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Why Social Media Is The Killer App For Virtual Reality

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Matthew Payne, head of creative technology at We Are Social, explains how social media will make virtual reality mainstream

Virtual reality (VR) and real emotion: if ever there was a true dichotomy, this would seem to be it. But take a look at this Samsung video and it’s instantly apparent how virtual reality can be used to connect a husband and wife over a great distance, in real time, in a way that’s never been seen or experienced before.

This is an early indicator of the power of VR and social, and why we believe that social is the ‘killer app’ for VR – it’s what will make VR mainstream.

Here’s why. If you look at any successful innovation its success can be traced back to three foundations – science, imagination and commerce. All three things need to be in place, otherwise you’ll hear phrases like ‘it’s ahead of its time’ or ‘it’s a solution looking for a problem’. This formula is especially true of social platforms, so let’s look at the history of some of the big players.

Samsung Virtual RealityFacebook

Science – Facebook wasn’t the first social network but its technology was built on top of the foundations of established networks such as MySpace and Friendster. Also Mark Zuckerberg understood the human behavioural science. He knew what people wanted.

Imagination – Zuckerberg had the foresight to deliver a social network focussed on a niche he understood – students – and to design the user experience around relationships as opposed to self-expression.

Commerce – The commercial opportunity to access a global youth audience was so intense that Facebook’s founder was confident enough to show up to a VC meeting in his PJs and present a deck called “The Top Ten Reasons You Should Not Invest.”

YouTube

Science – Digital video cameras had been around for a while and were now affordable to a lot of people. This, combined with broadband speeds increasing, meant that anyone could quickly and affordably upload content.

Imagination – YouTube’s founders imagined a world where everyone was a creator in charge of their own publishing channels.

Commerce – The commercial opportunity for brands to advertise against the most shared videos on the planet was so strong that Google coughed up big and early for the platform.

Snapchat

Science – Messaging apps were old news by the time Snapchat showed up, but like Facebook, Snapchat was able to stand on the shoulders of giants and build on what had gone before.

Imagination – The bright sparks at Snapchat had the insight to see that having all your social activity stored online forever wasn’t always good news. Like real life communications between friends was a moment and then it was gone.

Commerce – Snapchat unlocked a global teen audience that was moving away from Facebook and was looking for its own way to communicate with itself.

This science, imagination and commerce foundation is exactly mirrored in where VR is today. The technology has matured after decades of experimentation and development. The imaginative uses of VR are staggering and relentless and the commercial opportunity for Facebook to unite its billion+ users in a virtual experience is a brain melting concept. Bare that in mind when you think that in 2017, the revenue of virtual reality products is projected to reach 4.6 billion US dollars.

When Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus he said: “Oculus Rift is really a new communication platform” and I agree. While there will be huge opportunities for gaming, movies and porn, the killer app for VR will be social because connecting with each other is a universal compulsion at the deepest neurological level.

Any technology which helps us to connect in a more effective way (like the successful social platforms) has a huge chance of being a world changing innovation. It’s something worth getting very excited about.