Virtual worlds are the next generation of the Internet, its natural evolution as a communications, commerce and information platform. Buildings and exhibits have been built, but the medium is mainly only alive through avatars. Virtual worlds could be mirror worlds, comprised of live streaming data, ready for constant user interaction and manipulation.
Streaming data into virtual worlds and making tools for its visual display is an obvious next step.
Virtual world data visualization tools are needed
An open source data visualization tool suite for virtual worlds is needed, something to be the Many Eyes or Swivel of Second Life and other platforms.
There are some real-time interactive data displays (NOAA's real-time weather simulation, 3d stock charts, LAX air traffic data and IBM's virtual network operation centers) in Second Life but not tools for loading and manipulating custom data sets. Existing static exhibits of scientific and other tools could be enabled to accept data streams for real data analysis.
Standard web data formats like Google Docs spreadsheets could underlie virtual worlds data visualization tools. There should be web-based spreadsheets that can call data that updates in real-time. For example, stock portfolios calling real-time data can be made at various websites but a stock price data element cannot be called in a Google spreadsheet or a web-based data visualization tool like Many Eyes or Swivel. Please comment if you know of tools that do.
Advantageous properties of virtual worlds
The idea would be to use unique virtual world properties (real-time updating, data-streaming, camera zooming, interaction, 3d world aspects) to make data display and interaction tools that are complementary to traditional data visualization software. Some interesting uses could be:
- Sending microscopy results directly into virtual worlds to be digitally imaged; e.g.; have real SIMS microscopy data populate Second Life SIMS microscope displays in real-time as people are running experiments.
- Viewing hundreds of scientific experiment results simultaneously on massive data walls, using the zoom functionality to look closely or far away at multiple levels of detail
- Running thousands of simultaneous simulated experiments more efficiently than in physical reality
- Allowing colleagues and classes around the world could observe the results, participate and collaborate in real-time.
More information is available at the SL Data Visualization wiki or feel free to email me if you are interested in data visualization in virtual worlds.