Some technologies just amaze me in their inability to catch on with Joe Average.  Maybe it was ahead of its time, or maybe its just “too out there”, but DigitalSpace Traveler is the embodiment of one of those technologies. 

Traveler uses 3D technologies, including VRML to allow the user to travel through amazing fantasy worlds of sound and motion. With about 12 years of history behind it there are literally hundreds of worlds to visit scattered across 8 or 9 servers.  But, Traveler is unique in that it provides an environment where people, via there avatars, can actually meet and socialize not only by texting but vocally. There are competing programs, but I’m aware of no others that combine speech and virtual reality. Traveler has a voice technology that is rumored to be clear even with 14.4K dial-up connections, and is routinely used with 28K and better.  The Avatars are animated, customizable, and lip-sync to your voice. With a click you can make your avatar smile, pout, frown, or even show surprise. Many avatars are available, and if you are so inclined, you can even create your own, with the right commercial software, of course.

While it has received a few enhancements since it’s orginal release in 1993, from a user perspective the current release is virtually unchanged from it’s early days.  Yet even today, it has a certain geek-appeal.

I’ll confess, it’s a bit of a toy; in fact I recently began letting my two youngest children, aged 4 and 5, begin using it to socialize with distant family members and children of my friends (with close supervision, of course). They have also become friends with a few other children who are occasionally on. For them, it’s like participating in a cartoon. [See note 1]  They even got to participate in a Traveler on-line Birthday Party for a new friend who was turning 7; complete with singing fish and a virtual cake.

But for all its fun aspects, Traveler suffers from a tiny user-base. Traveler is designed specifically for social interaction, yet on a busy night there might be 15 people using all of Traveler.  That’s about 2 people per server.  Traveler exists today only because of a few dedicated enthusiasts who host it just because they like it.

It’s also fun to think of commercial applications for the technology, especially those with genuine utility.  For me, one interesting idea is collaborative software walkthroughs; and I mean literal virtual walkthroughs; viewing the software architecture, traveling through the logic, observing animated simulations of behavior.  We have the technology to do this; it’s just a matter of finding an appropriate representation and creating tools that will generate it.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then just how many KLOC is a 3D virtual environment worth?

See you on Traveler!

Note 1: Her first time on Traveler, I had difficulty convincing my 5-year-old that the avatars she met were being run by people.  Since she couldn’t see her own avatar talking, she didn’t connect it.  This was made more difficult when I told her to ask the person she was speaking with if she was a real person.  The woman, feeling playful, said “No, honey.  I’m just a cartoon heart.  I live here. I float around here all day.”  My daughter look told me that she was sure she had just caught me trying to trick her.  The woman fessed up a few minutes later, and eventually we managed to convince my daughter.

About Max H:
Max is a father, a husband, and a man of many interests. He is also a consulting software architect with over 3 decades experience in the design and implementation of complex software. View his Linked-In profile at