#465: An Inflection Point for WebVR and the Open Metaverse

tony-parisiThere’s been a couple of key developments in the evolution of WebVR during the month of October. First, Nate Mitchell announced during his Oculus Connect 3 keynote that Oculus will be supporting the WebVR ecosystem with the React VR framework and a VR-enabled browser called Carmel. And then on October 19th and 20th, there was a historic W3C Workshop on Web & Virtual Reality where all of the major VR players gathered in San Jose to hash out the WebVR web standards for delivering VR and AR applications over the web. Some the participating companies included Mozilla, Google, Samsung, Oculus, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Valve, Sony, Yahoo, Unity, Intel, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, HP, Dolby, High Fidelity, JanusVR, and Sketchfab. With Oculus’ public support and the gathering momentum around delivering VR over the web, WebVR hit an inflection point of buy-in and momentum such that the future of the metaverse will more likely be based upon the principles of the open web rather than driven by a more closed, walled garden application ecosystem.


I had a chance to catch up with Tony Parisi at Oculus Connect 3, and he’s now started his own WebVR-focused company called Form VR that collaborated with Oculus on the TripAdvisor WebVR demo that was shown during the OC3 keynote. We talk about some of the latest developments in WebVR, how Microsoft is getting involved to get support for AR WebVR apps for the HoloLens, how Form VR is developing tools for creating WebVR applications, and some of the other big developments that are showing a lot of buy-in and momentum around WebVR.

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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So there has been a lot of really exciting news when it comes to WebVR and the future of the open metaverse. For anybody that's been following along with the Voices of VR podcast knows that this is a topic that I've been covering since the very beginning of the podcast at Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference 2014 when I talked to Vlad Visevich of Mozilla as well as Tony Parisi. And at that point, it was a little bit of a crazy idea to think about that you could even start to begin to deliver a performant virtual reality experience using web technologies. But now that the major virtual reality headsets have actually been released and the initial specification for web VR is starting to solidify, we're starting to get to the point where it's actually reached this inflection point of adoption and buy-in from all of the major players. So there's a couple of things that happened in the month of October that I just wanted to point out. First of all, Nate Mitchell at Oculus Connect 3 announced to everybody there that Oculus is putting a lot of effort and initiative to supporting the growing web VR ecosystem. This is huge. I mean, a lot of the initial applications for VR have been games and different applications that require you to download a native application. And so it's really fit into this kind of closed ecosystem mindset. And so for anybody that was thinking about, well, how is that going to get translated into the open metaverse? It was a bit of a completely different paradigm shift to be able to go from that app mindset and trying to own the platform to something that is open and available for everybody to support. And so Oculus also announced that they're working on a browser for VR that's specifically designed for both the Rift and Gear VR, and their standalone VR headset called Santa Cruz. So their browser is called Carmel, and they're going to be releasing a developer version of that within the next couple months or so. So that was huge. Just like when Facebook bought Oculus and it sent a signal to the wider industry that this is something that is going to be viable and worth paying attention to, I think the fact that Oculus, during their keynote at Oculus Connect 3, gave some time to talk about WebVR was a similar signal to the larger industry to say, hey, this is coming, this is important, pay attention. The other thing that happened that was already in the works was at October 19th and 20th, there was the Web Consortium workshop about WebVR to be able to start to hash out all the different things that are needed to be able to really fully deliver VR experiences on the web. This is a workshop that had all of the major players ranging from Mozilla, Google, Samsung, Oculus, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Valve, Sony, Intel, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and some of the other VR players like High Fidelity, Janus VR, and Sketchfab. So this is a huge gathering and I think really a turning point for a lot of the building of the infrastructure to be able to actually viably deliver WebVR experiences. So that just happened and I hope to be catching up with more people over the next couple weeks and months to really talk about some of the takeaways from that gathering that just happened. But on today's episode, I feature Tony Parisi, who worked in collaboration with Oculus and some of the demos about WebVR. And so he talks a bit about where WebVR is at right now and what's kind of happening in the larger ecosystem that is showing that we've crossed this inflection point of WebVR becoming a viable technology that really has legs and momentum. So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. But first, a quick word from our sponsor. Today's episode is brought to you by Fishbowl VR. Getting candid feedback is a vital part of creating a successful VR experience, but it's not always easy. Are your testers just being nice, or are they more impressed about the novelty of VR? Fishbowl VR makes getting quality feedback from VR enthusiasts dead simple. Send them a build and within 24 hours, you'll have a number of 30-minute playtest sessions. You'll discover, is it fun? Is it replayable? And what should you focus on next? So sign up to get a user test or become a tester today at fishbowlvr.com. So this interview with Sonny Parisi happened at Oculus Connect 3 that was happening in San Jose, California from October 5th to 7th. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:04:40.180] Tony Parisi: Hi, I'm Tony Parisi, a serial entrepreneur, guy working in VR for a long time. Very focused on web technology and VR, been excited about web VR for a long time, you know, connecting a web browser up to a VR HMD for a desktop or mobile. Just starting a new stealth startup, which is a little less stealthy now at Oculus Connect, because we worked on a project with Oculus, who today announced some support for web VR.

