A visual representation of data to let people comprehend the information space within which they navigate has been a persistent notion since the Internet became popular.
However, the appeal of that vision has never outweighed its unwieldiness as a navigation method.
Although Tim Bray has a substantial reputation and vision, it is difficult to imagine such an interface succeeding for general Internet use now any more than it did when Bray first mapped the Web in 1995.
Pioneering Internet sites such as Yahoo, BigBook and Reel.com all dabbled in fly-through metaphors for data navigation. All promptly abandoned them as people complained of technical limitations, vertigo and confusion.
This vision has retained its appeal because the population of Web users is increasingly computer-illiterate and technically unsophisticated. Yet business-to-business and consumer e-commerce markets must target them.
As a result, enterprising people such as Bray have seen an opportunity to create a system that does not require deep knowledge of linguistics and logic to provide data location and retrieval--either in a wide-ranging system, such as the Internet at large, or a controlled enterprise system. But systems intended for casual or untrained Web surfers will likely have the best chance of success by focusing on increased simplicity, involving universal iconography on the order of road signs--not new dimensions of navigation.
However, 3D visualization may prove valuable, if not revolutionary, in the improved visualization of complex data stores. Patterns in such data may remain invisible until nonlinear representations bring them out into the open. It is not far-fetched to imagine this technology proving most valuable for enterprise networks where it can augment the knowledge and discovery-management skills of trained experts.
(For related commentary on a product supporting 3D visualization, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)
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