IT wasn't so long ago that the novel Disclosure became a movie, and as it made its way through the international cinema circuit it brought to people's attention a picture of a brave new frontier in data interaction. Not only would virtual reality become a reality but it would become the centre of a whole new means of accessing large, dispersed databases of information. Using specially designed interfaces, users would experience walking through data which manifested itself in the form of three-dimensional spaces resembling buildings, hallways and files. In the vision of author Michael Crichton, users would actually walk on a specially designed pad that would detect their motion and the environment would react accordingly. At the same time, multiple users could enter the same environment, even from geographically dispersed locations, and interact with computer-generated, but life-like, representations of each other. While the model presented in the book and movie last year may be only a distant possibility and it is doubtful people want to actually get up and physically move around to access information, still it is through fictional visions such as the one in Disclosure that many technological innovations are born. The same is true of some new services from networking solutions provider UB Networks that promise to bring the vision of Disclosure a step closer to reality. While UB Network's director of strategy and business development Eli Zelkha did not base the company's new InterWorld VR service suite on Disclosure, he did base it on science fiction images of the future. 'The vision that has driven us came from fiction,' Mr Zelkha said. 'I don't feel bad about plagiarising a fiction writer because often the best visions come from them. We are doing Disclosure and frankly we did it before the film came out.' Launched last month, InterWorld VR is a service offering from UB Networks that promises to deliver custom development of three-dimensional worlds and the delivery of these worlds across international networks such as the Internet. These worlds can be used for everything from marketing to sales to database presentation and aim to step beyond the conventional limitations of the tools currently available on networks such as the Internet. This vision at UB Networks is fuelled by what Mr Zelkha identifies as certain changes in the user base of on-line technologies. 'In part due to what UB Networks has done and what the whole industry has done as well, network nodes are no longer just being used by white collar office workers and technology people, but by all kinds of people,' Mr Zelkha said. 'The thought we had about a year and a half ago is if the World Wide Web can have the type of power it is having in terms of growth, what if you invented an interface that was really targeted towards creating Internet communities with a fundamental focus on the human drivers rather than the enterprise drivers.' This led to the development of three-dimensional virtual reality interfaces as a way of changing the nature of people's interactions with information and other people on-line and bringing a social aspect back to people's cyber experiences. 'There is a new class of network users that really isn't being addressed. The network is increasingly permeating people's lives in a really important way that's new, and there is a need for a human community scale over the network,' Mr Zelkha said. 'We're trying to take the power of the Web and we're saying let's make it more compelling to consumers by adding three-dimensional, really world-class art. Most importantly the Web is a dead place. It doesn't have people occupying it. Let's put people in it. People will always be more interesting than documents. 'Beauty, community, intimacy - these are new things but these are the human needs, and as a networking company or as an enterprise, fundamentally we're trying to meet human needs.' The result of this pursuit of a sense of community in cyberspace and the drive to make the Web a place populated by people rather than documents is UB Network's solution. It offers real-time, three dimensional virtual worlds populated by multiple users simultaneously that can operate over a range of networking technologies from 14.4-Kbps modem links to ATM connections. The solution lies in how much of the data to localise before initiating a connection. 'One of the key things is that we want to leverage existing networks,' Mr Zelkha said. 'We trade off local storage against bandwidth so that even though we're not in a broadband world largely today, you can have a broadband experience. 'If you can do this before the whole world is ATM, you are allowing the substantial enterprise to gain experience in communication with its constituencies in a broadband manner today.' Towards this end, InterWorld VR is a service in which UB Networks will offer custom turn-key solutions for specific clients. 'We will prepare the content, the production, and the programming, and we will integrate it into the network and we will turn the key on for the client,' Mr Zelkha said. 'Our goal is to do 10-15 of the world's most unbelievable sites.' Using a normal browser, users go to the Web page of the particular client which include a special button for the three-dimensional version of their site. Following this link can lead to small samples of the three-dimensional world and the opportunity to download the world, which can range in size up to as much a five MB. Once loaded, this software constructs the world locally and handles further interactions in real-time with the virtual space. Although the service had just been launched, Mr Zelkha said UB Networks was already working on three projects which would be on-line in June. These included a Japanese travel service which would offer, among other things, three-dimensional tours of destinations and interaction in real-time with travel agents. 'Our fundamental interest is in exploding bandwidth and our primary objective is to create bandwidth demand,' Mr Zelkha said. In addition to InterWorld VR, UB Networks now also offers the InterWeb service which is a suite of WWW capabilities including consulting, advanced applications, and hosting sites. In addition, Mr Zelkha expects that UB Networks will offer a tool for sale to clients who want to build their own three-dimensional worlds within the next nine months.