Photo Credit: wikipedia
At its F8 developer conference in San Jose, Facebook showed off Spaces, the most fascinating hybrid mix of social networking and virtual reality we’ve ever seen. The “social virtual reality platform” builds on what the company debuted at the Oculus Connect conference last year, and is now available as an app for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
Facebook’s new social VR platform
To use Facebook Spaces, you need three different things – an Oculus Rift VR headset, a Touch controller and a Facebook account. Oh, and also a computer powerful enough to use the Oculus Rift. (If you own a MacBook, you’re out of luck)
At any point in time, you can interact with up to three different people within Facebook Spaces, which you can think of as a really elaborate hangout, including animated, cartoon-like half-torsos suspended in space, animated objects that you draw in 3D (and then start wearing!), and the ability to pull in videos and photos from your Facebook account.
Use cases for social VR
The demo video, now available on YouTube, shows just a few of the use cases. Say, for example, you want to talk to your friend and preview an upcoming vacation. You’d both enter Facebook Spaces, and then you’d be able to use your cartoon-like avatar to manually reach to a control panel and pull up a video, that then plays in 360 degrees around you. Of course, it might just be easier to email a link to your friend to a YouTube page, but this is way more fun.
Another use case is a birthday party celebration in which you want to participate but can’t attend in person. You’d enter Facebook Spaces, where you could interact in person. You’d doodle a party hat, and watch it turn into a live object that you could put on your cartoon character’s head. You’d then open up a birthday video that you made and show it to your friend. And then you’d – get this – use a VR selfie stick to snap a selfie. Yes, you’d be taking a VR selfie of your cartoon avatar that you could then post on your real Facebook page with a “Happy Birthday” message.
But will people really use it more than once?
Facebook has been careful not to call this a “virtual chat room” where you hang out with total strangers – they say it’s really more of a way “to relive memories with others.” It’s a safe place to go where you and your friends can experience things together – like birthday parties or travel adventures.
Certainly, Facebook Spaces is delightfully strange and unique. Some tech analysts who have demoed the project say that, even when you’re interacting with a friend you’ve known for years, it can feel like you’re just interacting with a really clumsy, but really intelligent bot. (There’s a real art to using the Touch controller to do relatively mundane actions). And the fact that everyone is a cartoon avatar is clearly a millennial thing.
For now, Facebook Spaces seems like a colossally complex way just to hangout for a few minutes with someone else. Imagine if every time you made a phone call to your friend, you had to strap on a headset and engage with cartoon VR avatars.
But it’s almost inevitable that, sooner or later, Facebook will find a way to combine social networking with virtual reality in a way that’s truly accessible to everyone. When that happens, the days of leaving text updates on a 2D screen are going to seem as anachronistic as using a typewriter to write your next magnum opus.