Virtual reality still feels a way off, still feels like something from a science fiction film. But Facebook's recent VR interaction demo at their Oculus Connect event showed that social interaction via VR may not be as out of reach as you might think.
And while that's all amazing - the capacity of VR as a connective tool and the possibility of engaging with each other in a virtual space - the truth is that the next stage for VR is still some time, and development, away from changing how we communicate.
But we are getting there.
Along this line, Facebook has today announced that users will soon be able to shoot Facebook Live videos in 360 degrees, the next stage in the evolution of online video content.
As shown in the image, the new 360 Live capacity will be showcased tomorrow with a broadcast from the Mars Desert Research facility in Utah - a team of scientists will emerge from 80 days of isolation in Mars simulation pods and will broadcast Live 360 content from the simulation landscape.
The showcase will serve as an introduction to 360 Live content, with the option to be made available via Facebook's Live API next year, then rolled out to all Pages and users over time.
It's the next phase for Facebook video, and the next battleground for video platforms, as competition for audience attention heats up in the space.
The Next Level
As noted by TechCrunch, Facebook's not the first platform to enable live 360 broadcasts. YouTube introduced the capacity to broadcast in 360 degrees back in April, along with spatial audio - "where depth, distance and intensity all play a role" - further enhancing the live experience.
Facebook doesn't currently support spatial audio, though they are, reportedly, working on their own solution on this front. Twitter-owned Periscope, the other main player in the live-streaming market, doesn't support 360 content at all as yet, though they have built capacity for such advancement into the developer options.
And while technical capacity is one element, ease of creation is the other - and with 360 degree video cameras now selling for less than $US200, it won't be long before we all have the capacity to create and upload 360 content, which will be viewable either via our smartphones (tilt and roll) or in headsets, like Google Cardboard. And as anyone who's ever used Google Cardboard knows, the experience is immersive and engaging, moreso than you might expect.
Another limitation on 360 take-up at the moment is that there's just not enough content - most 360 videos are only a few minutes long and there's not a heap of engaging material as yet, most just feels like experimental features to test what's possible.
But this could all change very quickly if the creation process is simplified, and access is made more widely available to everyday consumers.
That's where 360 and virtual reality will become truly transformative - and it may be coming sooner than you expect.
Back in June, during his first (and thus far only) Q and A session conducted via Facebook Live, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the future of interaction on the platform and how they're working to advance the ways people in which connect - going from text being the predominant form of online communication, then advancing to photos, and now to video, which is the most accessible way to share our experiences at present.
"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."
The progression makes perfect sense - we gravitate to the medium which best enables us to share our perspective on the world, what we're seeing and feeling in the moment, which is why video has become so popular, and why, as Zuckerberg notes, VR will be the next level. But in order to get to that next level, we still have to go through a few mid-steps to transition into the new paradigm.
The problem with VR right now is that it's just too expensive and technically complex for most people to access. The cost of a fully operative Oculus Rift headset, for example, is around $US599, and that's without the Touch controllers - the combo of the two costs $US798, as per the Oculus website. On top of that, you also need a high-end PC to effectively run Oculus content, so all up you're looking at upwards of $US1,500 for an Oculus VR set-up, putting it out of the reach for most consumers - and as noted, with limited 360 content available, there's not a heap of motivation to be shelling out that much cash at this stage.
But more than that, it's the creative element - video only started to take off once it was put in people's hands, once we were easily able to tap a single button on our phones and start filming. Handheld video cameras had been available for years before the arrival of smartphones, but they were expensive, uploading content from them to the internet was a process - it was only once it was simplified and made easily accessible for all that video really took flight.
This is why VR will take time, and why we need stepping stone elements like this to move to the next level. It may not seem like a big deal, today's announcement, it may feel out of reach for you, as an everyday consumer. But it's the next important development in evolving our online connectivity to the next level of shared experience.
It's worth taking note, and considering what the next big content shift will be.
Facebook says Live 360 video will be available to more Pages via the Live API in the coming months, and will be rolling out more broadly for all Pages and Profiles in 2017.