Knowledge Objects

Cosma / Navigation / Knowledge / Worlds / Objects

Knowledge Objects 1
Spatial Knowledge Navigation Devices
Thousands of virtual objects distributed over twenty + regions, 1,000,000 + sq. m. (2006-Present)


A major goal of Cosma is to provide a 3D “hypermedia” interface to enable truly spatial Knowledge Navigation2 of the inventory of Knowledge Resources on the Cosma Web site.   There have been many experiments with doing this with a variety of platforms since the 1980s (MicroWorlds Pro, HyperCard, HyperStudio, Power Point, Director, RoundMe, Unity, etc.).

The Knowledge Places (K-Places) project was the longest running and most extensive experiment to date. It began in 2006 and used the virtual world Second Life. At the height of the project in 2010, there were many sites that covered more than a million square meters of land in Second Life. The sites were made up of thematically organized spaces designed around inviting spatial metaphors (e.g. tropical resort, zoo, amusement park, etc.). You can find out more about the project on the K-Places page.

The core of K-Places was a cadre of 3D links dubbed Knowledge Objects (K-Objects). They were based on the earlier 2D “visual” hyperlinks that Mary E. Hopper created while using HyperCard to create pictorial interfaces to internet resources in the late 1980s. Those 2D visual objects evolved into 3D objects to enable spatial Knowledge Navigation.3

The first and most important K-Object was the Magic Window. It was a 3D hyperlink from Second Life to the Cosma Web site (this site). When a visitor touched one, there was a flurry of custom made “magic knowledge dust” particles, and then a content specific page on the Cosma Web site would open in a browser window (e.g. Magic Window labeled “Animals” would open a page on Cosma about animals). Each of the pages on Cosma had many links to the best content about the specific subject.

Distributing hundreds of Magic Windows across the content specific spaces in the K-Places project enabled a thematic approach for exploring the inventory of Knowledge Resources hosted on the Cosma Web site.

Another key K-Object was the Magic Door. It served as a 3D hyperlink to other locations within Second Life. When a visitor clicked on one, they would see a flurry of “magic knowledge dust” and be offered a “landmark” so that they could “teleport” to a specified location in Second Life. To get a sense of how this worked, click on the Magic Door below and a Second Life map will open. If you have a Second Life account and the software is installed, then you can click on the map to teleport to a current K-Places site in Second Life.

Distributing hundreds of Magic Doors across the content specific spaces in the K-Places project enabled a thematic approach for exploring Second Life.

Another special object was the Dewey Dot.4 Dewey Dots were 3D hyperlinks to Web pages related to the specified Dewey Decimal Classification numbers. When they were originally developed in 2006, they accessed pages on the BUBL LINK Catalogue of Internet Resources. Unfortunately, that service went away in April 2011, so Dewey Dots were re-programmed to access other resources.

For example, if a Dewey Dot has the number 000, then touching it would pop up a Web page on the DDC for 000 Generalities.

In this case touching the Dewey Dot brings up this page with a PDF of the DDC 000 Generalities.

Click to access 000.pdf

A fourth critical K-Object was the Learning Link.

It was the most direct illustration of the educational goals that were the primary drivers behind the entire K-Places project, and it was also a reflection of M. E. Hopper’s career long obsession with the importance and role of free educational materials in democratizing education. She even made a presentation on the subject during her decade of research and employment at MIT. 5

Click on the “poster” to learn more!
MIT Wheres the Media Poster

The Learning Link was originally programmed to specifically access MIT’s OpenCourseWare. However, it was later re-programmed to link to any free course. Again, distributing hundreds of Learning Links across content specific spaces in K-Places enabled a thematic way to find free courses.

After the initial four K-Objects were completed, the cast expanded to serve as “typed” hyperlinks to other types of Web content besides Cosma, Second Life and Dewey.

Knowledge Objects Cast

Once the cast of K-Objects was complete, hundreds of content specific versions were generated and distributed throughout content specific “spaces” in the K-Places sites.

There was also an extensive collection of “talented” virtual objects such as vehicles, animals, games and rides that were distributed at the same time. They served the dual purpose of signaling the subject of the thematic spaces as well as adding some fun and value for visitors. Many of the objects were free to copy and modify (freebies). Others were examples of the best objects available for sale elsewhere in Second Life, and they were often positioned next to Magic Doors that gave landmarks to sites where they could be purchased.

Another step in setting up the K-Places was to create and post signs at each of the Welcome Areas explaining the K-Objects.

At the height of the K-Places project in 2010, there were thousands of K-Objects distributed over more than ten sites in Second Life. The sites waxed and waned in popularity, but over the course of their existence, there were many tens of thousands of visitors. Second Life employs fictional names and also enforces anonymity, so it is “almost” impossible to know who those people were in Real Life (RL), but it is fair to say that the more that someone used Second Life, the more likely it is that they knew about the sites. The “hard core users” and “older residents” were almost certainly aware of them and probably visited them, so they would have had the opportunity to see and use K-Objects.

Knowledge Port & Knowledge Park
Knowledge Navigation & Exploration Center
Maryport, 24,048 sq. m. (2015-Present)

K-Palace, K-Paradise and most of the K-Gates sites were discontinued in 2014. Then their contents were consolidated into extremely scaled back “archival” sites that hold just a small sample of the spaces and objects that made up the K-Places sites between 2006 and 2014.

