Dan Zajdband is a software developer with a love of technology and journalism. He spent 10 months as a Knight Open Fellow until January 2017. Now he is a tech scholar who travels the world spreading the word about simplifying the VR creation process and how it can help us tell stories better.
This Summer Zajdband is teaching a WebVR course at the online learning school, Platzi. It’ll be the first course foray into WebVR for the Y Combinator-backed edtech startup.
Q: When was the first time you heard of WebVR?
A: 2015. I thought it was a cool standard for authoring VR. When I saw that, it blew my mind. I started thinking how easy it is to create webvr experiences. How can I make this even easier? That’s when I created GuriVR. The idea is you can write your story in literal language, and it will express your thoughts in VR.
Q: Can you explain how GuriVR works?
A: GuriVR is a free, open source project created to allow anyone to make Virtual Reality experiences with the lowest possible learning curve. Guri provides a quick and easy online editor that creates virtual reality from your words. Guri even makes it possible to create a 360 panorama that works in the browser and with headsets like the Google Cardboard in seconds.
This iteration took input both in English and Spanish, a Twitter bot that takes tweets and returns a VR scene, a Slack bot among others.
Q: What have you learning since starting GuriVR?
A: From a skillset standpoint I learned about VR and 3D content generation. I was a web developer, not a graphics developer. A-Frame (A-Frame is a WebVR framework for building virtual reality experiences that is supported by Mozilla) was the best way I could understand complex concepts that were foreign to me. I also learned a lot about the creative process from the production perspective. I learned how content producers think, what are their issues and how to approach them from a friendlier perspective providing natural language support for turning their ideas into functional prototypes.
Q: What’s the biggest appeal of using A-Frame?
A: Using A-Frame was really cool because you don’t need to use anything other than HTML. The community is really helpful and I met some people which was the best selling point. Everyone was very welcoming. The documentation is also really useful. It took one night to get my site up and running.
Q: What makes A-Frame different?
A: One thing I love about A-Frame is that it’s really easy to adapt the actual web environment. One of the selling points is you can use the platform for yourself. For example, speech recognition. How do you create a chart in VR. A-Frame took care of everything. Very interesting you can move your previews and web idea into VR. The other thing that is pretty cool is that you can interact with the experience, opposed to 360 video which is static.
Q: Where do you see the VR space in 5 years?
A: Most ambitious goal for GuriVR is to answer a question. VR won’t be for everything. Movies maybe. The real question will be does it make sense for storytelling and how will journalists use it. In 5 years we’ll know more about what the user wants. There will be more material, and we’ll have real guidelines. People will be discovering new things and interacting not just witnessing through VR.
Q:What’s your ultimate goal?
A: My goal is for people to lose the fear of VR, even developers think it’s something they can’t get into. I show them how to get started. I show them the best thing about it is that we are in the experimenting phase, there is room to play.
Ultimately the most important thing is the story, if the story isn’t good the experience won’t be. I think voice interaction is going to be key in VR, especially for mass consumer experiences where the users don’t have a high-end device but maybe a Cardboard in the best scenario. I go to journalism VR meetups and talk to reporters at the New York Times. They are just dipping their toes in right now. They want to get more creative, crazier about the content they create.