When the Office Becomes Meta(verse)

via Todd Richmond

Facebook unveiled the newest iteration of their Horizon project, in this case focusing on collaboration and an immersive virtual office environment. The Verge has a piece here.

VR has been in a bit of a slump the last few years. Since it’s beginnings (mostly at NASA) almost four decades ago, there have been a couple of boom/bust cycles for VR. The first few were largely driven by hype then the reality of hardware that was nowhere near ready for prime time. But the last boom (mid 20-teens) saw the hardware finally become into the realm of possibility with a spectrum of capabilities from cheap (e.g. Cardboard) to higher end (e.g. room-scale VR ala Vive). The slump that followed was driven more by the “software” side of things. And by software, we mean the experience. What was becoming evident is that VR is a new medium that isn’t a flat screen but also isn’t truly immersive. And any new medium takes time and experimentation to figure out.

Facebook bought Oculus for $3B presumably because they have a vision for how their platform can play out in immersive spaces. The latest iteration (invite only) continues the cartoon-like avatar representation and brings new capabilities and the accompanying hype.

Many who have worked with digital (broadly) and immersive (specifically) over the years and decades know that there are a lot of tough nuts to crack, both technically and narratively. The pandemic really changed the landscape, as remote work went from a nice to have to a public health necessity. In some ways it is the best thing that could happen to the AR/VR industry, as necessity is the mother of invention. Despite video conferencing being around for decades, the pandemic pointed to flaws in the affordances and interactions – not to mention security and psychological challenges. The industry could have been working on those gaps, but the demand signal wasn’t there. Why do virtual when you can fly for cheap? Well, as we ask now, what happens when you can’t really travel?

What will be interesting to track is what users think once they get past the “gee whiz” of VR. Technical and experiential challenges remain, let alone questions about ethics in these new hybrid (or emulsional) spaces, and equity issues around access and the haves/have-nots. But the only way to figure it out is to do it. So the experiments continue…

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