WebXR, 360° Panoramic Imaging, and Cultural Heritage

Screenshot in Google Cardboard mode from the Sacred Spaces of New England project showing the sanctuary of the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

WebXR is an API (Application Programing Interface) that enables virtual reality, augmented reality, and other immersive technologies to be delivered through a web browser. This technology has the potential to make immersive experiences of our world’s cultural heritage more accessible—from the Parthenon in Athens to a modest sacred space in a local community.

360° panoramic imaging is the science, art and practice of creating interactive and navigable immersive 360° screen-based images, which usually depict a place and/or event. A 360° panoramic image not only has the ability to act as an object, whether stand-alone or within a larger project, but it can also serve as an interface. 360° panoramic imaging has the following distinct attributes:

  • Immersive: provides an experience or suggestion of being in a simulated three-dimensional environment;
  • Integrative: allows image, sound, and text to be combined into a dynamic 360° panoramic form;
  • Interactive: permits users to affect and control their experience with the panorama, and potentially engage with others through its interface; and
  • Hypermedia: has the potential to link separate media objects (text, image, sound, video, other panoramas) to one another when the VR panoramic image is used as an interface.

With such head-mounted display (HMD) devices as Google Cardboard and Oculus Quest, 360° panoramic images can now be viewed within a completely immersive environment using accessible technologies that many already own such as your smart phone in conjunction with Google Cardboard. As the WebXR API develops and by using 360° panoramic imaging as a tool for documenting cultural heritage sites and related events, one may:

  1. Incorporate hypermedia elements (e.g. text, image, video, sound) to provide additional and/or more in-depth information for further learning;
  2. Encourage input from users along with the possibility of the exchange of ideas between users using interactivity; and
  3. Facilitate dialogue with the history of the site and/or event, which can foster increased levels of engagement with cultural heritage.

Sacred Spaces of New England is a project that I am working on that simultaneously experiments with the capabilities of WebXR and other immersive technologies while also endeavoring to document and digitally preserve sacred spaces of New England.

Suggestions on places to document and other constructive feedback for developing Sacred Spaces of New England are welcome in the comments section or by contacting me directly.

Below are some great resources to learn more about WebXR and immersive imaging experiences via the World Wide Web:

State of the WebXR API with Brandon Jones

Google AR & VR Virtual Reality

Mozilla Mixed Reality Blog

F8 2019: Unlocking the Future of WebXR at Facebook

3D, VR and AR on the web (Chrome Dev Summit 2019)

WebXR Device API

The International Panorama Council Journal, Volume 3 is now available

I am pleased to announce the publication of the International Panorama Council Journal, Volume 3. The International Panorama Council is committed to the history and preservation of the panorama and its relevance to the broader context of the media arts. The mission of the IPC journal is to stimulate and foster worldwide interdisciplinary research on the panorama and its related forms. My paper entitled, “Sacred Spaces of New England: Artistic Research, Cultural Heritage, and Virtual Reality Panoramic Photography” is included in this volume. Please click here to read more about IPC’s journal and to download a free copy.

I was also recently interviewed about this article and the Sacred Spaces of New England project for an episode of the Versatilist, a podcast dedicated to sharing and exploring the nature of immersive learning. The interview can be found at https://bit.ly/36eANd2.

Below is the description of the episode:

In this episode, I speak with Seth Thompson, the author of “Sacred Spaces of New England: Artistic Research, Cultural Heritage, and Virtual Reality Panoramic Photography.” We had a great conversation about New England, even though neither of us live there anymore. For more information about his work, check out https://seththompson.info/sacredspacesne/.

International Panorama Council Journal, Volume 3’s Cover

It’s a Jungle Out There with this Google Street View Mod

Street View of My Home Using Urban Jungle Street View

Street View of My Home Using Urban Jungle Street View

Reminiscent of Thomas Cole’s painting, The Course of Empire: Desolation (1836), Sweden-based developer Einar Öberg has created a very clever Google Street View modification entitled, Urban Jungle Street View. However, the sombre apocalyptic tone of Cole’s painting is replaced with amusement and mayhem in the case of Öberg’s quirky project, as it allows you to select anyplace available in Street View and see it in his jungle mode.

Öberg states on his website, “This experiment [is] using an undocumented part of Street View, the depth data. With that a depth map and a normal map is generated, which can be used in the shaders and to plot geometry and sprites in (almost) the correct position in 3d space.”

It should be noted that Öberg warns on Twitter that he is “Breaking [Google’s] terms of use like it’s no tomorrow”, so check out your home or favorite place at: http://inear.se/urbanjungle/ before it possibly comes down. Intentional or not, this is a definite piece of Internet-based art.

Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Desolation, 1836

Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Desolation (1836)

The Adobe Museum of Digital Media fails to embrace its own media potential


Adobe Museum of Digital Media


On October 6, 2010, two months after its anticipated release, Adobe launched the Adobe Museum of Digital Media, an online exhibition space for art and design. While providing enticing architectural graphics, the site is disappointing because it does not embrace current museum and Web 2.0 thought on developing participatory experiences to create dialogue and engage community. As a result, the Adobe Museum of Digital Media fails to grasp the potential of the Web by using a traditional authoritative exhibition model within a digital environment. Besides decreasing the download time to experience the museum interface and work at hand, my advice to Adobe is to let go of the notion of a physical architecture within the interface design and provide a more visceral experience for viewers to engage in and interact with intangible works of art that are made specifically for the screen.

Read the Adobe Museum of Digital Media press release.

Originally posted on November 18, 2010