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ABSTRACT
A computer network, server or group of servers, computer terminal means, methods for operating the same,
computer programs thereof, signals carrying data related to the same, and virtual environment, wherein the
server controls a computer network which operably supports a virtual environment which has a public space
having more than 2 dimensions and containing a plurality of virtual objects which are positioned by at least
one control user and which relate to logical objects within an external network or external virtual environment.
A user may access the computer network and virtual environment via a computer terminal means and move
within the virtual environment. The virtual objects have a proximity relationship based on at least prior user
activity or control user activity associated with respective virtual objects. By selecting a virtual object a user
may access the or information relating to the respective logical object of the external network or external
virtual environment.

A remotely accessible computer supporting a virtual environment

The present invention relates to a computer network, server or group of servers, computer terminal means,
methods for operating the same, computer programs thereof, signals carrying data related to the same, and
virtual environment, for being accessed by users and controlled by at least one control user, wherein the
virtual environment has at least two virtual spatial dimensions, and contains virtual objects relating to logical
objects of an external network or external virtual environment having a proximity relationship based on at
least prior user activity or control user activity associated with respective virtual objects.

In the past the vastly predominant worldwide network has been the internet, which operates on the World
Wide Web. This environment is controlled using the programming language html, and to a lesser, but
increasing extent other languages such as java, and shockwave, are used to control objects within web
pages. Html is designed to specify the arrangement of text, images and active objects on a two dimensional
web page.
Network environments such as the internet have the disadvantage that it is not possible for the normal user
to provide a higher dimensional construct without recourse to another language such as Java.
Another disadvantage that network environments such as the internet suffer from is that it is generally not
possible for the normal user viewing one web page, to view material related by context provided
independently from the current web page or site.
Various remedies are available such as links, search engines, and directories. Links are provided on a web
page as a shortcut to another part of the internet which the provider of the web page or site wishes users to
be able to readily view. The web pages of two competing companies are very unlikely to provide this service,
despite the fact that each would want a link on the web page of their competitor directed to their own web
page. In general links will often allow movement around the internet with a fair degree of ease, but will
generally only provide an overview of an interest, subject, issue, topic, or a related group of the same in a
directory. A directory is supplied by an internet portal and contains a compilation of links arranged by category
or other suitable arrangement. The user may often find what they were looking for, provided that the internet
portal provider has compiled the appropriate web address, but too often the required page has not registered
with, or been noticed by the internet portal provider. Additionally with the increasing commercialisation of the
internet portal market, the directory will often feature sponsors at the expense of non-paying website. Search
engines are a more powerful tool for finding relevant web pages, but the service still suffers in that the results
must be compiled or registered. Non-commercial web-pages and sites are often excluded and again due to
increasing commercialisation the search results are often dominated by the web-pages of paying members.
Yet another disadvantage that network environments such as the internet suffer from is that it is generally
slow and cumbersome to navigate through different areas therein. Usually links can provide a method of
negotiating within an area; search engines provide an indirect route, and even when the location is known
(defined by a string of alphanumeric characters known as a URL) the address must then be laboriously
typed into the address bar of a browser. Although all commercially available browsers permit users to store
addresses of particular interest for later access via the same computer, the process of navigating the internet
is often frustrating and slow.
Yet another disadvantage that the internet suffers from is that it fails to produce the on-line experience that
the new user may expect. Current advertisements for internet services and providers often portray surfing the
internet as a seamless experience in a three dimensional environment with streaming content and a
barrage of information to overwhelm the senses. The actual experience of using the internet – even with a
high speed connection - is inevitably a browser displaying a series of pages of information and images.
The only main solution proposed to improve internet experience is a faster internet connection, but this fails
to address the above disadvantages.
Still another disadvantage that the internet suffers from is that users are not able to interact with one another
except in specialized websites, where recourse must normally be made to alternative software languages
such as Java. In general it is not possible to observe the flow of other users around the current location, and
interact in any way with those users active in the same part of the internet.
It is an object of the present invention to provide a three dimensional or higher dimensional virtual
environment network, server, method, signal and interface which provides an improved network environment
experience for a user.
It is another object of the present invention to provide a virtual network wherein information and logical
objects can be represented in a format where a user can locate a desired logical object faster than was
previously possible.
It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a virtual network wherein each user may in general
view the movements and activities of other users in any public area of the environment.
It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a virtual network wherein each user may in general
interact with other users with any combination of text, sound, images, the control of a user’s virtual persona
or ‘skin’, the transaction of logical objects, or virtual business transactions.
According to a first aspect of the invention there is provided A computer adapted to be accessible remotely via
a computer network,  to operably support a virtual environment and to permit a plurality of users to access
said computer network and said virtual environment using a respective plurality of computer terminal means,
each of said plurality of computer terminal means respectively adapted to provide a user interface for at least
one respective user,
said virtual environment being a virtual space having at least three virtual spatial dimensions,