[00:05:04.199] Kent Bye: So yeah, that to me was a huge announcement when Nate Mitchell got up on stage and announced that Facebook is putting a lot of energy and effort into supporting the open web with the web VR and also a new JavaScript framework called React VR. So yeah, maybe you could talk a bit about, from your perspective, how this came about.

[00:05:24.443] Tony Parisi: Well, first of all, I'm super excited too. I mean, it kind of makes sense, right? I mean, Facebook is built on the web, right? And so Oculus to date has been, you know, very desktop focused and then mobile focused with Gear VR and mostly oriented toward native apps so far to kind of control the quality of the experiences and the distribution around that. And that's made sense to get everything out to market, right? But again, when you look at the bigger company of Facebook, it makes sense that they might want to make sure all the VR content reaches everybody into the billions of people, especially those who don't have headsets today, right? So working with web technology helps enable that and bridge that gap. And it also enables different kinds of applications that don't actually fit into the package application model, right? The packaged app model is working really great for games and cinematic pieces of content that consumers want to digest, you know, as a whole hunk that they're willing to pay for, right? And so all the business models and everything that's set up around doing package distribution works great for content that's, you know, packaged and for sale. But there's all this other stuff that people want to do in a VR headset, like look at travel information, get news, or do random things that maybe, you know, aren't necessarily justifiable with a big development budget in a packaged app. And so now with web technology we have a whole new set of tools that we can work with to experiment with that, right? I mean you can build anything you want as an individual artist and just publish it to the open web. Someone could discover it with a hyperlink, hit the button and put their HMD on and they're in a VR experience that they didn't have to download, install, make a conscious decision about. before trying it, you know, and have to really think about it hard. And that's the way we do a lot of our stuff today when we communicate using social media and other apps. We see a link, we click on it, you know, I share something with you like a photo in a Facebook feed and you just see it, right? You don't have to go get an app to look at that, right? So huge excitement around that as an opportunity and Facebook's definitely investing in it with React. They created the React framework and they've been using it for web development for years and promoting it to their developers for years to do regular web dev. And now they've extended it with this new technology called React VR. They haven't released it yet, it's still in development. but we're working with them, so I've got this little startup in San Francisco called Form, FormVR, and we're working with them on the framework, make sure it's good, and we're early evaluators of it, and we're going to start putting together tools to make it easy for people to do development in ReactVR or in other frameworks like A-Frame, if you've heard of that, it's a Mozilla-based framework for doing VR development. So, you know, there's this wild world out there. It's not as, you know, sort of clean. It's kind of Wild West in terms of web development. People have all different choices of tools and it's kind of, it's almost like an omnivore's dilemma. You know, what do I go pick? How do I develop? How do I get started? So, we're going to work on making that easier for some set of people who want to develop VR apps for the web.

[00:08:09.598] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just remember back in Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference back in May of 2014, I did an interview with you as well as with Vlad Vesovich. And there was early talk about VR on the open web, and it's always lagged behind in terms of render performance. And just over the last couple of years, it sounds like they've been coming through with some innovations to be able to have the rendering happen with a local native app. have the performance to be able to actually hit 90 frames per second, which I think is something that even at GDC, when it was kind of tech demos, even the things that were on the expo floor, they weren't actually showing that yet. So now that the consumer hardware has actually been launched and it's out there, it seems like the Web 0.0 specification or 1.1 is going to start to slowly get locked in. We've got a latecomer with Microsoft coming in with a lot of augmented reality stuff. But it seems like the foundation is being laid down to be able to actually have a lot of immersive computing, both in virtual reality and augmented reality, on the open web, and that it's going to be able to hit 90 frames per second and be performant enough.

