Whether you love it or hate it, escaping the grasp social media has on our lives is nearly impossible. So much so, in fact, that many studies link the sites to addiction. While I won’t cite any of this research, I will keep a running tally to see how many times I check one of my accounts throughout the writing of this article (we’re up to two right now).
Social media, which is inherently user-driven, has changed quite a bit over the past years. From its humble beginnings in the ways of MySpace and Facebook’s early launch, we’ve seen adaptations leading to complete overhauls in how we communicate with each other and function. As such, it is inevitable that augmented and virtual reality will claim a more prominent hold in these areas, for social media to maintain its popularity.
What Are the Individual Roles of the Current Platforms?
Certainly, there are more social media channels than those I list below, but for the sake of time, I’ll focus on the most prominent ones since they’re already getting their toes wet in AR/VR.
1) Facebook: The Diary
From airing dirty laundry to announcing babies or sharing a favorite inspirational quote, Facebook is the compilation the tidbits making up a person’s identity. It is, in essence, the modern-day diary.
(Up to four.)
Facebook was one of the first platforms to allow 360 photos and videos live on feeds. By taking a photo or video with your phone — using their required Facebook method, of course — you can document a moment in time for others to navigate with ease.
Viewing these videos in VR headsets are a bit more difficult, however. Users cannot easily download a video from another person in all virtual reality cases, but this is in part due to competition in the VR space. Since Facebook has a vested interest in Oculus, they are eager to discourage (i.e. make it extraordinarily difficult for) users to view their videos with a different brand.
Facebook also boasts one of the most camera-intense 360 recording devices.
Their Surround 360 boasts 3D-360 with fourteen cameras. However, at a purchasing price of $30,000, they’re hardly trying to promote further user-level interactions with their own social media channel.
2) YouTube: The Advertisement
Moving on to YouTube, we find the video hub of the internet. This where we go to get a laugh, find something so utterly ridiculous it makes us feel better about our lives, and is inevitably where every pre-teen goes to do tutorials in hopes of being “discovered” by a “reputable” talent agent. Stand aside dance moms, YouTube’s got this!
Of course, YouTube houses many other sorts of videos. However, as we’re focusing on social media, let’s stick with those types of functions. Those functions are, largely, people trying to promote or advertise their own skills.
In the way of augmented and virtual realities, YouTube is a bit behind the curve. While it allows for 360 and VR videos in much the same way Facebook does, it’s upload process is different and less fluid.
Despite the technical glitches that can be had while uploading the new VR video of your teen neighbor launching himself into a cactus garden via his home-built human catapult, it’s easier for the rest of the public to view the content once the transfer is complete.
3) Pinterest: The To-Do List
Full of idyllic photos and serving as a great source of inspiration, this social media channel is the equivalent of having Martha Stewart following you throughout the day while commenting on your substandard life.
While one of the larger social media channels, I’ve yet to uncover any sort of augmented or virtual reality future happening with this platform. Pinterest may very well skip the entire AR/VR revolution, as they haven’t shown an awful lot of initiative in updating or revising their channel as the years have unfolded.
4) Twitter: The Conference
In the social media sector, Twitter is mostly a business-to-business or networking platform. Imagine attending a conference where each statement is held to 120 characters or fewer, and you have Twitter.
Sure, there are still plenty of people adding personal thoughts to Twitter, but the bulk of these began as business-related material.
Looking at the AR/VR side of Twitter is, sadly, difficult. As of now, the bulk of what you’ll see is simply the exchange of ideas on a wealth of information surrounding the realities within the user content.
However, in the summer of 2016, Twitter began putting together an AR/VR focused team with very little of their intent or goals made public. Or, in other words, we know bumpkiss about what they’re planning.
5) Snapchat: The You-Be-You Zone
Arguably the first of the major social media chains to embrace and develop augmented reality, this channel developed face filters before they even had a heavy foothold in the social media wars.
