In a cutting edge industry such as Web 3D, it is always important to keep an eye on the research being done in order to make sure you are moving in the right direction. Web3D research can help you understand what technologies that are useable, useful, and appealing to people; how societies are using it to interact; and what the trends for the future are in our industry.
Usability is one of the most overlooked, yet important areas of Web3D research. According to Professor Ben Shneiderman of the Human/Computer Interaction Lab :
'To accelerate adoption of advanced interfaces, designers must understand their appeal and performance benefits as well as honestly identify their deficits. We need to separate out the features that make 3D useful and understand how they help overcome the challenges of disorientation during navigation and distraction from occlusion.'
He goes on to say that empirical studies have shown that modest aspects of 3D, such as shading for buttons and overlapping of windows are helpful, but 3D bar charts and directory structures are not.
The scientists at the Perceptual Science Laboratory are looking even deeper into human/computer interactions. They are engaged in a variety of experimental and theoretical inquiries including speech perception by ear and eye, and facial animation, a general fuzzy logical model of perception in a variety of domains, including perception and understanding of language.
It is not only important to look at how people react to Web3D, but it is also important to understand how society uses it. Studies have shown that, though people do form social bonds through the Internet (via e-mail or chat), usually the only way to strengthen those bonds are by moving to the phone or to face to face meetings. Companies, universities, and governments have been using new interaction forms like virtual teams, virtual universities, and virtual cities for several years now. Yet experience shows that current technology like shared workspaces, chat windows, bulletin boards, video-conferencing, or shared 3D worlds are not fully satisfactory for virtual interaction because the current systems fail to supply rich sources of social information cues that enable people to work in virtual partnerships.
Ken Perlin at the NYU Media Research Lab has been working on a number of different Web3D research projects over the years, including his facial nuance experiment. In fact, his page is a treasure trove of hands on Web-3D experiments.
Another important group of researchers you should keep an eye on are industry trends researchers. Usually these companies spend several months looking at a particular industry, write a report, and try to sell it to the companies involved in that industry. There have been several recent reports like this for Web 3D. one example, Jon Peddie Research, predictes that the 3D markets will grow steadily over the next 5 years.
One of the best predictors of future trends is a look at where an industry giants, such as Google is putting it's enegry. They have just released their new browser, Chrome, with 3D.
The future of our industry is still up in the air, but the only way to stay in the game is to keep an eye on industry research.