Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000

Avatars98 and Avatars99: Pioneering the Medium of 3D Internet Cyberconferences

Bruce Damer, Stuart Gold and the Contact Consortium

Figure 1: Avatars98 showing the "ground zero" conference center on November 21, 1998: 4,000 on-line attendees stream through a single conference hall world featuring exhibits, art show, speakers in session "pods," webcast and awards ceremony.

Figure 2: Avatars99 ground zero, the centerpoint for 13 worlds hosting 8,000 attendees on December 4, 1999. Guideways leading to teleport centers taking attendees to other worlds can be seen in the background. A video webcast from one location is shown on the big screen while avatar-guests can converse on an audio "talk radio" accessed by clicking on the headphones object on the left.

For the past five years, the Contact Consortium ( has been bringing together the global community of pioneers who are colonizing cyberspace. What do we mean by colonizing cyberspace? Well, in the beginning of the net there was the word, with email, Usenet, MUDs and other ingredients of an all-textual on-line experience. Next came the document, with the web and its many offshoots. And now finally we are moving toward "putting the space in cyberspace" with the rise of graphical virtual worlds inhabited by people interacting in real-time using digital personae known as avatars. In 1998, after failing to find an affordable "physical" venue for its third annual Avatars conference, the consortium opted to move the event "in-world" and worked with R&D studio DigitalSpace ( and a large corps of volunteers to build a conference hall in cyberspace. We felt that moving the event on-line would reach a broader constituency and we were amazed by the response. Attendance shot from 400 people at the 1997 "meetspace" conference to over 4,000 avatar-attendees in 1998 and over 8,000 in 1999.

Paying homage to the annual Burning Man ( Black Rock city-in-the-desert, we encouraged the event to grow organically from the bottom up. Thirty locations worldwide became "nodes" of the on-line event, hosting in-person gatherings and "jacking in" to the virtual event worlds. A database and ordinary web forms allowed companies and non-profit groups to specify and build their booths and speaking rooms. Some notable participating organizations included Boeing, NASA, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Orange County Convention Center (Orlando), the Electronic Cafe International, UC Santa Cruz, Cornell University, Art Center College of Design and numerous avatar design studios and groups. Next, individual artists and webcasters were able to "hang" their works in extensive galleries. Lastly, the annual "Avvy Awards" provided designers a venue to strut their stuff in the year’s best avatars in categories such as "best humanoid" and "most bang for the buck."

Both of these events were presented at successive Web3D RoundUPs, and for each, the cast and crew who helped build and host Avatars98 and 99 reappeared in the worlds to reenact the experience for the audience. Presenting at the Web3D RoundUP with a live on-line space and remote performers was a bit more nerve-wracking than your average canned demo, but we feel it better communicated the experience and practicality of producing 3D multi-user cyberconferences for a wide audience. The Web3D RoundUP is an important venue for our nascent movement to present its pioneering work and recruit for next year’s events.

A significant component of both events was built and hosted within the Active Worlds™ environment, running on ordinary home PCs on modem connections. Active Worlds supports a streaming "Lego" metaphor, facilitating social building and sharing for hundreds of thousands of 3D artists and community dwellers. Editor’s Note: See Active Worlds article in this issue. Other platforms, including blaxxun, Onlive Traveler, WorldsAway and other environments, were used for parallel events contributing to the Avatars conferences.

The Avatars cyberconferences may light the way to a new kind of cyberspace-an inhabited cyberspace that has a human face and finds its visionary roots deep in the matrix of William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the metaverse of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

We hope to meet you all "in-world" in the coming century!

Bruce Damer
Tel: +1-831-338-9400

The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.