Used primarily as a person-to-person communication tool, I deem this social channel to be the one showing our followers our most authentic selves. Since every communication disappears within 24 hours after being posted, people are less apt to want to preserve a perfect moment in time,
Instead, they want to capture those tiny moments of silliness (promoted by the quirky face filters) with the added bonus of flamboyant text options.
So, think back to the lunchroom table during sixth grade. Remember when little Billy put straws in his ears resulting in Becky shooting chocolate milk out her nose? That’s an ideal Snapchat moment.
(And, we’ve broken twenty, people!)
6) Instagram: The Showboat
Owned by Facebook, it’s possible this channel shouldn’t be listed here. However, Instagram serves a separate purpose, as they have acquired nearly all of the non-Facebook users in the younger generations. Irony abounds when I hear a young one trashing Facebook in favor of the Facebook-owned Instagram, but I digress.
While Facebook is our diary, Instagram is the photo album of our dreams. We see photos of the food our friends eat, see happy children playing gleefully together on a sunny day, follow co-workers as they go on a perfectly glamorous backpacking trip through Europe, and apply filters to any photo that doesn’t look absolutely enchanting.
Following Snapchat’s lead, Instagram (aka, Facebook) recently added face filters as an option by way of augmented reality technology. It even approaches stories in much the same way as Snapchat.
However, since both channels acquired users under different pretenses, it will take some time before Instagram or Snapchat wins in the “story” department. As of now, Instagram stories are still glam-based, and Snapchats are a bit more relaxed in nature.
Instagram also altered their advertising platform so that ads were more photo-friendly. Now when you come upon a business’s perfect photo, making you envision yourself in a perfect living room or wearing that amazingly retro bowler hat, you can tap on the photo to see pricing, get more information, and even get directed to the purchasing website. While none of that is considered augmented or virtual reality, it’s getting us prepped for the next steps in technology, so we’ll be ready when it’s launched.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Eventually, we will see augmented and virtual realities making greater impacts on social media. Social media, itself, will have to change in order to allow for this evolution. As I said earlier, social media is largely user-driven, so what are we requesting from the AR/VR social media giant?
Based on the top channels listed above, it appears we want a diary, a way to promote ourselves, a way to keep track of all our epic project goals, a way to effectively network, a place to be ourselves, and a place to brag.
And, what do we want from AR/VR? We want entertainment and practical functions put together. How these ultimately meld with what we want from social media will be the determining factor as to who takes the lead.
Imagine How Those Different Social Media Needs Would Function in a Functional AR/VR World:
You’re at a neighbor’s house for dinner (yes, that nosy one who wants all the neighborhood gossip). She has a clean and tidy place with a nice table arrangement, so you snap a photo and add the perfect filter to document the moment.
Once done, you tap on the beautiful white vase, and a note pops up telling you where you can purchase one, how much it costs, and lets you know of any competitive prices online.
Before you decide you want it, you bring up the 360 photo of your living room, and insert it onto your bookcase. It looks great, so you opt to get it by clicking another portion of the screen. Instantly, the item is reserved at the store, you’re sent directions and an automatic reminder is added to your calendar.
Or, perhaps you’re at a conference (an actual one, not Twitter), and you’re apprehensive about the night’s mixer. You’ve already met the majority of these people, but only once and it was a year ago at the same time. You could go up to people you vaguely recognize and try, with an exaggerated and painful face, to remember who the person is, his/her name, and any of the topics you spoke about last year.
Instead, wouldn’t you prefer to have an augmented reality device helping you along with social media as a data source?
Now, as you walk into the mixer, your glasses focus on a person halfway across the room, because it remembers you having a conversation with him at the previous event. It shows you his name, occupation, brief work history, major interests, and any recent life events (he just had a baby!). It even brings up a bulleted list of the topics you and he covered during your last discussion.
Now, as you approach, you’re confident in beginning a conversation. You can start with pertinent information, congratulate him on his baby, and skip all of the idle, awkward topics originally intended to bring the two of you up to speed.
