When Facebook purchased VR startup Oculus in March 2014, it was only a matter of time until the two were gliding, arm in arm, towards a future where you could go scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef without taking a single step outside. Nobody invests $2.3 billion in a company it doesn’t believe in, so now, in 2017, we have Mark Zuckerberg travelling to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of a hurricane – except instead of getting on an aeroplane, he’s actually a virtual reality avatar.
Introducing a new breed of virtual reality – social VR. Not only can we now access new, virtual worlds, but we can also synthesise this concept with Facebook. We can hang out with our friends in a totally different continent; we can create memories of things which aren’t even real; we are essentially unstoppable.
Half crude disaster tourism and half unbelievable, Zuckerberg’s ‘trip’ to Puerto Rico showed us that Facebook Spaces is probably further into the future than most of us would like to tread right now. But we can’t help but be mesmerised by the possibilities this new platform will open up – as Zuckerberg said as he screened Facebook Spaces on Facebook Live this week, their aim is to help people “go places that it wouldn’t be possible to necessarily go”. Moments later, he grabs a levitating orb and teleports himself into someone else’s 360 video of a damaged, flooded Puerto Rico. Insensitive? Maybe. But this is really, really cool. And if you’re still not convinced, towards the end of the video, along with Facebook’s head of social VR Rachel Franklin, he finds himself on the moon. The actual moon. Staring at the Milky Way. And that’s not all! In the real world Mark and Rachel aren’t even in the same room – yet here, in Facebook Spaces, they can make eye contact and read each other’s body language.
Just like the other 1.32 billion users logging onto Facebook every day, you probably use the network to try and remember whose birthday it is this week, maybe post some pictures when you go on holiday. But Facebook Spaces is next level. The platform is currently only released as beta but it continues to develop features, such as the ability to add your own photos and videos into the virtual environment. This isn’t just a Facebook plugin, this is a whole universe built specifically for VR. According to Zuckerberg: “When you put it on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you’re actually present in another place with other people. People who try it say it’s different from anything they’ve ever experienced in their lives.”
Problems to date with virtual reality have been that it’s not caught on as quickly as anticipated, and also that it is a solitary activity. Thanks to being fronted by one of the most prolific social brands in the world, Spaces hopes to gain momentum for people adopting VR, whilst also making it a more collaborative thing. Being able to finance the hardware is currently an issue for the mainstream, but, as prices continue to drop, we can only assume that one day we’ll all be able to visit the moon too.