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An XML father maps the Web in 3D
screenshot, designed by an XML pioneer, lets you browse the entire Web using a 3D map interface of Antarctica  

(IDG) -- Tim Bray is among a handful of individuals who played a role in birthing XML. Long a voice of common sense in the closely knit XML community, Bray's influence on XML standard evolution is considerable. His current project is interesting, though it has no clear immediate impact on enterprise software developers.

Bray has seen the next step in the Internet's evolution, and it's a 3-D experience. Bray has actually taken that next step with this week's official launch of the Website.

Using the continent of Antarctica as a visual reference, Bray's company, Systems, has constructed a three-dimensional map of the World Wide Web. Built with the company's Visual Net software, the site presents users with a 3-D landscape; the relationships between network elements are represented geographically. Users hover above, moving like a low-flying helicopter through neighborhoods of Websites. The experience has been described as "virtual-reality-like," but the interface feels more like a sophisticated computer game. Users are able to see the sites in detail without downloading any Webpages.

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Bray was a keynote speaker at last week's XML DevCon Fall 2000.'s launch was the buzz of the conference, which was overshadowed by the massive Comdex show, but still notable. Bray, who first mapped the Web in 1995, previewed the site in a keynote address at the XTech 2000 Conference earlier this year.

"People have gotten used to seeing the Net through the tiny, unsatisfying lens of search engines," Bray said. "While the engines are getting smarter, nobody would describe Web navigation as either efficient or fun. offers a productive and enjoyable public Website that gives people a view of the whole Net and lets them use it in a way that is consistent with the everyday world they live in."

Visual Net has an open API based on Web standards, chiefly HTTP and XML. The software uses XML on the desktop to avoid the network congestion associated with server-based rendering techniques. Visual Net plots and diagrams hundreds of thousands of subject categories and millions of Websites on 2-D and 3-D maps that communicate not only the categories, but also the size, quality of service, and popularity of the sites.

The Web appears in "regions" of varying sizes, determined by the relative popularity and usage of the sites they contain. According to Bray, rendering the Web as a 3-D map reveals new and often obscure information about a network. "It debunks the canard that the Net is all porn and business," he said.

The map's regions include health, news, business, computers, reference, games, and art. Within each category, individual sites and documents are rendered as three-dimensional buildings.

There is a commercial side to -- Bray admits that the site is a showcase for Visual Net. Access to the new site is free, but Bray expects to promote the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company's technology to corporations interested in creating data maps for their own internal networks.

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