Will the Janus Virtual Reality Browser be the Next Big Thing?

Explore the Internet through doorways.

Janus VR allows users to browse the Internet as if each page were like walking into a room. This example, provided by NDTV Gadgets, is a more advanced layout creation.

Imagine if your favorite website were a room. All along the walls are pictures from the website, hanging like decorative paintings.  The text is shown as billboards sandwiched in between. And if you want to explore a link on the website? Simply walk through another door.

Janus VR takes Internet browsing to the next level. Not only can you explore a website, but using an avatar you can actually be there.

The idea is still in development, but creator James McCrae has some big plans for his virtual Internet browser.

McCrae is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, working in their Dynamics Graphics Project lab. As a student, McCrae started Janus VR as a way for him to learn programming for the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality 3D gaming headset. McCrae said he was inspired to create the browser by Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, which coined the term “Metaverse” and the idea of a virtual-reality based Internet.

In Janus VR, users need only a basic knowledge of HTML to create a page inside the virtual space. A broader knowledge of HTML can create 3D content in the room, similar to that of a T-Rex skeleton display found in a museum. JavaScript can then be used to design a customized look for the cyber room.

Using avatars, users can interact with each other through voice communication or through text as seen here. Photo courtesy of Oculus VR.

While the browser was designed for use with Oculus Rift, a computer monitor can also be used to explore the “Metaverse”. The advantage of a virtual reality headset is that it creates the illusion that the user is inside the world by creating a screen around them, but it is not necessary to explore. Both mediums allow users to explore the internet-based virtual reality through an avatar.

The avatars allow users to navigate through the different rooms as well as interact with other users through voice communication or text. Users can even share doorways to other areas.

“Maybe you work in real estate and want to show a room to someone. You’d be able to virtually enter that space without having to physically go there,” McCrae explained the possibilities in an interview with the University of Toronto Magazine.

McCrae even sees Janus VR used in classroom settings for virtual field trips or guided museum tours. Online shoppers could also find the user interaction beneficial by meeting others interested in similar products or who have a particular opinion on items.

Users enter and exit rooms through doorways. The doors are also used as a way to link to other webpages. Photo courtesy of Indie Run.

The appearance of Janus VR has a lot to be desired at the moment. In fact, the distinct look of the browser is the reason McCrae originally called it “FireBox”, because the webpages are represented as “boxy rooms”.

Luckily, McCrae decided to go for the more inspiring name Janus, a god in Roman mythology. Probably most well known for being January’s namesake, Janus was also the god of beginnings and transitions: an apt title to give the future of Internet browsing.

But, surprisingly, those aren’t the reasons that McCrae named the browser after that divinity.

Janus was also the god of… doorways.

Do you think virtual reality is the next way to go in Internet browsing? Will Janus VR be a success or a failure?


Aimee Lockhardt

Aimee Lockhardt is a MLIS distance student in her first year. She makes her home in the ‘shire (which is what locals lovingly want to call New Hampshire, but sadly know it will never catch on) and currently works as a librarian assistant in her town’s public library. She loves classic movies and music, and has a bit of an unhealthy obsession with Doctor Who and cats (not combined, but it would be totally mind blowing if it was).

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