NOTE [2003/2017]: The pages here were written in 1995 and represent the state of the projects mentioned therein, as they stood at that time.
Although I haven't continued work on any of these projects directly over the last few years, the ideas presented here are still relevant to later work including, for example, howellhenryland .
If you are interested in what I'm thinking about at the moment, I suggest you have a look at my personal site, which includes both archived content from my earlier blog Cluster, and my recent photography [ongoing], and my current  business, Significance Systems.
This site is an archive of my work on social media spaces and the internet.
It includes texts presented at Tokyo Salon
and other work, proposals
for projects demonstrating the concepts described in these texts, and information
, an internet-based social media terminal currently
Land - Ku 24
Social Media Spaces
Many media projects, notably the `cybercafes', have attempted to build
social environments from integrated real and virtual spaces. Most of these
projects have simply comprised access to internet- and/or video-conferencing
facilities within a conventionally conceived social venue, such as a cafe
or gallery. Thus, there is little if any exploration of the interaction
of real and virtual space
Similarly, most virtual spaces have involved little integration with
the real space in which they have been presented, and those which have
generally require expensive immersion VR technologies.
Here I present the concepts of hybrid reality
, whereby virtual and real spaces may be integrated to form
hybrid social media spaces enabling a fine-grained interaction of real
and virtually-present participants, architectures and objects. Also presented
is Matisse, a hybrid-reality architecture currently in development, and
proposals for two projects which demonstrate the concepts presented here,
and Ku 24
Central to my conception of hybrid social media space is the principle
of spatial isomorphism
Social media spaces are often conceived as `cybercafes', in which access
to virtual `space' (often simply access to internet-connected web clients)
is spatially localized, and where virtual access to the architecture of
the real space is non-existent, or extremely limited (typically only via
email and/or IRC). `Virtual galleries', which are accessible only in cyberspace,
also typically provide little or no opportunity for social interaction.
This segregation of real and virtual elements in all cases limits the possibilities
for social interaction between real and virtual participants.
A truly hybrid
reality requires an overlay
of real and
virtual space -- a careful mapping of the geography, architecture and contents
of the real space into the corresponding virtual space, and provision of
unobtrusive, engaging access to the virtual space within the real space.
Spatial isomorphism does not require expensive immersion VR technologies;
a simple but functional implementation may be achieved over low-bandwidth
serial IP connections via a suitably designed client/server architecture
such as Matisse.
Strict adherence to the principle of spatial isomorphism implies a one-to-one
mapping between real and virtual objects and spaces. However, the desire
to create fictional virtual spaces still remains. Where then are we to
build invisible cities, when there is no real location to map them against
(assuming the desire to preserve the connectedness and continuity of real-space
One solution, and that adopted (with a variation) in the Ku 24
project, is to build virtual space which overlays unused real space; thus
a virtual library (containing texts which have no physical counterparts)
may be located in cyberspace in the purely virtual sub-basement or topmost
floor of a real library itself represented as a hybrid reality; or an entire
virtual community situated over a desert or under the sea, creating an
Such strategies extend the hybrid reality, without compromising the
principle of spatial isomorphism of extant social
it is worth preserving the characteristics of non-social
open to question...is real desert more valuable or interesting mapped to
virtual desert, or to a virtual cinema?)
This section is a revised version of the text accompanying a presentation
of the Matisse alpha release client at
Tokyo Salon, Tuesday 27 June
1995. A Japanese version of this text is also available.
Early in its existence, growth of the internet was largely driven by
its social function, particularly by the popularity of email and the Usenet
newsgroups. These tools supported the concept of virtual communities, which
could evolve and expand regardless of geographic and temporal reality.
At that time, remote access to multimedia via the internet was slow
and technically complex. As the Net became more accessible and client/server
architectures developed, integration projects such as the World Wide Web
made it easier to create and access globally-distributed hypermedia. For
many people, the web is
the internet. This is a limited and misleading
perspective--there are many
useful structural metaphors for the
Net, and many possible user interfaces to support these metaphors.
Currently, the most popular internet interfaces are GUI Web browsers
(Netscape, Mosaic etc.), which portray net data as formatted pages of text
with embedded graphics and clickable hyperlinks. Although collections of
web data are called "sites", the dominant metaphor for the Web is bibliographic--a
collection of "pages" are "published" on the Web, to be "browsed" by solitary
netsurfers. A popular site is "busy" only in that it is subject to many
accesses ("hits") in a given period of time; there is no subjective experience
of "crowding" at even the most popular sites, regardless of how many people
are viewing the same data simultaneously. Some sites include a "guestbook"
that browsers may sign after viewing the site; at most this emphasizes
the solitary nature of the interaction; there is a record of passing, but
no experience of presence. A strong spatial and social metaphor is absent;
hyperlinks offer simple interconnection of a complex data universe, but
no sense of scale, form, proximity, or cosmology. The Web is not an inhabitable
In contrast with the solitary hyperdocuments which comprise the Web
are the crowded text-based social virtual realities, MUDs and MOOs (Multi-user
Dimensions/Object-Oriented). These offer a complex spatial metaphor and
a rich text-based environment for the interaction of virtual societies.