said computer being adapted to permit at least one control user to create virtual objects adapted to display
information within respectively controlled portions of the virtual environment,
said computer being adapted to permit said at least one control user to create at least within respectively
controlled portions of the virtual environment or within respectively controlled virtual objects, virtual pointers to
logical objects from at least an external network or an external virtual environment,
said computer being adapted to permit said plurality of users to observe the virtual environment from a
respective virtual location and have at least limited control over the respective observing location, and to
select a virtual pointer to thereby request a logical object of said external network or external virtual
environment to which the respective virtual pointer at least points to or links to.
According to a second aspect of the invention there is provided a computer network comprising the computer
of the first aspect and passing information from said computer and information requests to said computer.
According to a third aspect of the invention there is provided a method of operating a computer having the
steps of:
maintaining a virtual environment comprising a virtual space having more than at least three virtual spatial
dimensions;
permitting at least one control user to at least create or position virtual objects, each adapted to display
information, within the virtual environment;
permitting at least one control user to at least create or position virtual pointers to logical objects from at least
an external network or an external virtual environment, at least within the virtual environment or within
respectively created or positioned virtual objects
permitting a plurality of users to at least connect to the computer using a plurality of respective computer
terminal means, to have virtual access to the virtual environment, to observe the virtual environment from a
respective virtual location, to have at least limited control over the respective observing locations within the
virtual environment, and
permitting a plurality of connected users to select a virtual pointer to thereby request a logical object of said
external network or external virtual environment to which the respective virtual pointer at least points to or
links to.
According to a fourth aspect of the invention there is provided a computer terminal means adapted to access
a computer via a computer network, to access a virtual environment operably supported by said computer, to
provide a user interface for at least one user, to allow at least one user to select a logical object from a
plurality of logical objects of at least one external network or external virtual environment by means of a
plurality of virtual objects within said virtual environment,
said computer being adapted to operably support said computer network and said virtual environment and
adapted to permit a plurality of users to access said computer network and said virtual environment using a
plurality of computer terminal means,
said computer terminal means respectively adapted to provide a user interface for at least one respective
user,
said computer being adapted to permit:
a plurality of control users to at least control respective portions of the virtual environment and to at least
position virtual objects within the respectively controlled portions of the virtual environment; and
said plurality of users to observe the virtual environment from a respective virtual location and to control the
respective observing location,
said virtual environment comprising a plurality of virtual objects each adapted to display information,
distributed among a plurality of control user controlled portions of the virtual environment, wherein:
said virtual objects comprise a link, hyperlink or pointer to a logical object from an external virtual
environment;
said virtual environment comprises a virtual space having at least three virtual spatial dimensions;
said computer is adapted to control the virtual environment such that each of the plurality of control users
may act to gain or exchange control of portions of the virtual environment; and
said computer is adapted to permit said plurality of users to select a virtual object from the plurality of virtual
objects and thereby select one of a plurality of logical objects of said external network or external virtual
environment to which the selected user interface points to or links to.
According to a fifth aspect of the invention there is provided a method of operating the computer terminal of
the fourth aspect having the steps of:
connecting to and accessing the computer network and the computer;
accessing the virtual environment operably supported by the computer;
providing a user interface for at least one user;
permitting the at least one user to observe the virtual environment from a respective virtual location and to
control the respective observing location; and
permitting said at least one user to select a virtual object from the plurality of virtual objects and thereby
select one of a plurality of logical objects of the external network or external virtual environment to which the
selected user interface points to or links to.
According to a sixth aspect of the invention there is provided a computer program having computer
instructions for performing the method of any one of the third aspect and the fifth aspect.
According to a seventh aspect of the invention there is provided a computer readable medium having at least
a computer program having computer instructions for performing the method of any one of the third aspect
and the fifth aspect encoded thereon.
According to an eighth aspect of the invention there is provided a method of uploading or downloading data
having at least a computer program having computer instructions for performing the method of any one of the
third aspect and the fifth aspect encoded therein.
According to a ninth aspect of the invention there is provided a virtual environment adapted to be operably
supported by the computer network of the second aspect.
According to a tenth aspect of the invention there is provided a digital network signal conveying data between
a server and a terminal having at least geometry data of the virtual environment of the ninth aspect encoded
therein, or at least a request for geometry data of the virtual environment of the ninth aspect encoded therein.
According to an eleventh aspect of the invention there is provided computer for supporting a virtual
environment having three virtual spatial dimensions as herein before described with reference to figures 1 to
5.
According to one embodiment of the first aspect of the invention there is provided the computer server of the
first aspect wherein:
the virtual environment comprises at least 10 virtual objects comprising links, hyperlinks or pointers to at
least 10 respective logical objects from the internet;
said at least 10 respective logical objects comprise at least 10 respective web-pages of the internet;
said plurality of computer terminal means comprise at least 10 computer terminal means; and
said virtual environment comprises a plurality of respectively non-parallel surfaces each displaying a
respective image.

