Social VR

How social VR is the future of social networking

Social media networks have transformed the world we live in, growing exponentially in popularity over the last fifteen years. But Social VR is coming soon. This article looks at what Social VR is, how it differs from traditional social media, and how they are the next step in social media development.

The years 2000 to 2006 saw the beginnings of a shift that would change everything about how we communicate and interact. That six-year time period, the advent of the social media revolution, saw the founding of Friends Reunited (2000), WAYN (2002), MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), and Twitter (2006).

Arguably, the most successful of these has been Facebook, the business model of which has been to take your data and sell it to advertisers. Unlike YouTube or Twitter, which seek to entertain their users by presenting them with content, Facebook is a tool for people to broadcast themselves to their ‘friends’.

The numbers around Facebook are startling. When it launched its IPO in 2012, the company stated that it had 845 million active monthly users. But by the end of 2018, that number had swollen to 2.32 billion, a steady year-on-year growth of 9 per cent. Today, over three-quarters of women have profiles on the site, and two-thirds of men. 300 million photos are uploaded each day, while each minute sees the posting of 510,000 comments and 293,000 status updates.

Outside of the main site, Facebook’s influence encroaches upon other sites – 2014 saw an estimate from the company that the ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons were pushed each day across almost 10 million websites. It would be unrealistic to expect that growth to have done anything but continue in the five years since.

The limits of social media

However, social media networks have limitations. The main one is their lack of immersion because, even though people seem to inordinate amounts of time posting pictures and statuses, talking to friends, checking out what acquaintances and family have been doing, the site serves as a compilation of reflections of their users. As such, they are an addendum – or simply just a part of – everyday life.

A real ‘social’ media, we would posit, is one where the users themselves exist, and are actively presently in that world. This sort of reality experience would have much more depth and interactivity than the current situation. Much more than video gaming, this would be what we call an ‘experience’, reflecting the deeper and wider uses of this technology.

Social VR

This brings us to social social virtual reality (VR), the next evolution in how people connect. The publication PC Magazine defines it as, “Getting together in a simulated world using a VR system and social VR app.”(1) Essentially, it means putting on a VR headset and meeting your friends in a space powered by artificial intelligence. As a social experience, it is the next step from traditional social networks.

Social VR differs from traditional social media. Firstly, being in a virtual environment is a more-immersive experience. In social VR, users can navigate through and discover ‘live’ content, which is continually being created. Users also have the option to discover things in real time as they are created. In traditional social networks, posts are made and then left for others to comment on or share. But in social VR, all this is done simultaneously so it’s a faster, more-immersive experience.

Obstacles to overcome

There are also interesting technical challenges that come with recreating classic social network structures within a 3D space. Technically, it means that 2D content has to be turned into 3D content: pictures and comments become interactions, objects, and voice gestures.

For users, there are several obstacles that need to be overcome, and their existence underlines the massive step social VR is from a traditional model. For traditional social media, concepts such as the copy-and-paste and @ functions must be learned. But existing within the VR experience is different and, with the full array of equipment such as hand-held sensors, reflects more our interactions in the real world. This makes for a more-intuitive experience.

Social VR is still at a nascent stage, the result of which – as mentioned above – is that the content available is still extremely limited. Not only is the number of applications still low, but they also lack depth. And because current take-up is low, it is still a novelty to interact with people you know within the space.

The limits of social VR

While we predict that VR uptake is set to skyrocket, one of its limitations is that it cannot be used ‘on the go’. It’s hard to imagine somebody checking their Facebook feed surreptitiously at work by sticking on a headset.

The MIT Technology Review article alluded to these issues. As Facebook’s head of social VR Rachel Franklin admitted, “I think it was not surprising that we got the feedback we got, which was: ‘There is not enough to do here.’ But I think it was an important lesson for us to learn. We’re sort of scrambling to give you more to do.”(2)

At present, Staramba is working on MATERIA.ONE, a next-generation social VR platform. In MATERIA.ONE, users will be able to not only take part in mindblowing experiences, but they will also be able to exist within the world itself, building a life and home for themselves.

Overall, social VR is a deeper and more-meaningful experience. But while it is an experience that requires a deep investment from users, the payoff has the potential to be much, much richer. And if you disagree, why not in the near future, put on a headset and come tell us ‘face-to-face’?

Sources:
(1) pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/69486/social-vr
(2) technologyreview.com/s/611041/facebooks-head-of-social-vr-admits-there-isnt-much-to-do-in-its-social-vr-app

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