These spaces are most often considered as venues for the exploration of
issues of identity, gender and roleplay, rather that engines for delivery
of hypermedia. However, the underlying server engines offer a high level
of sophistication, and the "sense of space" within these environments can
be very strong.
A number of projects attempt to integrate the MOO spatial metaphor with
the media present on the Net. These projects generally seek to make MOO
objects viewable via the Web, in effect creating a "published" hypertext
view of a subset of the MOO space. This Web-accessible version of the MOO
lacks the immediacy and "presence" of the purely text-represented original.
Other internet-based VR technologies under development, including VRML,
still lack the participatory possibilities of "real" space--VRML, OOGL
etc. provide a 2-dimensional representation of a "synthetic" third dimension,
but at present are still mostly presented within the bibliographic metaphor
of the Web, the limitations of which I have addressed above.
Reclaimed Land - Ku 24
Proposal for a hypermedia project by Darrell Berry
Tokyo has 23 administrative districts called ku
Each ku is effectively a city in its own right, with its own history, ambiance
During the property boom of the late 1980s, 448 ha of reclaimed land on
Tokyo Bay six kilometers south of Tokyo's Central Business District was
selected by the metropolitan government as the site for an ambitious new
urban development. Dubbed Tokyo Teleport
, the project was planned
as both a technologically advanced architectural showcase, and an experiment
in the decentralization of urban Tokyo. The site would also host an architectural
fair called Tokyo Frontier
, and be the site for the 1996 Tokyo World
City Expo. Initially budgeted at a massive [[yen]]4,140 billion, Tokyo
Teleport was the target for enormous infrastructural investment.
In the mid-1990s, Japanese property values collapsed, and the Expo project
was finally shelved following the election of a new city administration
in 1995. Vast office and retail developments have been canceled, leaving
the entire area a semi-constructed post-industrial wasteland. Tokyo Teleport,
as envisaged in the late 1980s, will never be completed.
Reclaimed Land - Ku 24
is a relocation of the planned new city
into cyberspace; the computer models and infrastructural plans drawn up
during the property boom are used to generate an inhabitable virtual Tokyo,
the real-world analog of which will never exist.
Central to the development of inhabitable artificial realities is the
communications and social infrastructure to support the complex interactions
technically feasible in such a space, and which contribute to the sense
of a strong, continuous, participatory reality. Ku 24
wholesale the structural plans for a technotopian future city located both
spatially and temporally close to present-day Tokyo, and thus exploits
the common perception of Tokyo as already a "city of the future", while
simultaneously exploring the semiotics of "reclamation" (city on reclaimed
land, the symbolism of retrofuturism, the recycling of the data set of
an intricately planned showcase city of the near future), and the interaction
of real and virtual space.
will utilize Matisse technology to provide a complex, easily
extensible environment within which "residents" and visitors may work,
play and interact. From within Ku 24
, it will be possible to travel
to other sites built on the server, including the real
within Tokyo represented virtually within the reality server--Ku 24
is anticipated to become the
focus for distributed hypermedia projects
involving the Tokyo region.
Emphasis on social interaction in hybrid virtual/real environments,
and easy addition of multimedia extensions will distinguish Ku 24
from the many text-based VR-based projects which rapidly devolve into social
chaos and conceptual poverty.
, an exploratory hybrid reality planned for
inclusion in Ku 24
, is presented in more detail in the following
Proposal for a hypermedia project by Darrell Berry
Note: Café Matisse
is one element of Ku 24 - Reclaimed
, and is presented here as an exploratory work highlighting many
of the features of Matisse-based hybrid realities.
The concept is for a set of closely linked virtual and real spaces which
together comprise a social hybrid reality. This reality facilitates and
encourages complex physical and electronically-mediated interactions between
participants and distributed data objects.
A number of existing socially engaging spaces in Tokyo are selected
for involvement in the project. The Vision Network
complex in Jingumae
forms the conceptual hub of this loose cultural "community", and is proposed
as the first site for inclusion.
Accurate virtual representations of the participating physical spaces
are created within the Ku 24
MOO server, and hypermedia objects
appropriate to these locations are positioned within these virtual representations
using Matisse technology.
