Fear not, because Facebook is utterly incapable of leading the charge in social VR.
Facebook doesn’t really get “social.” This is a somewhat paradoxical statement, given the sheer size of the social network, but I’d argue that its strategists suffer from a basic shortsightedness in understanding social interactions beyond their defined framework for socially aggregated content.
Take, for instance, the “dislike” button. Why doesn’t it exist? Well, Facebook looks at its extremely successful model of a “like” button, and correctly recognize that there’s an addictive aspect to the dopamine response of seeing your social network like or comment on your content. Positive reinforcement for use of the network.
Clearly, adding a dislike button would be negative reinforcement against use of the platform. So the company’s statement of when the like button doesn’t work so well (such as a post about a death), was that you can now leave a variety of “reactions.” Problem solved.
Except this misses a fundamental issue. The News Feed purports to adapt itself based on what you like. We have analogous models for this behavior in services like Spotify or Pandora. Still, there’s one significant difference. Those services track both what you like and what you don’t like, because without that second factor, there’s too high an incidence of false positives for things you like.
A dislike button doesn’t need to be a public thing. It could simply be you telling Facebook that you don’t want to see content similar to something you find offensive or uninteresting.
I’m sure most people currently feel as if their News Feed suffers from that false-positive syndrome (which, to be fair, helps to hide the ads).
And herein lies the bizarre misunderstanding by Facebook. The way it handles removing content you don’t like, in lieu of a dislike button, is by blocking your contacts. The network is designed not to filter content you don’t like, but people. Which is silly, as you might not want to see half the posts of your aunt who has different politics from your own, but you might want to see her photos of cousins, etc.
If Facebook actually “got” social, it would focus on filtering the content, not the people.
More proof? Look at how it’s now tried, 18 times over five years, to clone Snapchat sufficiently to crush it in the market. And look how that’s turned out so far. Facebook understands cognitive dissonance, our desire for self-promotion, and the innate power of ubiquity, but it does not understand the experiential nature of social interactions.
So if Facebook doesn’t “get” social well enough to be the paradigm, what social platforms can we look to in understanding the future of social VR? Reddit and Snapchat.
Reddit is built upon cooperative construction and crowdsourcing. It even plays with these concepts each year with its quite impressive April Fool’s projects. This year was no different, with a social experiment where users could influence individual pixels to collectively weave a digital tapestry.
This overlaps with social VR wonderfully. The very nature of communication within a virtual environment requires interaction with that environment — it’s not simply static text or visual content, but interactions that change a shared virtual space. The nature of this format necessitates a component of social collaboration in building, designing, and curating that virtual space.
Social VR will absolutely have collaborative construction.
Snapchat is probably the company that currently most understands social experiences at scale. It’s fun. That’s the reason why it’s popular, that’s why people are using it, and that’s why it continues to hold the youth market. It was fun, and it’s still fun. When it stops being fun, users will abandon the platform like a sinking ship.
The future of Social VR is going to be about having fun together. VR is not a format well-suited for content. But for delivering experiences, no other media format so far can come close.
Social VR will absolutely center around shared experiences.
So fear not a Facebook clone in VR. Facebook (at least its current incarnation of both platform and company) is unlikely to be a dominant player in the future of social VR — perhaps until it acquires whoever establishes themselves as the dominant player.
Even Facebook Spaces, the company’s brand-new step into the format, gets many things all wrong. There’s not really anything to do, it’s limited to your friend network — which undermines shared contributions — and it’s trying to leverage non-VR media and interactions in VR.
Instead, look to platforms like Reddit and Snapchat for imagining the future of social on this platform. Currently the best example of both aspects is likely Minecraft VR.