[00:09:15.835] Tony Parisi: Absolutely. So this was the frustrating thing with early web VR development for over a year. So yes, back at SVVR 14, just like you said, we were first having discussions about the Mozilla team connecting Oculus Rift to Firefox. And they got it working pretty quickly in terms of, you know, time to getting something out there from when they announced it to when you could try it out. But it was only tracking at 60 frames a second because the way that people have built the browsers for all these years was to refresh at the native refresh rate of your monitor. And that's all a web browser was ever doing, and it never had a good reason to render faster than that. And along comes VR demanding that you can track at 90 hertz on a desktop computer, and we had no way of doing that the way the original API was constructed. Well, then what happened was, toward the end of 2015, the folks from Google and Mozilla started working on a new version of this API that changed it, and it was no longer pegged to the refresh rate of the main monitor. You're now getting your JavaScript called when the HMD refreshes, right? And so they changed the API to make this work. They went through a lot of pain to figure out how to do it. Standing on the shoulders of giants here with not only Vlad, but Brandon Jones from the Chrome team at Google, doing amazing work to really make this work. Work with the Oculus SDK and the SteamVR SDK to make this stuff really work. And it's amazing. Yeah, so I built some things in WebVR now that you put on your rift and you're moving your head around. I mean, zero lag, no discomfort. Looking at, in the case of what we built, was this, you know, city model, which was, you know, this idea of you're in a virtual tabletop version of San Francisco. Kind of inspired by that Oculus Dream Deck tabletop toy town with all the, you know, things flying around, the blimps and the planes and the, you know, buildings and flames. So we got inspired by that one tabletop scale. And you're looking over San Francisco, you look around downtown, and when you gaze over a hotel, you get hotel information. And the idea, and this is just a concept piece, but the idea is maybe after you do that, you could say take a tour, and you'd jump right into a 360 tour. And in fact, the folks from TripAdvisor, their Oyster.com lab people in New York, they've already captured a bunch of 360s of a bunch of properties as well. So you can imagine the scenario happening where you have this seamless transition from looking at a map to jumping into these hotel tours. That's pretty incredible, and it's all working super comfortably now, and that thing runs at 90Hz on my Rift machine, and it runs on my mobile. It's not tracking at full frame rates on a gear yet, but it's the other thing the Oculus team said today, is they're going to get their new browser they talked about, Carmel, which I know very little about, but they're going to get that working on a gear of VR by the end of the year, and presumably it's going to be tracking at comfortable frame rates on the gear as well. So now it's game on. Now you need to write some smart JavaScript that's not slow. And there's still all the challenges of rendering that native development has and more because you're working in a web environment. But the trade-off is you're going to be able to hit a link and just see this stuff and not have to wade through app stores and go through big downloads. So I think you're going to see a lot of effort expended and people making really cool apps for this Wild West that are things we couldn't imagine. And now we've given the whole world the tools to do this.

[00:12:14.087] Kent Bye: Yeah, and just reading a recent blog post from Brendan Jones, who's talking about an update on the WebVR spec, and that Microsoft came in and said they announced that they're going to do some support for their browser, Edge, and that they were really asking a lot of questions about augmented reality and the HoloLens that weren't being taken into consideration for the existing WebVR spec. So it really sounds like it's kind of morphing into the WebVR AR spec to be able to handle both. Given that, it sounds like they're going to need to give it some time to really bake in, I guess is the latest I've heard.

[00:12:47.148] Tony Parisi: Yeah, and I'd love to see when we have the Edge implementation of it. And those changes were informed by augmented reality input that we were getting from augmented reality developers from Microsoft. So presumably, that would be for HoloLens or some other AR device. But from my standpoint, to me, it's all the same thing. It's immersive. It's an immersive space of technology. We all, I think, collectively believe, people at this conference, at Oculus Connect, that that's the next wave in computing, whether it's fully closed off VR, fully open AR, or some amalgam of the two. But the software stack to deliver stereo rendered 3D is quite similar. Again, there are some unique requirements for AR. heavier requirements on exact positioning and positioning within space and some other things that you don't need in VR. But otherwise, it's 3D rendering and stereo rendering in 3D. And we have a world of people who are creating in 3D now for VR, and they'll be creating for AR really soon. And you take that tabletop San Francisco I was talking about, you just pull the sky background out and you have your tabletop model of San Francisco in AR right in front of you. I don't have that working yet, but I'm saying you can imagine that, right? So I'm really excited that the Edge folks are on this too and helping drive the spec and move it forward. And yeah, we actually, us app developers working with the APIs had to suffer a few little changes that were made very recently based on Microsoft's input, but everyone's glad to do it now because they're part of the party as well, right?

[00:14:11.688] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, it seems like I've heard there's a workshop that's coming up here in a couple of weeks to be able to actually get all the major players together in WebVR. I was really pleasantly surprised to see how quickly this is coming together in terms of the support of the ecosystem. So maybe you could talk a bit about what's going to be happening here next.

