There is a lot of promise of a decentralized metaverse built on top of the open web, but the idealism of that promise isn’t yet matching the quality & stability of experiences from centralized, native applications built on top of Unity or Unreal Engine. WebVR is still waiting for it’s official WebXR release on Chrome, and so the existing implementations have hit or miss support on the available WebVR browsers from Oculus, Samsung, Firefox, and Supermedium. JanusVR is a social VR application built using a JanusVR Markup Language that compiles down to WebGL, and they’ve been on the forefront of implementing the latest decentralized web technologies. I explored through JanusVR’s Vesta portal hub and while some of the cheesy low-fi graphics felt like the early days of the World Wide Web & Geocities, it also felt like I was immersively exploring the nascent beginnings of the decentralized metaverse built on top of open standards.
I had a chance to talk with JanusVR developer James Baicoianu who talks about JanusVR, some of their decentralized web infrastructure, some of his social experiences from JanusVR, and the work that he’s doing with Internet Archive in order to bring some of their classic Internet Arcade games into an immersive METAcade.
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I was able to explore JanusVR on a number of different platforms, and it definitely performs better on a proper VR PC compared to the mobile VR client for Oculus Go, which was a pretty laggy experience. There is a huge difference between getting something to work and having it always “just work.” JanusVR is on par with the rest of the WebVR community at the moment in that it is still really in the early days of dealing with inconsistencies, performance issues, and generating compelling content. JanusVR does actually have a pretty robust curation site called Vesta, which is also a physical site that autoloads new sites as you walk down different aisles of trending sites, popular sites, and new sites.
JanusVR has been making a lot of user experience innovations when it comes to navigating the metaverse with bi-directional portals, URL-based navigation, making it easier to create immersive content through a declarative markup language, and making WebVR content available across mobile VR, PC VR, and 2D web browsers. The technical achievements of JanusVR are impressive, and I suspect that the overall user experience, performance, and consistency will improve over time.
There are a lot of open questions when it comes to how the metaverse will work, and JanusVR will be on the forefront of trying to figure out things like user interfaces, virtual currencies, navigation, and how to have portable and self-sovereign identities that can seemlessly interface with VR communities like High Fidelity.
Some of these open questions include whether or not WebVR sites should progressively load objects where the world is slowly assembled around you, or if it is a better experience to have a loading screen and only enter a scene once it’s been fully loaded completely rendered. JanusVR progressively loads pages which works great on the 2D web, but I felt that it breaks presence to have a world assembled around you piecemeal. There are also many open questions for how exactly portals between sites should work. For example, when you go into a new world, do you automatically to see the portal back to the world from where you just came from? Or should you enter the world without any trace of how you got there? JanusVR leaves a portal in new scene to the previous space, but I found that this occluded the new world in a way that broke presence. These are many of these types of questions that JanusVR is helping to elucidate through building a working implementation. There are a many implementation options that need to be experimented with before these types of lower-level questions become a part of the open standards for how WebVR will build interfaces between immersive worlds.
Overall, I’ve been impressed with the range and breadth of technical implementations from JanusVR, and they’ve made the process of immersive website creation more accessible to a wide range of creators. Some of the JanusVR sites give me a low-fidelity, early Web/Geocities vibe, which I’m sure that we’ll some day look back on with fond nostalgia. So in that spirit, I’d recommend exploring JanusVR’s Vesta portal hub just so that you can mark what the early beginnings of the metaverse feel like.
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