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Facebook Takes Another Step Towards Social VR with New 360 Viewing App

Virtual reality is the future for social media, particularly for Facebook.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said so himself - in a Live Q and A session last year, in which Zuckerberg discussed the future direction of the platform (among other things), he explained how online platforms have advanced from being mostly text based, on to photos being the dominant element, and now to video, which is the currently the most accessible, immersive way to share our experiences.

“But the question you have to ask is: ‘is video the end of the line?’ Is that as good as we can do in terms of capturing a scene and what someone is experiencing at that point in time? And I think the answer to that is definitely no, because technology can always get better, we can always do a better job of giving everyone a voice, making it so everyone can share exactly what they’re thinking, and to me, that’s what VR is about – it’s about presence, feeling like you’re actually there with someone.”

Facebook's already invested billions of dollars in VR, buying Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, and Zuckerberg noted recently that they expect to invest a lot more – up to $3 billion over the next decade.

And while it may seem like a long way off yet, that we’re not yet at the stage where social VR becomes a real thing that you or I can experience, Facebook has already demonstrated how such a process might work. And the potential of such an option is significant.

But the coming VR shift won’t happen overnight, it’ll take smaller, incremental steps to get to that next stage of adoption. On this front, Facebook has already announced Live 360 video and Oculus Rooms – an early stage of social VR.

Facebook Takes Another Step Towards Social VR with New 360 Viewing App | Social Media Today

Image via Mashable

And now, Facebook has laid down another small step, with the addition of a new Facebook 360 app for Samsung Gear VR.

Facebook Takes Another Step Towards Social VR with New 360 Viewing App | Social Media Today

The app will make it easy for users to search through 360 video and photo content posted to Facebook - the first direct merging of Facebook content within a VR environment.

As explained by Facebook:

“With more than 25 million 360 photos and more than 1 million 360 videos posted on Facebook to date, there’s plenty of great content to discover in Facebook 360 for Gear VR. The app is a one-stop shop for catching up on what you may have missed from your friends and others you follow, diving into the 360 photos and videos you’ve saved, and finding something new to enjoy.”

Facebook Takes Another Step Towards Social VR with New 360 Viewing App | Social Media Today

As you can see from the first screenshot above, the new app will be divided into four feeds:

  • Explore – to find ‘interesting and popular’ 360 content on Facebook
  • Following – 360 content from friends and Pages you follow
  • Saved – 360 content you’ve saved from your News Feed
  • Timeline – as explained by Facebook: “Relive your memories in a new way through your own 360 photo and video uploads”

Of course, to access any of this you’ll need a VR headset, and a computer capable of running VR content. Right now, the full package is expensive - an Oculus Rift headset, with Touch controllers, costs $US648 on the Oculus website, and that’s without the kitted out PC.

But even with these cost limitations, it’s clear that VR is growing – Oculus is estimated to have sold around 355,000 units in 2016, while the Samsung Gear VR - built in collaboration with Oculus – reportedly shipped more than 2.3 million units.

The development of a new dedicated VR app also has significant brand potential – again, it’s audience relative, there may be no point making significant investment in VR to reach a total potential audience of 2.6 million disparate users. But as detailed in the release notes, the feeds will help users discover content “from media companies, organizations and individual creators”, while the Following tab will also highlight Page-originated content.

That could present immediate marketing potential for certain brands - but in future, it will most definitely become a more significant consideration.

It’s not going to happen straight away, it’ll take time and more of these smaller steps before VR becomes a key marketing consideration. But it’s worth paying attention to the user adoption rates, and which sectors and groups start seeing good response rates from VR content.  

You can download the Facebook 360 app for Gear VR within your Oculus experience or via the website.

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