[00:14:30.605] Tony Parisi: Yeah, so the workshop you're referring to is happening on the 19th and 20th of October. It is put together by the W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium. They're the folks that brought us HTML, HTTP, and all these other wonderful web technologies. And they put together this symposium to try and get a sense of where the standards are right now and start having a discussion about which new ones we might need. So in terms of the standards that are relevant today that we can mention that are in process or already existing, We have WebVR, as we've been talking about, which is not a standard, but it's a proposal within W3C. We have GLTF, which is a 3D file format that's kind of a JPEG of 3D, if you will, that's standardized by Khronos. That's the group that did WebGL. OpenGL, an earlier 3D format called Collada, which is not suitable for web delivery. And so now we've put together a format that's been standardized since the end of last year, that is quite suitable for delivering in VR as well, and Oculus is a big participant in GLTF as well, in fact, and OTOY, and there's some people in AR, VR, and mixed reality who are really excited about GLTF. So those are the two on the board right now, but now the world is starting to say, okay, what else do we need? The industry wants to get together and say, do we need, say, multiplayer networking protocols? Do we need discovery protocols that are standard for things in AR, so that no matter what device you have when you walk into a space, that space is zoned and figured out for what objects can be put in it by whom? We recently saw with Pokemon Go, for example, people would walk up and try and get Pokemons and they'd ask to go into somebody's house. It's like, that's not cool. Maybe we need some standards in that area that can help geofence that. and let us, you know, develop to that. So there's all these other things that aren't necessarily pure VR but are related and very, very important that I think we're going to see the industry coming together on. So, yeah, that symposium is cool. W3C put out an open call and we're getting participants from High Fidelity. A lot of people in the industry doing really cool VR things. You know, Otoy's going to be there. NVIDIA's going to be there. I'm going to be there. Google's going to be there. Mozilla's going to be there. And I'm on the program committee for that. And I've seen a lot of really great proposals. And I can't say exactly what's going to be in or out yet, only because we've got to get together and decide this week. But that's coming up. It's only three weeks out.

[00:16:45.512] Kent Bye: Yeah. And talking to Brandon at GEC, I was asking about the tracking, the six degree of freedom tracking. And it seems like there is another kind of game controller API that's separate from the WebVR. Maybe you could talk a bit about that.

[00:16:58.748] Tony Parisi: Yeah, so that's called the GamePad API, and for a few years now, browsers have let you connect an Xbox or PS4 controller to the browser, and as long as you had a wireless Xbox controller or PS4 controller or wired that you could connect to your PC, and the basic software was installed, like the driver for the controller, the web already has APIs for that, which tell you all the buttons that are being pressed, whether they're single buttons like the lettered ones, like A, B, and whatever, and Y. or the smooth controllers where you're using your thumb to scroll, or the triggers, those all have buttons and numbers and things that a JavaScript programmer can get at and know when they're being pressed. So actually the first WebVR demo I ever did two years ago, I hated the desktop reaching for the mouse and trying to find the keyboard thing, so I immediately tied it to an Xbox controller and got it to work right out of the box. So the browsers were working with that years ago. But now what we have is Brandon from Chrome initially did some experiments on this. He only had to add a couple of things to that API, that same API, and treat each of the Vive controllers, for example, or the Oculus Touch controllers, it's gonna work exactly the same way, as basically two separate Xbox controllers, right? And all he had to add was the orientation and a couple of other properties, and the buttons all just get remapped, right? So when you're hitting a trigger on your Vive controller, I mean, you're basically getting, you know, that's button one or that's button code two. And so the programming is very much the same. All you have to do is add this orientation and position sensing so you know where people are gesturing. So that's already been working. That's been in experimental builds of Chrome for a while. But it is a separate API. And the way these things work in web standards land, there's a different group of folks that work on that, work on the spec for it. And so that's another one. We'll probably end up talking about that at the workshop coming up.

[00:18:38.482] Kent Bye: Yeah, so for you, what do you see this going in terms of the content? I could see that spherical video and spherical photos seems to be a natural fit for a lot of web content and interfacing into that. But just curious to hear, what are going to be the early big wins for web VR?