According to any of the aspects of the invention, the computer network and virtual environment may non-
exclusively be adapted to allow a single control user to arrange the virtual objects according to category.
According to any of the aspects of the invention, the computer network and virtual environment may non-
exclusively be adapted to allow a single control user to arrange the virtual objects according to information
regarding the logical objects of the external network or external virtual environment.
According to any of the aspects of the invention, the computer network and virtual environment may non-
exclusively be adapted to allow a single control user to arrange the virtual objects according to a proximity
relationship based on prior user selections of said virtual objects according to a pre-determined
computational method.
According to any of the aspects of the invention, the computer network and virtual environment may non-
exclusively be adapted to allow a single control user to arrange the virtual objects according to a proximity
relationship based on prior user virtual movement from proximal to one virtual object to proximal another
virtual object according to a pre-determined computational method.
According to any of the aspects of the invention, the computer network and virtual environment may non-
exclusively be adapted to allow multiple control users to each arrange their respectively controlled virtual
objects so as to attract attention from users proximal to related virtual objects.
According to any of the aspects of the invention, the computer network and virtual environment may non-
exclusively be adapted to allow multiple control users to each control non-public spaces within the virtual
environment. Each respective control user has control over any virtual objects within the respective non-
public space. In this regard a non-public space may be a virtual object itself.
According to any of the aspects of the invention, the computer network and virtual environment may non-
exclusively be adapted to allow multiple users to interact with one-another at least in the public area, not
limited to any combination of the following manners:
visually displaying a public virtual persona of a respective user at the respective user’s virtual location;
providing audio data to mix with a background audio stream of the public space or a local region, or providing
the audio data at varying levels to multiple background audio streams according to virtual user proximity to
various virtual reference points;
providing geometry and movement data of respective virtual personas;
providing audio data which may be compressed, which may be real-time and which may be one-way, two-
way or may be a multi-user interaction;
providing text data which may be compressed, which may be real-time and which may be one-way, two-way
or may be a multi-user interaction;
providing video data which may be compressed, which may be real-time and which may be one-way, two-
way or may be a multi-user interaction;
providing a logical object which may be compressed;
creating, entering or joining a private ‘room’ which may be a private part of the virtual environment or may be a
connected but separate addition to the virtual environment;
participating in a game which may be by data exchange while in the public space, may be in a non-public
space provided by a control user, may be in a private ‘room’, or may be proximal to and involving a virtual
object within the virtual environment; and
participating in an action game which may involve users shooting at one another and may involve
modification of respective user’s virtual personas to include representations of weapons and the like, and
may involve laws of virtual physics within a non-public space different from those within the public space.

For a better understanding of the invention and to show how the same may be carried into effect, reference
will now be made, by way of example, to the accompanying drawings, in which:
Figure 1 is a diagram of a computer network according to an embodiment of the invention;
Figure 2 is a diagram of a computer network according to another embodiment of the invention;
Figure 3 is a flow diagram illustrating a method of operating a computer network server or computer network
according to one embodiment of the invention;
Figure 4 is a flow diagram illustrating some of the more basic parts of a method of operating a computer
network server or computer network according to one embodiment of the invention; and
Figure 5 is a flow diagram illustrating a method of operating a terminal according to one embodiment of the
invention.

