Today’s World Wide Web is Flat Stanley, while its soon-to-arrive successor is more like Avatar in Imax 3-D.

 

Thanks to pioneering work being done in Toronto, your daily online experiences are on the verge of becoming a lot deeper and more interactive.

 

The new web is not a flat surface to surf over, but an immersive place, like a game, where people will navigate through a rich mix of video, photos, text and live data.

 

“This is like 1947 with television,” says National Film Board producer Gerry Flahive says of the pivotal change.

 

Three weeks ago, the NFB released a taste of the riches to come, in the world’s first immersive documentary, One Millionth Tower.

 

Set in three-dimensional space on a computer screen, the doc allows each viewer to stop and explore a variety of different events happening around the proposed rejuvenation of a troubled suburban-Toronto high-rise project.

“It’s a new box, new playground and a new language,” says Flahive.

The open programming code behind the documentary is the same one that is about to change the web as we know it.

The fifth generation of hypertext markup language (HTML5) allows software developers to embed video and live data (from the Weather Network, to Facebook and Twitter) without resorting to expensive and time-consuming plug-ins.

“This is the montage moment,” says Mark Surman, Toronto-based executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, of Firefox web browser fame. “People have been talking about interactive video for 20 years, and this gives them the tools.”

Ground Zero is the York University campus branch of Toronto’s Seneca College, which enjoys a close relationship with Mozilla.

“Our program is about pragmatic and applied computing,” says David Humphrey, who teaches at Seneca’s Centre for Development of Open Technology. “We ship a lot of code from here.”

The Mozilla-sponsored projects that made the NFB documentary possible are WebGL, a graphics library geared to video, and Popcorn, a toolkit to enrich the online storytelling experience.

“The students worked alongside professional engineers, but they did 70 per cent of the work,” says Surman of Seneca’s contribution to Popcorn.