[00:18:55.343] Tony Parisi: Oh, I wish I had a prediction. I mean, there's some things I like a lot that I'm personally interested in. So we'll just go with those because, you know, I don't have a crystal ball. So I'll just talk about the things I like. We did this travel showcase. It was really just a proof of concept. But to me, that's part of a larger set of applications around geographic information. So that was built with OpenStreetMap data. I didn't even use Google's feed for that. I didn't have to pay. It's all open data. It's built with an open source toolkit called Busy Cities. Awesome toolkit. You can go get it off GitHub. And imagine that geographic data for a particular location not just being used to look for hotels and plan a trip, but being used to search for photos that have been geotagged. Or to maybe plan a shared space together based on the real world. There's a lot of possibilities for that. So that's one area. Another area I think is great is just general sort of news type of stuff. News doesn't lend itself well to apps and app stores controlling news is a scary proposition. I've ranted about this in the past, you know. of people's news apps getting rejected in app stores because they were too narrow and topical. That's not a good precedent. So I think we'll see a lot of journalism happening this way, especially because, you know, cheap, freer tools to create. We know journalists don't have a lot of money, right, especially independent ones. So I think we're going to see a lot in that area of sort of free and unfettered information being exchanged where people, you know, can do maybe a combo 360 and the kind of journalism that, you know, Empathetic Media and Emblematic do and all those people where they're doing 3D simulations that are super interactive. They're getting a publishing platform now where they can just put it out there and share a link and put it on Twitter and you click the link and you go and you're in, right? So I think we're going to see a lot there, right? And then hopefully we'll see CNN, PBS and, you know, the big broadcasters get into this and, you know, take those virtual newsrooms they've been doing on stages for a long time with green screens and maybe bring them into VR with technology like this. And another one I think is pretty cool is just generally around entertainment, but not the packaged media I was talking about, but more like fan sites for artists, music visualizers, a lot of lightweight things you see on websites today and in social media. I think we're going to see some crazy stuff there. And that's just three of the areas that I like. And they kind of all overlap a little bit, too, if you think about it. If I'm a fan of a certain artist and I'm building a fan site in VR and I want to connect up a link to all their tour dates, maybe now I get a map. And these things all integrate, and if they can hyperlink seamlessly, boy, that would be really nice. So those are the things I think about, but I'm sure folks are going to come up with cool stuff that an old guy like me hasn't thought of yet. The Snapchat generation will think of its own use for all this stuff.

[00:21:28.883] Kent Bye: Yeah, and right now, when going to a website, and if you want to go from a 2D into an immersive experience, there's usually a little icon that you can click that will kind of convert everything into an immersive experience that you can put on your headset and to kind of dive into that. So do you foresee that sort of going to a URL, jump into VR, jump out, and go to another URL? Or do you kind of see already this metaverse linking between WebVR sites with each other?

[00:21:53.220] Tony Parisi: We're going to see in the beginning a lot of what the former thing you said, which is discovery through a flat interface like your mobile or your desktop feed, like social feed like a Facebook or Instagram or whatever, and then activating via a link and a button you press to start that VR experience. And the way web browsers are built, there's a security dictum that says the user has to take a conscious action to launch VR, We're not going to automatically let a page take your screen over so they could do really nefarious things. Some wisdom in that. Some inconvenience for users as well. So we're going to see a lot of that to start. But once you're in VR, you don't want to have to link to another site, take the headset off, and hit that button again. That's stupid. No one's going to do that ultimately. We all know that. And the folks in the Facebook React and WebVR talk today actually mentioned that. There's security measures being taken so that there can be seamless hyperlinks from one site to another without having to do that. a lot of this stuff is actually going to get delivered through secure HTTPS, which puts a lot more burden on the developer, but should give people a lot more comfort. On the user side, there aren't nasty, you know, takeovers and other things happening. So if you created a really cool site, and you wanted to link to my stuff, and we were both, you know, behind these secure things, that process should be seamless. The link from one to another, the WebVR API, should allow that without the user having to do another explicit action. So in other words, The software is smart enough to know the user has navigated from one site that was already in VR to another one that's in VR. Don't take them out. So that is going to happen. So it's part plumbing, it's part policy, and it's part good experience design, of course. But yeah, we will see a mix and match in the beginning here as people are just getting going because there's going to be a lot of discovery still happening on a flat screen first. But then that metaverse you talked about, I mean, we can play it forward a couple years, right? Now there's lots of cool web VR sites and lots of them are linking to each other, and whatever becomes the next generation of a browser has some built-in GUI with the controllers and some safe place you can always get to, which is your home screen, or some built-in UI in a HUD, a heads-up that comes with you. You may never have to get out of the VR at that point, and you can just go from one to the other, and discovery happens in there as well. I think it's going to happen. I think it's going to happen in the next three or four years.

[00:24:09.124] Kent Bye: In terms of content creation, I know that Unity has an ability to export, but it seems like it's exporting to a bit of a binary code of WebGL. It's not necessarily something that you can look at the source and kind of tweak. So do you expect that there's tools like Unity that may start to do GLTF export that may be a little bit more compatible for WebVR? Is this part of the problem that you're trying to solve in creating new tool sets to be able to actually generate from some sort of immersive environment and then export into all the right code?