A three or higher dimensional virtual environment network, method, signal and interface is provided such that
sets up a hierarchy of control, a domain hierarchy in connection with the hierarchy of control or some of the
control levels, which allows a normal user to experience the three-or-higher dimensional virtual environment
and potentially also other users, particularly those active in the same location in the environment, and
particularly at a proximal location. Interaction need not be limited to environment proximity, but in some
circumstances the user may automatically be in visual contact with users proximate in the virtual
environment. At a higher level in the hierarchy of control, control users may be able to control a surface,
volume or region so as to display information such as a link to a web page, or an advertisement. At a yet
higher level in the hierarchy of control a domain user may create a virtual external space which users may
travel virtually to and from. The domain user may have any combination of control of the features of the space
not limited to the size, dimensionality, contents, rules of user interaction, rules of user conduct, and rules of
virtual physics. An external space may for example be accessed via a two or three dimensional portal in a
three dimensional virtual environment, or may be accessed from any part of the environment or other external
space by a command from the respective user.
When a plurality of control users provide a plurality of control surfaces relating to interests, areas of
commerce, services, or information, the users may be allocated by a top level in the control hierarchy the
option of relocating their control area according to predetermined rules. An example of such a rule would be
unlimited access to any otherwise unused space, another example would be access to virtual space on the
basis of prior use of the users space by other users, and the demand for the virtual space in question. The
virtual environment may be adapted to seamlessly warp, or stretch so as to allow new control spaces to be
inserted between spaces previously in contact. Alternatively a top level in the control hierarchy may determine
that the spaces controlled by users lower in the control hierarchy should move so as to allow new user’s
access to the virtual neighbourhood.
It is generally necessary to provide a high level of geometric data compression, sound compression and or
image compression in a large such network so as to permit real-time interaction between a large number of
users, and permit users to download new environment information as they move within the environment.
Sound compression is particularly important when normal users provide and receive sound information from
users they choose to engage in audio interaction with, or from users on the basis of virtual proximity.
Image compression is particularly important when a user enters a new area of the environment, or an area
which a user has not been active in for some time. Many or most of the surfaces and volumes in the
environment are likely to show a combination of text, images, moving images, and 3 dimensional images,
according to the choice of the user in control of the respective surface or volume. A substantial proportion of
the images and so forth are liable to be repeated many times around the environment and so the image
compression system used should avoid the need to download an image multiple times. Examples of this
would include advertisements, standard decoratory textures for walls and other surfaces, and information
relating to the colour and texture of the virtual personas used by users, or any image provided or created by
one user and copied by many due to any reason.
Geometry data compression is also particularly important when a user enters a new area of the environment,
or an area which a user has not been active in for some time. Some structures in the environment may be
repeated throughout the environment many times. Examples may include standard decoratory objects for
internal rooms, common objects found in roads, or any object created by one user and copied by many due
to aesthetic appeal or any other reason.
The network may use but is not limited to four main types of information flow:
firstly upward index information from users to a server, group of servers, or most convenient server regarding
the Geometry, Image and Object (GIO) information that the user has access to, and or whether such GIO
information has been deleted since the last time the user (i.e. the user’s computer – a distinction which is
important if multiple users use a computer and said computer is allowed to pool the information gained from
multiple users excursions into the environment) accessed the environment.
In the case that the server(s) keep a full record of the GIO information sent to or received by the user, such
index information may be provided simply by identifying the periods of time from which the user (or user’s
computer) has appropriate records. In the case where the server(s) keep a basic record of the degree of GIO
detail that a user (or user’s computer) has of each region of the environment, and the time at which the
respective GIO details were provided or obtained, then such index information may be provided on the basis
that the server(s) infer the GIO information that the user will require. In this (as in the next) case, the user may
frequently request particular details of information, although such frequent information requests are in no
way limited to this case.
In the case that the server(s) do not store sufficiently useful information regarding the degree of GIO detail a
user has of each part of the environment, the server(s) will either provide appropriate GIO information as and
when requested by a user, or receive information requests from a user as and when appropriate, along with
information relating to the location (and perhaps of course motion) of the user in the environment (Activity (A)
information).
In general, in either of the cases where the server(s) do not store sufficiently useful information regarding to
the GIO information provided to or received by a user (or computer), such GIO information may be requested
positively by identifying a set of objects and images required (and or optionally a region and a degree of
detail desired), and or negatively by specifying the information already obtained (and or optionally the degree
of information required);
secondly downward information flow of GIO data from the server(s) to a user, either with priority given to user
proximity, or alternatively (to save computing time and bandwidth) in packets, each relating one or more
(normally non-overlapping) regions of the environment, and at a particular detail level, and optionally based
on the direction of the user from (or in) the one or more overlapping regions.
thirdly ‘A’ cross network information such as any combination of user movement, user voice or other audio,
virtual persona control information and video information; and
fourthly combination cross network information which may usually consist of compressed audio signals from
multiple users combined together by either a node computer (a user’s computer acting so as to limit the
bandwidth required by the network) or a server. Typically this may not be a single process: each user in the
network may have the option of uploading real-time continuous compressed audio information, these may
be combined to form composite compressed audio stream for each of a set of regions of the environment.
Each user may then have the option of downloading either the information stream closest to their location, or
the several most proximal such streams and optionally then combine the streams giving priority to the more
proximal streams. The end result would be that each user has the option of contributing to, and listening to
the sounds of proximal users, (and control areas which may also contribute), with an approximate emphasis
given to the most proximal audio sources.
The server(s) may define the environment as a set of regions and may maintain a number of packets of
ready-compressed data to be sent to a user on demand. One possible way would be to define a set of three
dimensional regions such as tetrahedrons or cubes, which interlock to cover the whole environment. Another
way would be have a first such set, and one or more sets such that a region from one set overlaps at least
two from at least one of the other sets. Another way would be to define a set or sets of regions, according to
either of the above two ways, according to an algorithm, neural network, or other system, of varying shape,
size, number of outer surfaces, dimensionality - optionally according to the arrangement of GIO in the
environment, and optionally according to a prior or predicted flow of users movements, and optionally
according to prior or expected changes in the shape of the environment.
When multiple users need a particular maintained packet within a small amount of time, the server may
advantageously ‘broadcast’ the maintained packet so as to save bandwidth. In some situations it may be
advantageous to regularly broadcast a particular maintained packet. Users may choose to download such
broadcast information from the server(s) so as to have more up to date information even in regions where
the user is not currently active so as to improve future personal environment performance. This may be
optimised on the basis of past or predicted environment use. Users may choose to download such
broadcast information relating to regions where the user has never been active so as to potentially improve
future personal environment performance.
Control users may have control of any of a surface, a volume, or higher dimensional region, or separate
environment. Such a surface need not be flat, need not have any edge (for example the surface of a sphere),
and need not have a fixed shape or size. Such a volume need not have flat virtual space in the sense of a flat
space-time, need not have an outer boundary (for example moving in a straight line may return you to the
starting point), and need not have a fixed shape or size. The same general points may apply to a higher
dimensional region. The rules of behaviour, virtual physics, and conduct may be defined by the control user
of the region. In addition, a user’s persona may be modified so as to have additional capabilities. The region
may form a part of the virtual environment or may be an external virtual environment. It may be entered from
the virtual environment via a link, a surface, a volume, or a higher dimensional region of the (main) virtual
environment, or by a command from the user.