User-friendly, portable multimedia internet terminals (comprising a
notebook computer, digital video camera, barcode wand and 14.4k or faster
modem) are also made available in the real spaces. This parallel development
of real and virtual spaces creates a layered hybrid reality
layers of which interact via the portable terminals, to provide real-time
interaction of physically and virtually-present visitors. Low-bandwidth
internet video and audio tools are easily integrated in the Matisse multimedia
architecture, to provide a rich, engaging, environment for interaction,
while the portability of the terminals encourages very intimate interaction
between real and virtual participants in the resulting hybrid environment--"lets
go up to the bar; here, I'll take you..."
Interaction between visitors to the real cafe and electronic participants
must be as simple as possible; a suite of printed menus will be available
on each table in the real space. Each menu will contain an extensive list
of Japanese and English phrases and commands, which may be transmitted
to the Ku 24
server and other participants by simply scanning the
appropriate barcode swatch. This will enable complex and rapid communication
of a wide range of simple constructs, commands and ideas. More complex
text may be transmitted by the use of a keyboard, or a barcode-tagged printed
keyboard printed in the back of each menu. The barcode menus return an
element of play into the otherwise somewhat intimidating task of keyboard-based
interaction. The Matisse client's built-in speech-synthesis will also assist
in simple communication, and extend the range of social interaction past
the surface of the computer screen--it will be possible for a virtually-present
guest to be seated at a table and "call out" to other guests in the real
space to attract their attention.
It is also important to note that remote, net-connected participants
do not require Matisse client software to join in; a simple telnet client
will provide access to the virtual space, although in this case only the
textual descriptions of multimedia objects will be available to view.
The proposed architecture facilitates a much "finer-grained" hybrid
reality than anything attempted with current "electronic café" installations.
Such projects most often provide only basic access to net-browsing tools
within a cafe environment, while Café Matisse
the social utilization of space, and intends to blur the distinction between
real and electronic presence-for example, virtual participants can (via
the physical and portable presence of the media terminals) be seated at
tables with physically-present guests, and interact simultaneously with
these guests and others present "only" electronically.
Proposal for a hypermedia project by Darrell Berry.
Much of the concept is due to John Ricketts.
The previous two projects both involve hybrid media spaces. Netspace
however, involves the introduction of a social metaphor to a purely virtual
data set, and emphasises the interaction of people
A social media architecture such as Matisse can be used to add a social
metaphor to a pre-existing data set, such as the Web. As noted before,
the Web provides none of the spatial context promised by the metaphors
for its elements and operations (`sites', `navigation' etc). It is, however,
a simple matter to associate web `sites' with specific locations within
the Matisse reality server. Thus Matisse becomes a meta-navigator for the
Web--every web site is then potentially a `place' where readers can actually
meet and interact with others also `at' the site; a `busy' site is objectively
more crowded with users that one scoring few hits; and the Web achieves
the level of social directedness currently found online only in special-interest
mailing lists and well-moderated Usenet groups.
This architecture also makes it possible to meet with friends or co-workers
at a particular site and then navigate the Web together, perhaps meeting
other like-minded net nomads along the way. It also facilitates organized
net tours, under the aegis of organizing groups or agencies; for example,
one could easily coordinate or join "trans-gender" or "frontiers of theoretical
physics" tours of the Net, which would meet at an assigned Matisse space
at a particular time, and from there set off across the Net, stopping at
appropriate pre-selected Web sites as desired. A similar arrangement would
facilitate convenient pre-publication discussion and peer review of technical
papers submitted for publication in online journals.
In all of the above examples, coordinated navigation of the Web, synchronized
between participants, is possible within a single Matisse space via the
simple emission of extended URLs by the leader or coordinator of the group
present within the Matisse space (which might even be a MOO-coded `bot
or other synthetic entity). Note that in this case, there is not necessarily
any development of the Matisse space as a virtual spatial environment
the facility for social interaction is itself sufficient to implement Netspace.
A reality server much simpler than the MOO used for the hybrid media projects
would suffice. However, the use of a MOO would provide the opportunity
for flexible expansion of the concept if desired.
The Matisse architecture of course also permits a Matisse-enhanced site
to contain other interactive media objects relevant to its topic. With
a little inspired CGI/Java programming it would also be possible for Web
pages to include both some representation of the number of participants
currently `at' the corresponding Matisse site, and a button that would
launch Matisse and take the user to the corresponding Matisse location
(probably via a Matisse-specific MIME type).
A simple implementation of Netspace involves a Matisse window only a
few lines high, positioned under and aligned with a traditional Web browser
such as Netscape. This simple and unobtrustive addition to onscreen furniture
is all that is required to dramatically extend the level of social/data
interaction possible on the Net.
This document <http://www.ku24.com/~darrell/hybrid1.html>
is copyright (c) 1995, Darrell Berry
19 October 1995