[00:24:41.121] Tony Parisi: Yeah, great questions. First off, Unity. You know, mad props. I mean, I'm a massive fan. If you get my book on VR, Learning Virtual Reality, it's 60%, 70% Unity. You know, I call it the game engine for the common man, who's the great democratizer, and it's a great tool. And what I've found about Unity is I think they support almost 30 platforms. So when a platform becomes interesting, they'll support it, and they'll support it well. We've seen experiments from them for the last couple of years with a technology called Emscripten, which is what you were referring to, which allows native app developers to take their compiled code from their application and cross-compile it into some really gnarly JavaScript. that's big. It's a big payload. You're basically, whenever you want to experience a Unity WebGL exported game, you have to get the whole game engine with it, and then the content. If you've got the patience, because maybe it's an MMO you're dying to play and someone's built it and actually made a web version of it, You might have the patience to wait four minutes for the loader bar that you're about to see in a spinner. But if you're doing regular web stuff, four minutes is death. A web page is supposed to load in two seconds. The TripAdvisor showcase we built loads in two or three seconds over regular connection. And that's the way it needs to be. So that is a problem that is based on the technology that Unity used to do this export. I imagine if this becomes interesting enough to companies like Unity and Epic, they will figure out how to do it differently. For part two of your question, technologies like GLTF, there are already some converters. I actually wrote one as an experiment a year ago that I kind of sat on GitHub, but I didn't do much with it, which takes a Unity scene and converts it to GLTF. It's just a little Unity plug-in. Some folks are working on it. They just asked me if it was open source licensed. I forgot to put the MIT license on it, so I went and slapped the MIT license on it last week. and they're working on a new version of it, and they fix it up, update it to the current version of the spec, and they're going to put it out there. So we will see that, and that'll be kind of cool. So imagine you've built up a scene in Unity, you've built a whole game with it, you still want to go web, maybe you just want to get the scene assets out and build a little mini version of it. This could be a quick path to doing that. write maybe, you know, half a dozen lines of JavaScript or, I don't know, a couple files with new React VR in it or A-Frame, and you can take that same model and maybe make a mini-level of the game and get it out there really quickly. I could see those kind of paths being really interesting. For a lot of people, they're not using a tool like Unity. If they're on the website, they're coming out of Maya or Blender straight, and then they use a framework like 3.js, or, you know, now looking at A-Frame and React, and for those folks, They probably don't need that tool. They're going to go down a different set of paths. And that's the stuff in my startup we're looking at is, you know, how can we give them an easy way to get started and not have to like read a lot to figure out the 20 libraries they need to go download and get the right stable versions of it and make sure they're compatible. Take sort of all the guesswork out of that and then give them a couple of easy places to preview their work and do all that stuff locally. And then if they want to do something serious and start publishing, then they can, you know, talk to us about ways to do that. And that's maybe where we make our money. And this is the way we're thinking about it, you know, sort of freemium, you know, classic web stuff. So that's what we're looking at and so I don't know where that fits in with tools like unity But I mean once webvr gets big and that's you know 2017 in my little world. That's I see that happening I think you'll see the game engine folks Take a fresh look at and figure out how to make the export work more in a more practical way

[00:27:55.540] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, it seems like there's a whole huge number of web developers that are out there in this kind of pipeline that you're talking about that would be kind of outside of the normal Unity path or some sort of web tools. People who download stuff off of GitHub and kind of piece things together, it seems like there's an ecosystem that it sounds like it's going to start to really take off once some of these things start to land. To me, just like when Facebook bought Oculus and that kind of put virtual reality on the map, to me, I really see this announcement that happened today with Nate Mitchell saying that, OK, we're supporting WebVR. And it's something that's been out there. And Google's been working on it. But it hasn't been featured in a keynote before in any other big major company yet.

[00:28:37.345] Tony Parisi: It hasn't, and I feel like that's a watershed. I'm super excited about it. I mean, I was delighted when I first started talking to the Oculus team about this and started working on the showcase with them. So I'm so happy we can finally talk about it in public. And I gotta say, I'm very biased, obviously. I thought it was one of the biggest takeaways out of the keynote, personally. And I don't know if you had a chance to be at the WebVR session. We had a WebVR session today and Andrew Moe and Michael Antonoff, who are the leads on the team, doing WebVR at Oculus, laid it all out and had a great session, talked about this new ReactVR, showcased demos including the one we worked on. And the energy in the room, the room was full, it's one of the, you know, main rooms here. It was full, the energy was great, the Q&A was very animated, and it just had a really good feel to it in the room, like the energy was super high. So, this may be one of the new and fresh things that comes, you know, I mean, I guess you and I may be slightly jaded, we've been to three Oculus Connects now, so it's nice to have something different. So that energy was really fantastic, I thought. And so, yeah, I think we're going to see some reverberations from this and ramifications that are going to be super exciting. And it's nice to have another big player in it. So we're seeing, like, WebVR started with Firefox and a month later Google jumped on it and they worked together on it. Now Microsoft's in, Oculus is in. And that plus these other standards like GLTF, I mentioned OTOI, there's more of a movement to big infrastructure and technology companies taking a serious look at doing this all big, web, interoperable. So yeah man, I think 2017 is going to be a big year for open VR technologies like that.

