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The atomic web

A Toronto company is redefining the basic unit of Net information, from static website pages to fluid, interactive content "cells"

Globe and Mail Update

In the boardroom of Vizible Corp., six storeys above the corner of King and Spadina in downtown Toronto, Todd Finch and Anthony Gallo are explaining their vision for the future of the Internet.

The image projected onto the screen at the front of the room shows a grid of boxes representing a sampling of the rich media the Web has to offer, including websites, news feeds, videos and pictures. Then, with the click of a button, the grid is rearranged—it becomes a sphere, then a cube.

Gallo, the company's founder and CTO, deftly rotates the cube with his touchpad and zooms in on one of the images. A video from the band Green Day begins to play. After a few seconds, he zooms out again and selects another box—the news feed from a popular website. The postings are lined up like dominos. As he scrolls among them,
they rise and fall at his command. The presentation is as fluid as ballet.

"We live in a world that has six billion realities," Finch, Vizible's president and CEO, explains as Gallo works the controls. "Everyone is different, and
they all have an opinion on how they want to view the world, how they want to share it and package it. The future of the Internet is radical customization."

To achieve this radical customization, Vizible has redefined the basic unit
of information on the Web. Currently, the basic unit is the page. Websites are collections of pages, linked to one another in a fixed way. Vizible, however, breaks the Web into more basic units, which it calls "cells." Cells can be any type of media—text, images, audio, video. Once the media has been placed in a cell, that cell can then be tagged, categorized and manipulated in a number of ways. Cells can be filtered, searched and organized; they can be coded to respond to input, linked to other content, or viewed in a three-dimensional space along with other cells. The content of websites is no longer stuck on static pages—the elements can be positioned in whatever way best serves the user, and can be dynamically rearranged or updated as needed. By shifting the focus from the page to the cell, Vizible takes what was once a rigid medium and makes it infinitely flexible. "This is game-changing technology," Finch says. "This is the atomic Web."

Take an online newspaper. Instead of a series of links to sections and subsections, a cell-enabled paper could be viewed as a globe. Top news stories could be presented prominently on the surface of the globe, with less important items appearing in smaller cells around it. A visitor could zoom in on any part of this sphere to reveal the content, be it text, images or video. If there are several items on a single topic, those could be regressed toward the centre of the globe, giving some sense of the depth to which it has been covered. To view different sections, the globe could be rotated—one way for sports, another for entertainment. Sections that hold no interest could be excised entirely.

From the perspective of the typical user, the utility of a cell-based, 3D Web experience can be a little difficult to fathom. After all, the Web as it currently exists works just fine. And Vizible's critics will no doubt dismiss its platform as nothing more than eye candy. The first graphical user interfaces (GUIs) were likewise brushed off as unnecessary and wasteful. In the end, GUIs were successful not only because less technically minded users were drawn to the experience they afforded, but also simply because it's possible to do things in a two-dimensional space that aren't possible on a command-line. According to Gallo, this is the same sort of evolutionary advance that a 3D interface provides. "Grids are inefficient," he says. "A sphere lets you have depth, which lets you communicate more information. Traditional UIs are functional, but spaces help create meaning." Gallo and Finch clearly believe that users will be drawn to the more immersive experience 3D offers, and that information designers will use its platform to better communicate with those users.

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