The largest archival site is K-Park — it preserves the spaces and objects that were an interface to the Knowledge Realms on the Cosma Web site.

Knowledge Park@Maryport

There is also a “sky-space” situated above the ground-level sites — it preserves the spaces and objects that were an interface to the Knowledge Forms on the Cosma Web site.

Knowledge Palace@Maryport

Here is a video of an extended walk-through of the K-Places archival sites.

This map shows where the archival sites are in Linden Village. If you have a Second Life account and the software is installed on your computer, then you can click the map to teleport there.

Knowledge Port & Knowledge Park Map

Cosma’s Welcome Area
Knowledge Navigation & Exploration Center
Unity 3D (2015)

There has also been a small experiment with using Unity 3D to create a 3D interface to Cosma, 360° videos and 3D Web applications. It is not available to download, but here is a video of what it looked like and how it functioned. Notice that the application does have Magic Posters and Magic Objects that serve as 3D links to Cosma and other Web content. Of course, these are siblings of the K-Objects in K-Places.

Knowledge Workshop
Toy World Experiment
RoundMe & Kuula (2020-Present)

Here is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek experiment with (re)creating the full cast of K-Objects in Toy Worlds that are serving as a 3D interface to Cosma right now.

Click on objects to find out about them.

You can also explore this Toy World on Kuula.

The above Toy World experiment was not deemed a success, so you will not see most of the cast of K-Objects in other Toy Worlds, but this demo is here for your entertainment 🙂

However, the Toy Worlds on this site do have many, many Magic Posters and other Magic Objects that serve as 3D links to Cosma and other Web sites.



1.   Much of the content on this page was originally developed for two presentations at MIT.
The first presentation in April 2007 was attended by Cory Ondrejka (SL Alt. Cory Linden, Chief Technology Officer@Second Life/Linden Lab) and John Lester (SL Alt. Pathfinder Linden, Second Life Lead Evangelist, Market Development, Boston Operations Director, Market Development in Education@Second Life/Linden Lab).
Hopper, M. E. (2007, April). The Knowledge Gates to SecondLife. Media in Transition 5 Conference: Creativity, Ownership and Collaboration in the Digital Age, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Hopper, M. E. (2009, April). Cosma: Constructing a Kingdom of Knowledge. Media in Transition 6 Conference: Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

2.   It would be impossible to overstate the centrality of the concept of Knowledge Navigation to Cosma. The whole project is founded upon the premise that when knowledge is intuitively organized, and then presented in a visual and/or spatial way, everyone can master it quickly and easily. This premise has driven the development of Cosma and, truthfully, Mary E. Hopper’s career. You can find out more about some of the saga on the Worlds Challenge page.

One stop in the saga of Hopper’s mission to enable truly spatial knowledge navigation took her to MIT where she developed content for a presentation and then a short course during her Post Doc in Comparative Media Studies.
Hopper, M. E. (1998, October). Hypertext in historical context: Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson revisited. Media-in-Transition Project / Communications Forum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Hopper, M. E. (2000, January). Knowledge systems 101: From Alexandria to Hitchhiker’s Guide [Short Course]. Independent Activity Period (IAP), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

Hopper’s obsession with the subject of Knowledge Navigation has gone so far as to lead to the related software and materials she has collected making up a very significant percentage of the collections in her New Media Museum!

In actuality, the New Media Museum is truly a sister project to Cosma at the deepest level. Here are links to the part of the collection related to Knowledge Navigation (Navigation, Trailblazers, Service, Hypermedia, World).

3.   The first Knowledge Objects (K-Objects) in Second Life were created in 2006 by Mary E. Hopper with programming assistance from Neil R. Carlson in 2006 while Hopper was President of Knowledge Foundry (K-Foundry), a small company that developed Web, 3D, eBook and mobile sites. Remnants of the original website are still online.

4.   Hopper had taken graduate courses in Cataloging, Reference, Digital Libraries and Archives at Simmons College’s School of Library and Information Science just a few years before creating K-Objects. Needless to say, Dewey Dots were near and dear to her heart, and they also served as tongue in cheek “Librarian bait” for K-Places.

5.   Hopper was very highly dedicated to creating and publishing free educational resources from early on in her career. This was reflected in many of her activities at MIT between 1990 and the early 2000s, and it culminated in a well attended presentation on the subject just two months before MIT OpenCourseWare was announced on April 4, 2001 with Steven R. Lerman as Director (he had been Hopper’s Doctoral Committee Member and then employer at the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives during her decade at MIT). The goal of the presentation was to start an initiative to create free courses. Hopper’s position was that the best model was shareware based upon the success of Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (i.e. The Oregon Trail, Munchers, Lemonade Stand, etc.).
Hopper, M. E. & Summer, R. B. (2001, February). Where’s the media? Models for creating and distributing teacher and student made digital media. Second Wiring the Classroom Conference. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

In addition, Hopper was serving as a full-time faculty member in Lesley University’s Technology & Education Graduate Program at the time she created the Learning Link. The idea behind this K-Object was to have K-Places serve as an exercise for her students (who were teachers) to explore free educational resources in a fun way.