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What Does VR Mean for Social Media?

We've been dreaming about virtual reality for decades. It's been depicted in all shapes and sizes across almost all of popular culture. Hollywood films like The Matrix showed us darker, more oppressive iterations of it, Tron reflected on other potential dangers and Ghost in the Shell gave us a world governed by it. Elsewhere on the small screen Star Trek: The Next Generation made us crave it with the Holodeck and even Angela Lansbury had a go with it in a freakish episode of Murder She Wrote.

You thought I was kidding, didn't you? (via wired.com)
Now the reality is closer than ever, the Oculus Rift is readily available across much of the world and copies are popping up left right and center, courtesy of heavy hitters like Samsung and Microsoft. As the device becomes more prevalent, functionality is increasing. Hundreds of video-games are either being developed for VR or retrofitted to be compatible, but what does this mean beyond the world of gaming, and what does it mean for social media?

The fact that Facebook snapped Oculus Rift up back in March of last year should give you some idea about where it's headed. While the massive social media platform was originally set up as a conduit for Harvard students to get laid, since it blew up it's touted itself as the best means for keeping in touch with friends and family, regardless of distance. As such, the notion of 'shared experiences' has been frequently referenced.

The idea is that through VR, people in Australia could attend their friend's birthday party in California and feel as if they're actually there. Creating the illusion of actually being in a room with someone when you're not could be seen as the logical conclusion of social media. You can almost trace the line from the first time Alexander Graham Bell first spoke into a telephone receiver in 1876.

There have been some past attempts to transfer the context of social media into something with the feel of virtual reality, but the results have been shaky at best and embarrassing at worst. The ill-fated Second Life springs immediately to mind. Now though, the idea of people roving around a virtual space talking to each other doesn't seem quite so silly.

Altspace VR, a start-up based in California, are working on what will likely be the first of many VR chatrooms. Being able to communicate with body language online the same way you can in real life is a huge step, all we've had to account for that till now is emojis. Such a movement also has massive applications in the business world, potentially replacing Skype as the most direct way to host meetings remotely.

Beyond simply communicating with others on a virtual plane, VR has the potential to create vast landscapes and structures for people to explore. Gaming and other interactive storytelling formats can obviously take the most direct benefit from this, but it certainly doesn't stop there. Matterport recently unveiled camera technology which enables you to scan just about any room you want and build a VR version of it for people to explore. This could help estate agents advertise properties, bands could host virtual concerts, TED could host virtual seminars and people could share their holiday experiences in amazing new ways.

Similarly, Google have been pushing forward with their 'Jump VR' rig, a collaborative effort with GoPro. The 360 rig supports 16 Hero 4 GoPro cameras and is designed to create filmed experiences geared towards VR. Like a lot of other GoPro-related fare, this will have the most appeal towards extreme sports, and is the first real step towards allowing people to experience some shade of the thrill of skydiving from their living rooms.

Obviously if you want an already existing example of how VR will work moving forward, you have to look at the world of gaming. Recently at E3 Microsoft demonstrated a way of playing Minecraft using a combination of the Oculus Rift and their new HoloLens holographic technology. The results were nothing short of mind-blowing, with the crowd left aghast at the site of a fully holographic, interactive map which could be shifted and manipulated at will using motion-tracked hand movements. The HoloLens itself is another goldmine of possibilities, imagine being able to take a fully 3-dimensional photograph, view-able from any angle.

Much has also been made of the level of immersion VR is capable of offering. During early demonstrations of the horror game Alien: Isolation on the Oculus, some players were reportedly so overcome with dread that they ripped the headset off and ran out of the room in fits of screaming. That might not sound like much fun, but it aptly demonstrates just how much of a technological leap this is. It's tantamount to people running out of the cinema when they saw a train speeding towards the screen during the early days of film.

The biggest issue at the moment is money, all this technology is so new that it's way beyond the price range of most people, but it's been well documented that price rates decline parallel to the rise in popularity. The technology touted by Matterport could be compatible with mobile phones within the next few years, easily. The main thing to bear in mind though is that it's the things we don't know about yet which are the most exciting. That might sound silly, but the technology is so young and the applications are so vast that new discoveries and ideas are going to be generated almost by-the-minute as it continues to grow into itself.

All you need to do to understand how VR is going to affect social media is to take any aspect of it currently in existence and transfer it from a screen into a 'room'. A photo album becomes a gallery, a message thread becomes a conference and sharing a video of your baby's first steps becomes an invitation for your friends to walk into that moment and experience it. Of course the applications beyond things like that could change the world, break down walls and save lives, but it's likely that for most of us, social media will be the most direct example of the VR revolution coming into effect.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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What Does VR Mean for Social Media? Reviewed by Unknown on Sunday, June 28, 2015 Rating: 5

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