By now, everybody and their grandma has heard about Facebook's acquisition of Oculus VR, makers of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Facebook buying Oculus VR isn't about getting into the gaming business, though, it's about a bigger bet — gambling the future of computing on virtual reality.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said as much during the Oculus VR buyout announcement on Tuesday (bolded for emphasis):
"After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.”
Facebook may be a social media network today, but tomorrow, it's going to be the next Google, a company that "is" the Internet to many people. Zuckerberg's mission for Facebook is to help connect the "next 5 billion people" to the Internet. From drones that blanket regions with Internet to gobbling up WhatsApp for $19 billion, it's crystal clear Facebook is preparing itself to be the center for where digital content and online interactivity happen.
So what might a Facebook look like if rendered in 3D for virtual reality? A firm called Chaotic Moon decided to work up a concept that lets you use an Oculus Rift and a Leap Motion to explore a 3D Facebook world.
The experience is a bit like PlayStation Home, only without the avatars. In the video you can see a person browsing regular ol' flat Facebook on a computer. After clicking on an advertisement, he's told to put on an Oculus Rift headset, which allows him to visit a virtual store and rotate a bag with hand gestures. He's then able to share his selection, initiate a video chat with friend for comments, and then purchase it.
It's kind of a silly concept, and there are many valid comments in the YouTube video's comments section that ask why anyone would ever want to browse Facebook with a headset on, but remember there once was a time when people asked why anyone would rather video chat or text a person when they could just call someone up or meet up with them in real life. And look how that turned out.
We won't know if VR is a transformative technology until it's arrived in full working consumer capacity. (Right now, VR is mostly just a prototype.) Unlike its mobile strategy, where it built its services into apps for other tech platforms (Android, iOS, Windows Phone), Facebook's not waiting for VR to mature to hop on the bandwagon. To steal a quote from Wayne Gretzky, Facebook is "skating to where the puck will be, not where it has been." VR is where Facebook thinks the future of computing will be.