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Urbanpixel—Visible Navigation for the Web

I’ve just had a glimpse of the future of the web, and it is called Urbanpixel.

This recent startup has taken a grand leap forward by restoring the sense of collaboration and camaraderie that disappeared with the advent of the web. Using their patented technology, web site owners can lay out content spatially, generating a 2D overhead landscape view that unites web content with people.

This 2D stuff is very important. Not only are we still a decade away from having displays with resolutions sufficient for life-like 3D, their 2D view is so natural that it seems familiar—and, being pure HTML, its pretty easy to convert a web site over to the new view.

When you wander a store powered by Urbanpixel, you don’t see laundry lists of products. Instead, you traverse a virtual store with clustered displays of items, just like in the real world. And, like the real world, you see people, in the form of iconic avatars, wandering through the store with you.

Visitors to urbanized sites can easily approach other visitors and site owners just by dragging their avatars near. These are real people, people you can talk with, if you want. Or just overhear, if that makes you more comfortable. (The talking is still done via the keyboard, but no doubt that will change with time.)

This is a miniaturized view of the shopper's viewport.
Click to see the rest of the store.

Some of the avatars are salespeople—they have a distinct look—to whom you can turn with questions. The rest are just folks like you and me. Or are they? Certainly, interesting social interactions will result.

The 17 year-old kid who now spends weekends hanging around the computer store just for the chance to help someone out for fun will likely loiter in the computer section of the online store, prepared to unleash his hard-won knowledge on neophyte grown-ups.

The proud man who bought that $5000 High Definition TV just a month ago will find himself hard-pressed to pass the TV section without offering advice to the new guy over there looking at the literature.

Then there’s the group dynamics that will arise simply from the clustering of avatars. When the "blue light special" suddenly takes 25% off all the dresses in the Misses Department for the next half hour, the visitors will see avatars sprint for the department, in search of the best deals. They will be drawn like moths to a flame, just as in the bricks-and-mortar stores of today.

Many other web services and sites could also stand urbanization. Take chat rooms, just as one example. Today, the chat within one room is a free-for-all, with many cross conversations going on at once, with users expecting to comb them apart to make sense of them. People are often given the chance to "go private," but other than this exception, it’s pretty chaotic. Consider, instead, a Hyde Park model. Hyde Park, in London, is famous for its soap box orators. A series of these orators will be holding forth at any given time, with the quality of their output well displayed by the quantity of people surrounding them. Most of these orations soon become debates, with audience members joining in (as I have done upon occasion). Hyde Park could be modelled perfectly in Urbanpixel.

In addition to creating urbanized web sites, Urbanpixel is also applying this same technology for experiencing the entire web in a new and exciting way. Site locations and proximity to other sites suddenly become visible. Just as in the urbanized stores, people can browse, chat and shop together as they traverse a continuous fabric of sites organized in themed neighborhoods. You’ll be able to walk out of one store and into an another just as in a real city. Or leap across town to the library or chat center. Its easy, because you can see what’s going on (sneak preview: ) .

Exciting? You bet. Could it be that Urbanpixel has hit upon the "killer app" on the net? Stay tuned; I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. And while we’re waiting, I think I’ll take another stroll over to the High Definition TV store and ask that guy what he’s heard about it....

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