Description of the Preferred Embodiments.
An embodiment of this invention will now be explained with reference to the drawings.
Fig. 3 shows a flow diagram illustrating a method of operating a computer network server or computer
network according to one embodiment of the invention. Firstly the computer network or computer network
server generates a virtual environment comprising a virtual space having more than two virtual spatial
dimensions and having at least one public space. The virtual space allows a user to view the contents of the
virtual environment or at least one public space therein from any angle and any location subject to any
limitations controlled by a control user such as virtual gravity limiting the virtual height of a virtual viewing
position. In this way a more user friendly, adaptable, and varied virtual landscape or virtual structure can be
provided which can be navigated in a less structured manner. In particular the ability to change a viewing
height over a fairly planar arrangement provides a way to effectively zoom into and out of the arrangement
while remaining more user friendly to a human user than a simple zoom-able two dimensional display.
Further the ability to look sideways provides a greater flexibility to a user that is particularly valuable in a
structure where the size-scales of objects within the environment varies greatly. By moving upward away from
the small objects of immediate interest it is immediately possible for an inexperienced user to judge scales
and distances and to place the current location in context with a bigger mental map built up while navigating
the area. In this way land-marks such as huge clusters of objects towering upwards provide a form of
navigation that is simply not possible in a two dimensional zoom-able image.
Secondly at least one control user is permitted to position (both create and relocate) virtual objects (within the
virtual environment or at least within one public space), each adapted to display information. Such objects
may have almost any form but will specifically not all be parallel so as to form a two dimensional surface. In
general according to one embodiment they are positioned wherever any control user chooses to do so,
insofar as there is a control user providing an at least initial allocation of virtual space to other control users
or a system either operating autonomously and thereby being a control user itself or controlled by the
proprietors of the computer network or of at least one computer network server or of distributed software
which generates the virtual environment. In whichever manner of organisation chosen, control users may at
least create logical objects in locations to which they have permission to do so. The form of organisation may
have an initial starting arrangement or free space may be allocated on a request basis. Space may be
resold, rented and otherwise negotiated between control users.
The amount of space in the virtual environment may not be fixed. A control user may have control over the
space to such a degree that it may disobey conventional rules of physics. Space may be caused to be
‘curved’ or even disjointed such that the volume inside a cube of virtual space of 1 unit width is not equal to 1
unit cubed. This may apply across large swathes of the virtual environment affecting a large number of
control user’s spaces, or may apply within a particular space controlled by one control user so that a ‘tardis-
like’ logical object could be created. In such a region the control user may control a region of space which
appears small to an outside observer, but contains ample space to display an unexpectedly large amount of
information, images, or logical objects. In the former case where the effect would apply across a number of
control user’s spaces the effect may be used to amplify or create a situation where the nearer an observer is
to a group of logical objects the smaller the user becomes relative to the respective logical objects thereby
enabling faster journey times between any two logical objects. A user’s user interface may represent the
virtual environment without adhering to the rules of perspective and may utilize different rules to display a
region so as to increase the relative visibility of portions of the virtual environment.
The logical objects themselves are not necessarily limited to any particular type and may take the form of any
displayable computer animated effect. Examples include text, animated text, images, curved images,
geometric or amorphous shapes having images generated on the surface or inside, or a three dimensional
shape or animated three dimensional shape being a symbol or being symbolic, holographic effects, user
activity dependent effects, effects having no easily observable boundaries or any displayable combination or
variation of the above whatsoever. The logical objects may have an interactive aspect and may display
according to user movements, information known about a user or information freely available about a user.
They may also appear entirely different to two different users at any one time.
Importantly the logical objects may also have the effect of a network link or pointer. In this regard selecting
such a logical object, coming into virtual contact with the logical object or any other interaction may cause a
relocation of the user to any part of at least one public space or to any part of the space controlled by the
control user of the respective logical object or to access a predetermined location in an external network or
external environment. This external network or external environment may be two dimensional and may be the
internet.
A user controlled space may have computer code respectively related thereto, thereby collecting information
on user activity at least proximal respectively thereto. In this way a control user may direct that the respectively
controlled spaces be relocated dependent on any higher level control or higher level rules or may buy, sell or
trade or otherwise obtain space in a region where there is a stronger contextual relationship between the
logical objects controlled by the respective control user and the logical objects proximal to the new space
than was the case prior to the change. This can be effected either by observing where related material is
located within the virtual environment and manually arranging for the transfer. Alternatively an algorithm using
keyword searches may determine the locations where such relationships are strongest and accordingly
automatically seeking to obtain space as close to that location as possible. Information may be collected on
user activity. Activity of particular interest would be the movements of users who have come proximal to the
respectively controlled space or logical objects, or who have interacted with the logical objects or within the
space, and particularly the movements of those particular users shortly prior to and or shortly after such
proximity or interaction. Amassing such information allows easy identification of hotspots where the users
have spent time temporarily proximal to the time of the interactions or spatial proximities. In any of these
manners either manually or in an automated fashion control users having relationships such as but not
limited to trade partners, trade competitors, related information providers, related entertainment providers, or
any other group or pair of control users or control spaces which have a significant relationship as seen by the
users, such related control spaces may gravitate together and cluster to form centres of particular interest to
users. In addition a control user may prefer to take control of an extra space in such a location proximal to
spaces having related material rather that just to move. This may be due to and in turn generate more than
one cluster of related material per contextual relationship. For example a car manufacturer may take part in
displaying information in a cluster related to car sales, and also in a cluster related to car racing.
In particular the above described clustering is fostered by the innate desire of some control users to
advertise their products, services, or other interests both as widely as possible and as efficiently as possible.
It will also be fostered by the design and control rules of the computer network and virtual environment. The
internet cannot for example generate such control user behaviour. It is intrinsically a series of discrete pieces
