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I’ve been writing recently about the difference between mediums, platforms and products. What's most interesting to me about Facebook's acquisition of Oculus is that it's probably going to push the 3D virtual reality medium into the mainstream, breaking out of the current niche of research and gaming into the type of ubiquitous presence achieved by mobility.
From a medium perspective, it’s the kind of deal that 3D virtual reality has been waiting for. The $2 billion investment in the Oculus platform by Facebook is only the tip of the iceberg. It will spark even more substantial investment by Facebook, competitors and partners in the hardware, software, servers, infrastructure and standards that will extend just about everything on the web today to 3D accessible interfaces, just as the iPhone recently did for the mobile medium.
Oculus Rift is just one of dozens of VR and AR systems under development, ranging from a soon to be released version by Sony, to crowd-funded versions on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Having the immense reach and wealth of Facebook behind Oculus is certainly a competitive advantage, but I believe the jury is far from out on whether any particular product is going to end up dominating the space. The type of standards that allow controllers and monitors from different companies to interoperate will extend to VR hardware, giving room for innovative companies to compete with early entrants.
Personally, I have reservations about the possibility that the 3D internet will be controlled by a few giant companies like Facebook. As Raph Koster wrote:
It’s time to wake up to the fact that you’re just another avatar in someone else’s MMO. Worse. From where they stand, all-powerful Big Data analysts that they are, you look an awful lot like a bot.But in another sense, I don't really care what I look like to Facebook. I care about what the medium does for us and how it will transform our lives and culture. And that's anyone's guess. Combined with sensors and wearables creating the rapidly emerging Internet of Things, the coming decade is going to be full of surprises.