The Next Social Media Frontier

Facebook just acquired Oculus, a virtual reality company, for $2 billion:

Like the shift to mobile, which has taken a couple years but has nonetheless happened, Zuckerberg says that the future of social interactions over the internet are going to be in “vision.” That becomes a much easier jump to make when you own the company that’s doing it best. “We think vision will be the next big platform. It might take 5-10 years to get there, but we’re thinking about the next platforms,” he said. “To help push this forward, [buying Oculus] became a clear decision … it was about what we could add to each other’s efforts.” And that, for Facebook, meant a company that can actually make hardware. Facebook’s own forays into hardware have been nightmares, and Zuckerberg said that the company knows when to give it up.

Alexis Madrigal compares the acquisition to recent investments by Apple and Google:

All these moves are about technology companies looking to create businesses off the computer/mobile screen. In a world where smartphone sales growth is going to level off soon, where social networking growth has already slowed, where everyone already uses Google … where do companies go to continue the revenue growth that is baked into their current share prices? Maybe they go after a share of TV money, or bet on the Internet of Things, or get in early with the explosion of consumer robotics. These massively valuable companies need to grab some land in whatever big technology wave comes next. And they are starting to buy where they think the fertile territory is.

Megan Garber explains why Oculus has so much potential:

Its technology represents a significant improvement over previous, clunky incarnations of virtual reality. (Remember the disaster that was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy?) VR may have been a pipe dream since the ‘60s and a joke since the ‘90s; Oculus Rift is promising to make virtual reality a desirable consumer product. And many critics think it can keep that promise.

In part, that’s because Oculus VR’s technology has managed to create digital spaces that resemble physical ones much more closely than previous VR devices have. The Oculus, according to Business Insider’s Steve Kovach, “makes you feel like you’re truly immersed in a virtual environment. It’s one of those things you have to try to fully understand.” In the words of another Oculus tester, “Oculus games make Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty played on a TV look like Pong.” Using the headset, furthermore, was “one of the most completely bizarre, wonderful, unique, laugh-out-loud, ‘holy cow!’ video experiences I have ever had.”

Will Oremus sees the move as part of Facebook’s growing takeover of our lives:

Oculus gives Facebook a chance to insert itself into what it believes may be the most immersive communication experience yet invented. Never mind reading your friend’s status update—imagine putting on your virtual-reality device and stepping into their world to speak with them directly. Or challenging them to a virtual round of golf at a pixel-perfect re-creation of Pebble Beach. Or playing Harry Potter to their Hermione and battling dark wizards in the halls of a virtual Hogwarts. Forget spending 17 minutes on Facebook—you might never want to leave.

Gaming with friends is only one of the more obvious short-term uses for an Oculus device. Longer term, Zuckerberg said, the plan is to turn it into a platform that would allow you to do anything from shopping at a virtual store to consulting with your doctor to taking a courtside seat at a basketball game—all without leaving your couch.