of information and it is in general not possible for a control user to fix a geometric relationship between a
respectively controlled page and a page not controlled by the respective control user. On the other hand
providing a means for such relationships inherently into the environment will naturally result in many users
exploiting this effect to promote, advertise, and solicit or to disseminate information, and particularly for such
activity to focus in regions where such activity would be most efficient.
In particular at least a plurality of the logical objects within the environment or at least one public space within
the environment will have the property of linking to an external network. This external network provides
information and may be the internet. The computer network herein described and the external network may or
may not both be the World Wide Web and may or may not operate using the same standard network
protocols. In particular at least if they both operate on the same network then at least a plurality of logical
objects in the virtual environment will provide access to or be links or pointers to at least a part of an external
network environment. This external environment may be the internet and at least a plurality of the logical
objects within at least the public space of the virtual environment may be considered to be hyperlinks.
Thirdly the virtual environment may be controlled such that the virtual objects in the virtual environment have a
proximity relationship based on at least prior user activity or control user activity associated with respective
virtual objects. This is effected by providing the virtual space and allowing the control user or users to
position logical objects wherever they see fit and providing the effect that users within the virtual space
preferentially observe logical objects which are virtually proximal. This encourages the control user or users
to position logical objects efficiently in order to benefit from any attention that they may receive from users. In
general this may be automated in that a control user operates a computer program or other means to
automatically determine where best to position logical objects and to automatically try to do the same.
Alternatively a single control user may run such a program so as to provide respectively related matter
relatively proximally. In general such an arrangement of logical objects will be of value as an information
finding tool and interaction providing tool for users, as a means of disseminating information, soliciting,
advertising or otherwise attracting attention for control users, and as a means of the same for a single
control user.
Fourthly the server may control the computer network so as to permit users to connect to the computer
network using a plurality of computer terminal means, to have virtual access to the public space, to observe
the virtual environment from a respective virtual location, and to control the respective observing locations.
This may take the form of a log-in using a username and password or similar method, or may be a freely
accessible environment. In general each user will access the virtual environment via a respective terminal
which may for example be based anywhere in the world, or may be located in a region such as a building or
wireless access provided region. In general each user may access the computer network which may be the
World Wide Web or may be a private network. In general the virtual space may be a three dimensional
environment which may for example be generated to resemble a landscape, the inside of a building, or an
artificial universe. In general a user may have an initial observing location which may be automatically
assigned, random, a default starting location or a user-defined starting location. In general each respective
user may have control over his or her own viewing location and the movement thereof. The form of this
control may be free movement and relocation, or may be limited by the virtual rules of physics such as virtual
gravity. Similarly some objects within the virtual environment may be impervious and there may be limits on
acceleration and maximum speed. Such constraints may be set by a top level control user or a locally
controlling control user. In general users may be able to ‘jump’ from one location to another, say to a
specified location or to a previous location, or to a location specified by a virtual object.
Fifthly the server may control the computer network so as to permit users to access the computer network
and the virtual environment using a plurality of computer terminals which provide a user interface for allowing
the users to select a logical object from a plurality of logical objects of an external network or external virtual
environment by means of the plurality of virtual objects within the virtual environment. In general the virtual
objects within the virtual environment are any logical object or virtual object within the virtual environment
which provide or constitute a link, hyperlink, or pointer. A user may select such an object by any means
provided by the user interface of their respective terminal. For example this may be by moving a respective
viewing location to the location of the object, or bringing all or a part of a respective persona into contact with
the object, or by means of a pointing device such as a computer mouse or by means of changing a viewing
orientation to face the object and signalling by means of for example a button such as a keyboard button. The
linking, hyperlink, or pointer property of such an object may have the property that the user’s viewing location
changes within the virtual environment to that indicated by the object, the user interface provided by the
terminal displays information contained in a logical object designated by the virtual object, a separate user
interface is activated to display information contained in the logical object designated by the virtual object, or
the terminal downloads and only stores information designated by the virtual object. The information
designated may be a two dimensional image such as an internet-page displayed on an internet browser or
displayed as part of the user interface’s function, or displayed within the virtual network environment such as
on a two dimensional surface. For example a wall type surface within the virtual environment may contain
text, the selection of which would cause the wall to display the internet-page designated by the original text or
designated by hidden information related to the selected wall or to the selected text.
In general many logical objects in the virtual environment will comprise virtual objects, many of which will
designate, link to, or point to information, a logical object or a group of logical objects of an external network
or an external virtual environment. Preferably there will be provided within the virtual environment at least 10
virtual objects comprising links, hyperlinks or pointers to an external network or an external virtual
environment. More preferably there will be at least 100. Even more preferably there will be at least 1000.
Preferably the external network or external virtual environment will comprise the internet. Preferably said
plurality of computer terminal means will comprise at least 10 computers. More preferably said plurality of
computer terminal means will comprise at least 100 computers. Even more preferably said plurality of
computer terminal means will comprise at least 1000 computers.
Figure 4 shows an example of how the server or computer network may operate which is self-explanatory.
Figure 5 illustrates how a terminal means may operate. The computer network described above, the
computer terminal described above and the virtual network described above are accessed - normally in this
order. The computer terminal acts to provide a user interface and hence allows a user to view the virtual
environment. The terminal is programmed to receive geometry data from the computer network and the
server and to provide a visual representation of the virtual environment from the viewpoint of a virtual location
of the user. The terminal provides the instruction s of the user to the server, and also information from the
server to the user in a visual manner. The terminal may also serve to compress and decompress
information so as reduce the bandwidth necessary for a user to use the virtual environment.
Any combination of feature as described above may be incorporated into a general embodiment of the first
aspect and in any combination.


