VR Social Media Networks: The Future of Face-to-Face

VR Headset
VR Headset (Image Source: ibtimes.com).

VR Headset
VR Headset (Image Source: ibtimes.com).

Social media caught many unprepared when it soared in the early 2000s. Not even MySpace could have prepared us for what happened next. Yet phones and Facebook and more worked together to change the face of our world. Now, virtual reality is coming to transform social media.

Oculus Social
Oculus Social is the official social experience provided by the super-hyped VR developer. Its functionality started on a very basic level: you and your three friends were represented by floating head avatars and you were all sitting in a private cinema where you could watch various videos. So, it was a great way to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 on YouTube.

Since then, Oculus has added various games in addition to the movie-watching experience.. It is also available to the Samsung Gear VR platform, so you don‘t have to wait for the release of the Oculus headset.

It is a humble app for you and your three friends to engage in some social interaction. It features many scenic rooms – from beaches to cliff sides to Rome – where your four avatars can sit down and have a chat. Unlike in Oculus Social, you’re not a disembodied head – the avatars look like people – but you’re still chained to a chair. You can use a variety of developer-provided features to customize the appearance of your avatar, but you can’t upload your own creations.

VTime is somewhat basic in comparison to the larger VR software out there, but the simplicity belies its functionality: while vTime tracks and matches the headset movements to the head of the characters, it’s also simple enough for mobile phone users to join in.

It’s perfect as an entry-level VR social media platform, and its stylized graphics are endearing. Now it’s a matter of time before they add more functionality.

IMVU is old – it‘s a virtual social interaction service that started back in the long-forgotten 2004. It features interaction through 3D avatars in 3d chatroom spaces. In short, it’s something like downscaled Second Life. However, it still attracts three million users monthly – about 40 thousand are interacting right now.

IMVU offers rich customization through its creator program. 3D modeling savvy users can sell their creations that help to customize people’s avatars – all in exchange for either in-game (in-program?) credits or real life cash. However, to engage in this you already have to be VIP member, so you can’t just go selling your stuff at this instant.

IMVU are also chasing the future: they added VR chat rooms last year. This gave them a leg up in the race, as most social media interactions in VR are of limited interactivity anyways, and IMVU already enjoys a large audience. The trick for them is making their VR worlds more interactive in the future. On the other hand, the relative lack of technical complexity lets their software run on many platforms, including phones.

AltspaceVR is one of the ambitious contenders for the vaunted VR social media throne. It aims to provide VR spaces for people to interact with their friends. To that end, it employs many VR sensors, going as far as to use Microsoft Kinect to track the movements of head and hands. This physicality of VR interactions is at the forefront of what altspaceVR is offering – as their website states, “Nod, shake, laugh, wave. Talk, glance, whisper, cheek kiss. Lean, jump, fist bump. You do it. Your avatar does it too.”

Interactions happen in altspaceVR’s spaces, which are released by the developers. The consumer chooses the kind of room they want to host – for example, there are areas for watching movies together, and there is a spooky old inn for playing Dungeons and Dragons. It doesn’t look like the users have much agency in their appearance or the construction of the rooms, but who knows what awaits in the future?

High Fidelity
“In less time than it takes to deploy a website, anyone can launch their own shareable, scalable and immersive virtual reality environment” is one of the first statements on the High Fidelity website. So think of it as a future version of a website-making site. From virtual storefronts to anything else you can dream up, High Fidelity wants to be there for you.

Running on JavaScript API, it offers, among other things, facial capture technology. You can use it with all sorts of custom 3D models. High Fidelity has its own market of stuff for you to use or, if you have a hosting solution, you can use your own stuff. So you can build up your virtual space with stock 3D models bought from, say, CGTrader, to get a leg up on people who are modeling for themselves.

Project Sansar
Project Sansar comes – or will come – from Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life social videogame. Its release date is supposed to be some time 2016, and the VR experiences will be optimized for headsets like Oculus, but also available on PC.

The most important aim of the project is the democratization of VR creation processes, which is supposed to make it more accessible to people who don’t have the resources or the engineering know-how of professional studios. Sansar will support creation, publishing and monetizing VR spaces while also relieving of the burden of caring about “hosting and distribution, multi-user access and communication systems, virtual currency and regulatory compliance” and other challenges to creatives.

Their goal is to be to VR what Word Press is for regular internet. Sansar aims to extend the variety of VR uses to many areas, „from gaming and entertainment to education, architecture, art, community-building, business meetings, healthcare, conferences, training, and more.” Of course, we don’t have much information to go by thus far, but we can only hope.

So there you have it. The future of VR social media is being there together with your friends. Ir ranges from somewhat basic virtual chat rooms that provide the sense of presence (and keep you from getting distracted back in the real world) to spaces you can build up to your imagination. And with facial and motion capture, you’re almost there. Almost.

Staff Writer