These are just a couple of the infinite functions connecting to AR/VR. But, if you noticed in the examples above, the information was being pulled from a variety of sources. In the first one, information normally found on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest (along with some retail) were used, while in the second one, Twitter and Facebook were prominent.
(Thirty-four. I’m not proud.)
We Need One, Big Social Media Mogul.
In order for us to see this brilliant future in technology, we need one of three things to happen:
- The major social media networks merge into one.
- One of the existing channels needs to gobble up the others.
- An entirely new platform needs to be created.
1) The Merge
I find this to be the least likely option, as we’ve seen how apprehensive big companies are about being sold to others. It’s also the one that would take the longest and be the one seeing the most pushback from users.
For the sake of argument, let’s use Facebook as the one buying out the others. If they were able to do so, they’d still have a series of separate platforms. People would still use the channels separately, despite whether or not they’re huddled under one big umbrella. Instagram is a perfect example of this, as they’re owned by Facebook, but people still use the apps/platforms separately with overlap (i.e posting the same photo to each).
Since I like comparisons, let’s look at this from the lens of trying to eat all of our recommended fruits and vegetables every day.
I want three servings of fruits (Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest) and three servings of vegetables (Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram). Under The Merge method, I get my servings by eating them separately, though I may skip some each day or opt for more fruits than vegetables. Whether or not I purchase ones from the same company for quality control makes no difference.
(Forty-one. Turns out keeping a tally of this is a little shameful.)
2) The Gobble
To a certain extent, this is already happening; Facebook has developed some of the same features as Snapchat. However, they’re seeing the struggles of this, as the functions are embraced more on Instagram than they are on Facebook.
This is the struggle of “The Gobble” method, as it requires not only the labor of incorporating someone else’s technology into your platform in a useable way, but it also includes selling that function to your audience. Facebook has to convince its users to want to utilize their version of stories over Snapchats. It’s a hard sell, since people generally prefer to stick with what they know, and Facebook simply isn’t considered the place for stories.
Back to our fruits and vegetables, we see how The Gobble’s challenges present themselves. Now, since I’m sick of trying to eat all of my fruits and vegetables separately, I cut things up and put them all into one bowl for a fruit/vegetable salad. But, as I’m eating, I’m realizing how disgusting it is to have broccoli (Twitter) and cantaloupe (Pinterest) brushing up against each other, plus I like one more than the other. I simply pick out the broccoli chunks and shove it aside until I can find a garbage.
(I honestly don’t even want to admit to the number at this point.)
3) The Shiny, Shiny New
I, personally, believe this one would make the most sense. Instead of trying to find ways to seamlessly combine existing platforms into one, or training our users as to why this is beneficial, I think a new beast will appear. It will offer us the same current functions as all of the major platforms we know today, but as a new entity, it will be built with better AR/VR functionality from the start.
In the examples I gave above as to how AR/VR could function for us using social media, these would be more useful if we were pulling the information from one site.
If we use our fruit and vegetable analogy one last time, we see how The Shiny, Shiny New benefits us. Now, we’ve taken all of our fruits and vegetables, placed them into a blender, added a couple of fun spices, and suddenly we have a delicious smoothie. We’re eating all of the items at once, and there is no option to “pick out” the ones we dislike. It’s all together in one neat, liquified bundle.
China already has their version of this, called WeChat. Not only can you act within the platform as you would on Facebook, Twitter, etc., but you can also do functional things such as call for a taxi or pay your bill at a restaurant.
When people truly embrace augmented and virtual reality, it will be because the technology serves as a functional and useful add-on in our lives. For the same technology to merge effectively in social media, social media will also need to become a more functional tool.
The Road Ahead
Robert Scoble recently put forward a thesis stating Facebook would dominate AR/VR. Perhaps he is correct and Facebook will rock The Gobble method. Only time will truly tell, but I believe that twenty years in the future, we’ll be more apt to see ourselves using an entirely new platform we haven’t yet heard of.
And, the grand total is 57. I can’t help but wonder what this number would be if I was checking for updates and getting notifications from only one site versus the six I mentioned in this post.