Social Virtual Reality: Facebook’s Next Challenge

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By Vlad Vidaeff

Looking back on the technological innovation that has taken place during my lifetime alone is remarkable.  Here’s a snapshot of what things were like when I was a kid: I would log-on to the Internet using dial-up so I could IM with my friends; while I was online, our landline phone could not be used; loading a web page took so long that I would often read a magazine while I was waiting; cell phones resembled small bricks and the best part was playing snake; a couple years earlier, cell phones didn’t even exist; if I wanted to meet my friend at the park, we would set a time to meet; if he didn’t show up, I would wait 15 minutes and then go home.  Fast forward to the year 2016 and the every day life of a young professional: the Internet is so fast that I get frustrated when a page takes more than a couple seconds to load; AOL is a dinosaur while Google, Facebook, and other social media platforms grab our attention on a daily basis; cell phones are sleek and we often use them to surf the web more often than our computers.  What does the future hold?  Virtual reality has a nice ring to it but so far it hasn’t made much of an impact in the life of an average person.  Facebook is looking to change that.  This blog will discuss Facebook’s new focus on virtual reality and what it hopes to achieve.

The first significant step was taken on March 25, 2014.  On this day, Mark Zuckerberg shared that Facebook had acquired Oculus VR, the preeminent virtual reality technology company.  At the time, Zuckerberg’s status update was more aspirational than concrete.  He touched on the impressive capabilities of Oculus while reinforcing the impact that technology has had and will continue to have in the future.  One thing was clear however: Zuckerberg wanted virtual reality to be a focus of Facebook’s future strategy.

Almost two years later, progress has been made.  The Oculus rift is a next-generation virtual reality device that provides an immersive experience for gaming, movies, or connecting with friends and family.  A couple weeks ago, Facebook announced that it had created a formal Social VR team.  The team will not only analyze how VR is being used today but also what long-term possibilities can be for the technology.  Looking at the present day, the Samsung Gear VR, which is powered by Oculus technology, offers more than 200 games and apps.  People have watched more than 1 million hours of video with the device.

Given Facebook’s mission statement and brand identity, it will likely leverage VR technology as a medium for enhancing social interactions.  Sure, you can chat on the phone with your grandma overseas.  Sure, you can Skype with your kids when you’re away on business.  What if you could do these same things through virtual reality?  Instead of waving goodbye to your daughter using FaceTime, what if she could feel like you were kissing her goodnight with virtual reality?  If anyone has seen 2Pac’s holographic performance at Coachella, you understand how cool the technology really is.  With the right technology, with progress, and with affordable prices, virtual reality can serve as not only an entertainment option, but also a way to bring people closer together.  Especially those who are separated by distance.  As technology continues to advance, the word is becoming smaller and it is becoming easier and easier to stay in touch with those who don’t live in your immediate vicinity.  Facebook has always been about bringing people together so it is no surprise that the social media giant wants to be the pioneer of virtual reality.


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