[00:30:08.802] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I think that it may go over a lot of people's heads, the significance of the web VR, just in the context of the closed app ecosystem versus the open web. And this has been a battle that I know that you've talked a lot about in terms of the app mindset versus the web mindset. And to me, just the fact that things are going this way points to the possibility of having an open metaverse rather than people trying to own it like, you know, a CompuServe or AOL trying to own the internet in some sort of walled garden type of way, but something that's going to be more of an open metaverse that is going to be a little bit more agnostic with GLTF to be able to have like this way to pass 3D assets seamlessly between these different applications and be able to be agnostic to the device, whether it's a Sony PlayStation VR or anything that can have a web browser, whether it's the Vive or Oculus Rift or Gear VR or the Daydream. It seems like putting something out on the open web with web VR could be the ultimate cross-platform approach for some people.

[00:31:08.587] Tony Parisi: Yeah, and here's hoping. That's the vision that I ascribe to, and I believe that's going to happen. Now, of course, if you just take a step back and take a broader look at this, the history of technology is a history of warring standards and proprietary implementations. This has been going on long before VR. This happened in the Internet, this happened pre-Internet. The Internet really, really changed things. With the advent of the Internet, we really got WebLogic and we never had that before. WebLogic is all about multiple people who maybe aren't 100% aligned on their agendas getting together to build something bigger together that everybody can participate in. I mean, we had a bit of that, ironically, in the Windows-based PC industry, in the sense that Windows was a standard. I mean, the software was controlled, but the hardware was an open spec, and then Microsoft worked with tons of, you know, hardware providers to make an open ecosystem that anybody could build a cheap PC for, right? I mean, you go back and you look at all the things, the audio technology we're recording this on, right? These all have these sort of waves of proprietary and standardization battles. It's sort of a wheel of reincarnation, right? So I think those same dynamics are in play here, but the web logic, I think, will prevail in this case. Mobile was an interesting counterexample to that, which was really, really governed by two large proprietary stacks. But even within the Android world, that's really kind of an open ecosystem at the end of the day, right? But it did lock down distribution via an app store. Somewhat born out of data plans and some other, you know, carrier plans and some other realities that aren't quite the same in VR. Because we have desktop VR, we have mobile VR, we have... By no means one dominant player yet, right? It's very, very much an open game, and it's anyone's game. So I think you're going to see a lot more willing collaboration while all the other things are happening for people vying for market position and all that too. You play that all forward and I think the Outlook is pretty good for an open hyperlinked metaverse like that. I don't by any means, by any stretch of the imagination, by the way, think that will eliminate app stores. I believe those will continue for AAA content. I think they will continue for packaged cinematic content and really dedicated applications in some areas. So I think they're going to coexist. But I do think the world of the web-based stuff is going to be quite a bit bigger ultimately.

[00:33:31.072] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:33:39.839] Tony Parisi: Well, it can go in so many ways, but the thing that keeps me going and the real hope I have is probably around the areas that Chris Milk likes to talk about with empathy, that a lot of folks are excited about VR with education. So all these areas where we can understand our world and each other better, those are the ones I'm caring about a lot. The thing that's probably been the most frustrating these first couple years of Game On, of consumer VR, is when I hear people talk about educational VR. That specific one. Because I've been around the block a few times, and I've seen these movies a couple times, and I see someone thinking they're going to build an educational app. And I just don't see those being very successful. But when you have a free and open metaverse, then anybody can build the classroom, then anybody can build an educational piece, anybody can do like the kind of things Philip Rosedale showed off in High Fidelity, a biology lesson. And now, you know, knowledge is free and education is free and we can do all these amazing things so we can help, you know, help the planet and help understand each other. That's what gets me going. And if that is the ultimate outcome of a free and open metaverse, then that's awesome. We've done something right. So, that's what I'm shooting for.

[00:34:43.969] Kent Bye: Awesome. Any other final reflections of starting with VRML to where you've come to today?

[00:34:50.693] Tony Parisi: It's kind of full circle. I mean it's really happening now and VRML as an idea was right and timing was all wrong and the technology underpinnings but these pieces are all coming together and I mean it took a lot of pieces. It took a lot of pieces from cheap electronics to a software infrastructure to folks knowing how to design for it to consumers being ready for it. So you know and when you look at all that 20 years I guess it's not too long of a time. Half my life's a little scary, but that's all right. I hope I can enjoy it for another 20 from here, right?

