web so I don’t have to walk around looking for stuff in buildings or worry about the clothes I’m wearing.

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