At F8 today, virtual reality may be next phase of social networking

Whether it's two, five or 10 years from now, virtual reality technology may change the way people play and communicate on social networks.

Virtual reality is among the topics that Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, is expected to talk about today, the second day of the company's annual F8 developer conference being held in San Francisco.

Toward the end of the first day's keynote, which focused on using Messenger as a platform for developers to add new apps and other functions, Zuckerberg said he would be talking today about connecting the world and Oculus, the virtual reality company that Facebook acquired for $2 billion.

At the keynote, which begins at 1 p.m. ET, Facebook executives are also expected to discuss their efforts to bring Internet connectivity to remote and poor parts of the world.

"Our mission is to make the world more open and connected," Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post when he announced the Oculus acquisition in March 2014. "For the past few years, this has mostly meant building mobile apps... We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we're in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences."

The technology, he added, opens up the possibility of completely new kinds of experiences.

Users might feel like they're in a game instead of simply playing one. They might feel like they're in a boardroom meeting, instead of being on a conference call. They might even feel like they're out on a date with someone, instead of sitting in different rooms in different cities.

This activity could be the next phase of social networking. Instead of posting updates about your day, or the great vacation you're on, why not take your friends on the adventure with you virtually.

Facebook has been hinting not so subtly that programmers there have been working on virtual reality.

Last month, Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, speaking at a conference, said the company is developing virtual reality applications that would enable users to create their own virtual reality content.

"If they do this well, it could eventually transform Facebook," said Rob Enderele, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "By placing people in virtual environments that are familiar, friendly, and safe, they could get to a level of engagement that is far beyond what is possible on a Facebook page."

Despite his enthusiasm for the potential of virtual reality on social media, Enderle said the engineering behind the concept won't be easy and Facebook would still need to convince users to be open to changing their social networking experience, as well as to buy the headsets.

"If this is just another videoconferencing system where you see people with screwy eyewear, it won't have that much impact," he added.

Enderle also said he hopes Facebook will announce the release of an actual product today and its availability date.

Jeff Kagan, an independent high-tech analyst, said Facebook's diving into virtual reality is intriguing, but it will be difficult to get it right.

"Facebook and Oculus may hit the nail right on the head with virtual reality, but we won't know for a while," Kagan said. "This will either be a hit or a flop, but it will be a while before we know one way or another... Virtual reality is the focus right now, but remember we are still very early into this new story. We don't know whether the offering will be popular with customers. Heck, we don't know whether there is even an offering yet."

Facebook isn't the only major player focusing on virtual reality technology.

Early this month, there were reports that Google is working on virtual reality programs based on the Android platform.


Sharon Gaudin

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