Darrell Berry / Social Media Spaces (1995)

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 [2000].

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 [2017] 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 about Matisse, an internet-based social media terminal currently in development.

  1. About this Site
  2. Social Media Spaces
    1. Spatial Isomorphism
    2. Augmented Reality
  3. Beyond Netscape
  4. Matisse--An Introduction
  5. Projects
    1. Reclaimed Land - Ku 24
    2. Café Matisse
    3. Netspace

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 and augmented 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, Café Matisse and Ku 24

Spatial Isomorphism

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. 

Augmented Reality

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 geography)?

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 augmented reality.

Such strategies extend the hybrid reality, without compromising the principle of spatial isomorphism of extant social space (whether it is worth preserving the characteristics of non-social space is open to question...is real desert more valuable or interesting mapped to virtual desert, or to a virtual cinema?)

Beyond Netscape

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 space.

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

Note: Tokyo has 23 administrative districts called ku. Each ku is effectively a city in its own right, with its own history, ambiance and traditions.


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 will adopt 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.

Ku 24 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 locations 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.

Café Matisse, an exploratory hybrid reality planned for inclusion in Ku 24, is presented in more detail in the following section 

Café Matisse

Proposal for a hypermedia project by Darrell Berry

Note: Café Matisse is one element of Ku 24 - Reclaimed Land, 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, the 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 emphasizes 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, media and space.


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