In light of Mark Zuckerberg’s recent letter, where he outlines his vision for how online communities will evolve in the coming years, we wanted to think about virtual reality social media. Because the social world will be turned upside down with VR and a lot of these strategies may need a rethink.
What will virtual reality social media look like? What new features does VR afford the social space? In answering this question, let’s review some of the things we’ve learned about social media as it has gained prominence these last few years…
1 – People like simple. Remember MySpace and how that allowed you to customize your entire page (its background, having music play when you load the page, etc). People liked that at first but then gravitated toward the more standard Facebook page. At the time, they had similar features (biography info, photo albums, a wall, and connecting to friends). However, Facebook was simple and neat rather than the mess that most MySpace pages were.
2 – People prefer the visual. Notice how there are not many social networks relying on written word or audio mediums. Sure, you can share your Spotify channels or write a Medium article but the popularity of these social features pale in comparison to photos and videos.
3 – People prefer short-form content. The success of Twitter and Snapchat are the obvious ones here. It’s a bit shocking that social media sites that RESTRICT our capabilities won out over those that allow limitless content. However, we have very low attention spans. So people would much rather watch or create a short Snapchat video than a long 20 minute one. Likewise, we want to browse the availability of shared content in short-form as well, which is why news feeds are so popular.
4 – Social provides incredible influence. We have learned that what our friends like is most likely to be what we like. People rely on peer reviews to select restaurants, doctors, and travel. We most often tend to gravitate toward the political stances of our peers, even when we know little about the issue. People are most likely to engage in experiences that are shareable to friends. We are most likely to communicate words or content that will be “liked”. Social influences are the biggest factor in our behavior and beliefs and not just when you’re logged into the social platform.
There are many more lessons learned but these are some of the biggest that we can use in predicting social media in virtual reality. Our belief is that social media as we know it today will cease to exist in 5-10 years. It’s certainly possible that Facebook or Snapchat will successfully migrate their platform and user base to VR. But it will look very different than the “screen” version we have today. We will exist as physical presences in the new social media and interact in a very different way. Here’s what we envision…
1 – Pages will be replaced by Rooms.
When you go to your friend’s virtual reality social media “Room”, you will be able to physically walk around in it. Because of the preference for simplicity, we don’t think it will be customizable for every color, decoration, or feature possible. Instead, it will feature various VR specific apps developed for use in this 3-D room.
Pictures will exist on the physical wall of this room. Rather than “tagging” them, you’ll leave physical objects in their room and place it in a specific location. Developers will have open-source ability to code whatever objects are interesting. Maybe it’s a timeline of pictures represented by a tree (where each leaf is another picture). When you want to watch a video, you might turn to the room’s television set located somewhere within the space. If you want to invite them to an event, you’ll leave a note in their physical calendar on the wall. When you want to interact with the person directly, you’ll go sit at their computer or on the couch (still virtually). And maybe they will have objects like a pool table or deck of cards where you can play games with them. It might resemble Google Hangouts in that regard.
The key point is that it will be a 3D manifestation of their current social page. And you’ll be able to exist and walk around in that 3D room, while interacting directly with the objects within it. Pretty cool possibilities exist to develop these “room” experiences further.
2 – Your feed will exist in 3D as well.
You will get alerts that exist in your virtual reality field of vision. These alerts will allow you to reach out to this floating object and open them up. They might be a video, an invite to do something, or a shared news article.
3 – We think social networks will go one of three directions…
Virtual reality social media might exist as stand-alone apps. They will allow you to share things with other people in the VR universe. Sort of similar to how they exist today. OR…
Virtual reality social media might be re-imagined as worlds where you can “transport” yourself into the Facebook or LinkedIn world and then use their features only in that world. OR…
Virtual reality social media might resemble a web browser. It will look and feel very different than the Internet browsers of today but will still be the center of how you interact in virtual reality. This browser will go beyond just being a “world” but facilitate other simulations to exist within that social universe. So you might have education or entertainment simulations that exist in the Facebook World. You need to enter this VR World to interact with the people in it, log-in to the simulations, and then be capable of sharing it with others.
We predict the last option will occur. We think VR will be so social that all other VR experiences will revolve around the social capability. That way you can find friends to play multi-player games. You can learn in a classroom of peers and be able to collaborate on projects and share your results or qualifications. Maybe you can go to the VR bar or the VR vacation destination with other people and share the pictures/videos of your experience with people that didn’t go with. And you can work with other businesses or co-workers on important professional engagements and share documents, results, etc.
4 – People will share VR experiences and in new, interactive ways.
We think there will be more opportunity than to “share” or “like” things in virtual reality. We think you’ll have the chance to be more interactive. You might opt to meet people in the virtual world and experience things with them. It’s safer because it’s a virtual world and you’re protected by an avatar if you choose. You’ll be better able to collaborate with others because everything exists in virtual simulations that you can see, move, touch, and sense. This is better than the mere screens we have today. And those simulations are limitless in potential because they involve a physical world complete with all the senses. A few examples:
Instead of creating a video, you might create a simulation that others can experience. Things that interact with you on a deeper and more emotional level. We think there will be applications in VR for non-developers to easily create simulations (just like non-videographers can easily record videos today).
Instead of sharing a song, you might share a music-video that others can be part of.
Instead of sharing a podcast, you might share the ability to sit in the audience of a live presentation. And the average presentation will be more immersive than just sitting in a seat.
Instead of sharing a business page, you’ll share a business world where you can interact directly with the product.
The methods we share, what we share, and how we respond to shared content will all be much better. Social media will need to facilitate this on a technical level and user experience level.
5 – Will the same companies exist?
It’s an interesting question because major social media players like Facebook, Microsoft/LinkedIn, Google, Snapchat, and Baidu are working on the hardware technology for VR/AR instead of the applications. They all have R&D dedicated to the software side but it isn’t their focus. We think this is potentially a mistake. Usually when a game-changing technology emerges, the dominant companies will shift a bit. This will probably occur. And if the big tech companies are investing in the crowded, lower-margin hardware market, they are potentially inviting others to gain share in the software VR/AR market.
We predict some will quickly adapt and gain a strong footing in VR social media, while others will make strategic mistakes and diminish in size. Only time will tell. However, we are very confident that companies that don’t exist or are in the startup phase today will eventually emerge as companies the size of Google and Facebook today.
Virtual Reality Social Media – Conclusions
It’s very interesting to think about virtual reality social media. VR companies have to be social or they likely won’t do well. Remember that PCs and the internet started as encyclopedia-like information, gaming, and basic email communication, and eventually evolved to a very social medium. So we think it’s important to learn the lessons of social media from the Internet and apply those to what a VR social world will look like. This is our prediction. What’s yours?
Interested in virtual reality? We have many resources to get more involved: