Facebook is the dominant social media network, having built a family of social and messaging apps that's now used by more than 2.7 billion people across the globe every month.
To put that in context, the population of the entire world is 7.7 billion, and half of them have no access to the internet. That means that the majority of people who can use Facebook's apps, in some capacity, do so, and those figures are truly something that should not be understated.
But in order to maintain that dominance, and further capitalize on its position, Facebook also has an eye on the future, and where digital connectivity is moving next. At least some part of that is going to be within VR, and connecting people in wholly digital worlds, which is where Oculus, Facebook's VR arm, slots into the broader Facebook app family.
This week, Oculus is holding its 'Oculus Connect' conference, where it's showcasing the latest VR innovations and tools that it's working on to take VR to the next level. And while it's still some time away from market dominance, there are definitely some interesting elements in the works, which will no doubt become bigger considerations - for consumers and marketers - over the next decade.
One of the big innovations announced on day one of the event was hand-tracking, without gloves or controllers.
As you can see in the video, the new hand-tracking technology utilizes sensors in the front of the Oculus Quest headset, enabling users to interact with the virtual world in a more natural way.
As per Oculus:
"Hand tracking on Quest will let people be more expressive in VR and connect on a deeper level in social experiences. Not only will the current community of VR enthusiasts and early adopters benefit from more natural forms of interaction, hand tracking on Quest will also reduce the barriers of entry to VR for people who may not be familiar or comfortable with gaming controllers. Even better, your hands are always with you and always on - you don’t have to grab a controller, keep it charged, or pair it with the headset to jump into VR."
That's a significant advance, which points to the next level of VR connection. As you may recall, Facebook is also working on a new form of digital avatars which will bear your likeness, helping to build your personal presence in the digital realm.
Combine these with more natural, interactive tools, like hands-free control, and you can start to imagine a whole new world of connection, where your digital self begins to take on a life of its own.
And Facebook is actually building the place where you'll be able to do just that.
Facebook Horizon, as you can see here, is, at present, a cartoonish VR world where users will be able to establish a presence, and connect with others virtually.
Oculus says that Horizon is "a culmination of what we’ve learned so far about virtual spaces and communities" and is a "first step into an ever-expanding world of connection and exploration where anything becomes possible."
But it won't include the above ultra-realistic avatars as yet.
"Before stepping into Horizon for the first time, people will design their own avatars from an array of style and body options to ensure everyone can fully express their individuality. From there, magic-like portals - called telepods - will transport people from public spaces to new worlds filled with adventure and exploration. At first, people will hop into games and experiences built by Facebook, like Wing Strikers, a multiplayer aerial experience."
Both Horizon and hand tracking are coming in 2020, with Horizon replacing the existing Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms VR platforms on October 25th.
But these are just the beginning, and while there are some impressive and interesting VR elements starting to emerge, as noted earlier, we're still some way off full, mainstream VR adoption as yet.
So how far away are we? In an interview with CNet, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he hopes to see VR move to the next level within the next decade.
"I don't think it's a 2020 thing. But hopefully it's not a 2030 thing."
Zuckerberg also noted that sales in the Oculus Store have exceeded demand, topping $100 million in VR content, already, while its Oculus Quest device is "selling as fast as we are making them."
Consumer interest in VR is rising - even without a knock-out product, a must-have app or tool, it's clear that VR is going to become a much bigger consideration in future. And Facebook looks to be at the forefront of that shift.
That, of course, will also bring additional privacy concerns and consumer issues, and Zuckerberg's attitude towards such isn't exactly comforting at this stage.
"There's still a lot of questions. I don't think these are things that ever get fully answered - the threats evolve and you need to work on them. But I would hope that by the time these ecosystems are mature, our approaches to those issues will also be quite mature."
Optimism that things will work out has come back to haunt Facebook in the past, so while everyone would share in Zuck's hope that things do, in fact, all come together, there needs to be more emphasis within Facebook on ensuring such is the case before anything gets shipped.
You can already imagine that, as these tools become more immersive, they will bring increased health concerns, like societal isolation, motion-related illness, manipulation by scammers who can use the VR environment to create new levels of perceived connection.
Previous virtual worlds like Second Life have faced an array of issues with offensive content, legal disputes over virtual property, and data hacks. Facebook has the resources, and previous examples, to cater for this. But they are issues that are going to come up.
Clearly, the next phase of VR is coming, and it will open up a whole new range of possibilities. But are we ready for the potential problems that will also accompany that?
One way or another, we're going to find out.