[00:35:22.081] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Tony. Thank you, Kent. Always a pleasure. So that was Tony Parisi. He is one of the originators of VRML and also has recently created a new startup focusing on web VR technologies called FormVR. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, this is to me super exciting because it's really representing a sea change in terms of where VR is going in the future. I think if you look at the wider web since 1993, you can see that we do have the open web, but there's been a few big winners like these social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, These are all kind of like closed walled garden ecosystems that often link out to other things on the web, but they more or less want people to kind of come into their closed walled garden and do all of their interactions there. So the fact that Facebook bought Oculus, I think a lot of people were concerned that, oh my gosh, is the future of the metaverse going to be tried to be owned by Facebook? But with these latest developments, as well as what's happening with the larger WebVR ecosystem, it looks like it's going to have the technology stack that's going to be really viable for enabling the open metaverse that we all want. and isn't going to be sort of ruled by one corporation who could shut down any specific thing. So there's a lot of things that are still need to be worked out around that. And I think this recent gathering that happened with all these major companies coming together to talk about the WebVR spec, it sounds like there's a lot of the, at least from a kind of a web standards perspective, a gathering consensus around where everything is going. And the fact that Microsoft has come in kind of in the late stage of the game, it's actually really good because you need to have some of those other perspectives to talk about these immersive computing platforms. And so this infrastructure that's being built with WebVR is going to be compatible both with virtual reality technologies, as well as with augmented reality technologies. And so just from my perspective of initially covering this emerging specification for WebVR, at the very early days, there was just the Oculus Rift. And so some of the initial preliminary ideas around WebVR were designed around essentially one use case around this virtual reality technology. But the more and more different platforms that come in, then that just makes the API a lot more robust to be able to serve the needs of all the different platforms. And at this point, I know that Microsoft is coming in and talking about augmented reality. There's also some representatives at this WebVR gathering from Apple. So whether or not they're working on AR or VR, they're also concerned about making sure that Safari is compatible with a lot of these emerging discussions about WebVR. So my hope is that there's essentially a huge consensus and really an inflection point around the future of WebVR in the open metaverse. Now, in talking to Neil Trevitt from the Kronos Group back at GDC 2015, he gave this interview where he was telling me that any open standard that's successful also has different proprietary competitors. And so I think there are going to be these closed walled garden companies that are trying to create the metaverse. I think one in particular that I can think of right off the bat is Linden Lab with what they're doing with Project Sansar. Not sure if I saw any Linden Lab representatives on the guest list of WebVR, but I could imagine that there's going to be a number of different applications where people are doing these type of world-building type of activities. And it's going to be, at this point, probably a better experience than what's possible with WebVR. And because WebVR is a web standards and technology, I think it's going to take some time for things to really get settled down. But in the long run, I think, to me, really hopeful and optimistic that we're moving towards this world where we're going to be able to essentially democratize the process of being able to put up whatever type of experience that you want. right now there has been a little bit of this gated system with both oculus as well as with valve with steam it's not just easy to just submit whatever you want there's a curation process and a lot of things get censored or edited whether it's for quality or comfort reasons or it could be editorial or just quality that they don't think the quality is is high enough to be able to distribute out to everybody that's seeing VR for the first time. I think there's been a very protective mindset for making sure that everybody experiences the best VR that's possible. But to me, some of the movements that's happening with web VR is some of the most exciting news that has come out of VR for a while because it just kind of paints this picture for what we all want with the openness and being able to explore whatever you want and to be able to see it almost instantaneously. I think with some of the players that are out there in terms of Unity as well as Epic, like Tony said, that I think they have to get a signal to see that this is going to be really viable for them to really change the way that they're outputting some of their content right now. The way that they have it is not really necessarily super optimized to be able to move into the world where WebVR is going. But my suspicion is that both Epic as well as Unity are going to see the momentum that's happening both from the announcement that happened at Oculus Connect 3, but also this huge gathering that happened in San Jose with all the different major companies talking about the emerging WebVR standards. And there were some representatives from Unity that were there, so they're definitely a part of the discussion. So in the future, I imagine that some of these tools were able to create VR within VR that will likely be announced at Unite with Unity that they've been talking about and kind of alluding to. They're having a big conference that's coming up here at the beginning of November, as well as Epic with being able to use their Unreal Engine to be able to create VR within VR. I think the dream is to be able to take those tools and be able to output and put it onto the web so that anybody can see it instantaneously. I think that right now we're in the mindset where in order to do a VR experience, you have to download it and then experience it. But just like you go into YouTube and watch a funny video of like whatever's happening, these are not things that you want to necessarily keep on your computer and have to manage downloading and you just kind of want to just stream them and watch them. And I think that the world of WebVR is going to enable that as well. And so there's just going to be all sorts of different applications where it just makes more sense for you to go to a website and kind of dynamically download and experience it rather than download an application. So to me, this is some of the most exciting news that's come out for VR for a while. And I hope to be following up with different people that were actually at this WebVR meeting to kind of do a little bit more unpacking as to some of the major decisions and just kind of keeping people posted as to where WebVR is going in the future. So that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you'd like to support the podcast, then please tell your friends, spread the word, and consider becoming a donor to the Voices of VR podcast just to help support the work that I'm doing as a service to bring a lot of this information to you and the wider VR community. So you can donate at patreon.com slash Voices of VR.

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