CLAIMS

1. A computer adapted to be accessible remotely via a computer network,  to operably support a virtual
environment and to permit a plurality of users to access said computer network and said virtual environment
using a respective plurality of computer terminal means,
each of said plurality of computer terminal means respectively adapted to provide a user interface for at least
one respective user,
said virtual environment being a virtual space having at least three virtual spatial dimensions,
said computer being adapted to permit at least one control user to create virtual objects adapted to display
information within respectively controlled portions of the virtual environment,
said computer being adapted to permit said at least one control user to create at least within respectively
controlled portions of the virtual environment or within respectively controlled virtual objects, virtual pointers to
logical objects from at least an external network or an external virtual environment,
said computer being adapted to permit said plurality of users to observe the virtual environment from a
respective virtual location and have at least limited control over the respective observing location, and to
select a virtual pointer to thereby request a logical object of said external network or external virtual
environment to which the respective virtual pointer at least points to or links to.

2. The computer of claim 1 wherein:
the virtual environment comprises at least 100 virtual objects point to at least 100 respective logical objects
from the internet;
said at least 100 respective logical objects from the internet comprise at least 100 respective internet web-
pages or universal resource locators;
said plurality of computer terminal means comprise at least 10 computer terminal means; and
said virtual environment comprises a plurality of respectively virtually non-parallel surfaces each displaying a
respective image.

3. The computer of claim 1 or 2 wherein the at least one control user constitutes at least 10 control users,
each able to control a respectively controlled portion of the virtual environment and to at least create or
position virtual objects and virtual pointers at least within a respectively controlled portion of the virtual
environment, and each at least able to act to gain control of an additional portion of the virtual environment, to
relocate each or any of their respectively controlled portion or portions of the virtual environment, and to
exchange or trade in respectively controlled portions of the virtual environment.

4. The computer of claim 1, 2 or 3 wherein each of the plurality of users is able to access the virtual
environment, to control a respective virtual orientation within the virtual environment, to control a respective
virtual velocity within the virtual environment.

5. A computer network comprising the computer of claim 1 and passing information from said computer and
information requests to said computer.

