Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Take on the Oculus Rift Acquisition by Facebook

Base image from ThinkStock

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.


Rhianon Jameson said...

To paraphrase Patrick McGoohan in "The Prisoner," "I am not a bot, I am a free avatar!"

I'm also concerned about how much of the Internet is coalescing around small numbers of large companies. I'm not against large companies - I have various Apple devices, and I use some Google features. But I don't think it's healthy to be forced to choose between, say, the Google vision of the world and the Facebook vision of the world.

Fortunately, technology seems to be evolving in ways that, despite small numbers of large firms catering to the masses, allow small, niche firms to survive by catering to more specialized sets of needs. (Not that there's anything wrong with low- (or no-) price services that aim for the heart of a market. Gmail is perfectly serviceable. But if you want email for specific needs, be prepared to pay for it.)

Botgirl Questi said...

I hear you. I'm not excited about Facebook's acquisition of Oculus because of what Facebook is going to do with it,but because of the competition and investment that's going to be be stimulated, which in turn, will accelerate the advancement of the medium.

Up4 Dawes said...

I was a skeptic of the Oculus hopefuls and what they thought it achieve for Second life. By it's self I really didn't think the results would have increased the user base significantly. The acquisition of Oculus by Facebook
now gives the VR worlds a new validity with a huge face book user base that has been very difficult to leverage with enticements to experience VR worlds even when the virtual build was specific to the face book groups interest.Having experienced as a member of several FB groups that I had builds either existing or proposed the group members showed no interest in visiting after having posted to group articles written by iReports with pictures. The response of members ranged from dismissive,to hostility some of which may be caused by group owners and key members having a stake in the status quo. I think the Oculus will open some eyes and hopefully doors for those wishing to network Secondlife into other social media platforms. Up4 Dawes