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Review of graphical environments on the WWW as a means of widening public participation in social science research
4.5 Case Study 5: Virtual Environments.
Virtual environments are becoming widespread on the Internet ranging from virtual communities and towns such as the extensive virtual Amsterdam site (see <http://www.dds.nl/>) through to live chat rooms where multiple numbers of participants can get involved in real time discussions (see <http://webchat8.wbs.net/webchat3.so?cmd=cmd_doorway:British_Chat>). While there is an apparent abundance of these types of web sites spread across cyberspace the potential for soliciting information from the users of these environments, or Avatars as they are known, appears not to be being exploited to its full potential. Masses of information could be gleaned from these sites as users movements within the virtual environment can be monitored in real time. This can provide instant information both from the client and from the server in a two way exchange process together with possibilities for the exchanging of information within multi-user environments. The use of VRML technology within these environments has and will continue to increase the depth of the users interaction with the web interface.
The VRML technology represents the most graphical environment within web-based systems through links to other sites and other parts of virtual worlds. The ability of clients to build their own virtual rooms within communities provides facilities for users to gather, produce and publish social science type information in a visual and interactive manner. These virtual world offers the social science researcher the potential to undertake social science experiments and surveys which would normally occur in the real world, but have the potential to involve much larger numbers of participants from diverse geographical locations in real time. Much of the development work in this area is being undertaken at NCSA which provides many examples of real-time virtual worlds, virtual environments and virtual reality systems (see<http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/General/VRML/VRMLHome.html>).
The future of this technology is very promising and has great potential for the social science research community. The potential which this type of environment can provide for social science is seemingly endless, whether its for collecting data through surveys or the monitoring of users movements to innovative and accessible means of publishing social science research findings.
Graphics Multimedia Virtual Environments Visualisation Contents