6. A method of operating a computer having the steps of:
maintaining a virtual environment comprising a virtual space having more than at least three virtual spatial
dimensions;
permitting at least one control user to at least create or position virtual objects, each adapted to display
information, within the virtual environment;
permitting at least one control user to at least create or position virtual pointers to logical objects from at least
an external network or an external virtual environment, at least within the virtual environment or within
respectively created or positioned virtual objects
permitting a plurality of users to at least connect to the computer using a plurality of respective computer
terminal means, to have virtual access to the virtual environment, to observe the virtual environment from a
respective virtual location, to have at least limited control over the respective observing locations within the
virtual environment, and
permitting a plurality of connected users to select a virtual pointer to thereby request a logical object of said
external network or external virtual environment to which the respective virtual pointer at least points to or
links to.

7. A method of operating a computer according to claim 6 wherein:
the virtual environment comprises at least 100 virtual objects point to at least 100 respective logical objects
from the internet;
said at least 100 respective logical objects from the internet comprise at least 100 respective internet web-
pages or universal resource locators;
said plurality of computer terminal means comprise at least 10 computer terminal means; and
said virtual environment comprises a plurality of respectively virtually non-parallel surfaces each displaying a
respective image.

8. A method of operating a computer according to claim 6 or 7 wherein the at least one control user
constitutes at least 10 control users, each able to control a respectively controlled portion of the virtual
environment and to at least create or position virtual objects and virtual pointers at least within a respectively
controlled portion of the virtual environment, and each at least able to act to gain control of an additional
portion of the virtual environment, to relocate each or any of their respectively controlled portion or portions of
the virtual environment, and to exchange or trade in respectively controlled portions of the virtual environment.

9. A computer terminal means adapted to access a computer via a computer network, to access a virtual
environment operably supported by said computer, to provide a user interface for at least one user, to allow
at least one user to select a logical object from a plurality of logical objects of at least one external network or
external virtual environment by means of a plurality of virtual objects within said virtual environment,
said computer being adapted to operably support said computer network and said virtual environment and
adapted to permit a plurality of users to access said computer network and said virtual environment using a
plurality of computer terminal means,
said computer terminal means respectively adapted to provide a user interface for at least one respective
user,
said computer being adapted to permit:
a plurality of control users to at least control respective portions of the virtual environment and to at least
position virtual objects within the respectively controlled portions of the virtual environment; and
said plurality of users to observe the virtual environment from a respective virtual location and to control the
respective observing location,
said virtual environment comprising a plurality of virtual objects each adapted to display information,
distributed among a plurality of control user controlled portions of the virtual environment, wherein:
said virtual objects comprise a link, hyperlink or pointer to a logical object from an external virtual
environment;
said virtual environment comprises a virtual space having at least three virtual spatial dimensions;
said computer is adapted to control the virtual environment such that each of the plurality of control users
may act to gain or exchange control of portions of the virtual environment; and
said computer is adapted to permit said plurality of users to select a virtual object from the plurality of virtual
objects and thereby select one of a plurality of logical objects of said external network or external virtual
environment to which the selected user interface points to or links to.

10. A method of operating the computer terminal of claim 9 having the steps of:
connecting to and accessing the computer network and the computer;
accessing the virtual environment operably supported by the computer;
providing a user interface for at least one user;
permitting the at least one user to observe the virtual environment from a respective virtual location and to
control the respective observing location; and
permitting said at least one user to select a virtual object from the plurality of virtual objects and thereby
select one of a plurality of logical objects of the external network or external virtual environment to which the
selected user interface points to or links to.

11. A computer program having computer instructions for performing the method of any one of claims 6, 7, 8
and 10.

12. A computer readable medium having at least a computer program having computer instructions for
performing the method of any one of claims 6, 7, 8 and 10 encoded thereon.

13. A method of uploading or downloading data having at least a computer program having computer
instructions for performing the method of any one of claims 6, 7, 8 and 10 encoded therein.

14. A three dimensional virtual environment adapted to be operably supported by the computer network of
claim 5.

15. A digital network signal conveying data between a computer and a terminal having at least one of
geometry data of the three dimensional virtual environment of claim 14 encoded therein and a request for
geometry data of the virtual environment of claim 14 encoded therein.

16. A computer for supporting a virtual environment having three virtual spatial dimensions as herein before
described with reference to figures 1 to 5.

17. A virtual environment having three virtual spatial dimensions as herein before described with reference to
figures 1 to 5.

18. A method of operably supporting or accessing a virtual environment having more than two virtual spatial
dimensions as herein before described with reference to figures 1 to 5.

19. A computer and display means adapted to access a virtual environment having three virtual spatial
dimensions, to allow a user at least limited control over the observing location and orientation, and to display
a view of the virtual environment from a virtual observing location and orientation as herein before described
with reference to figures 1 to 5.

20. A computer program for controlling a computer to support a virtual environment having three virtual spatial
dimensions as herein before described with reference to figures 1 to 5.

21. A computer program for controlling a computer and display means to access a remote virtual
environment having three virtual spatial dimensions, to allow a user at least limited control over the
observing location and orientation, and to display a view of the virtual environment from a virtual observing
location and orientation as herein before described with reference to figures 1 to 5.
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