Facebook Spaces may seem crazy — but that doesn't mean it won't be a hit

More often than not, Facebook has been ahead of the pack

Facebook Spaces may seem crazy — but that doesn't mean it won't be a hit

A screenshot from the Facebook F8 announcement of Spaces

Most of us spend so much time on Facebook that it may already seem like a different reality.

Now Facebook thinks that going all the way and immersing ourselves in a virtual reality social network could be the future.

Facebook is the dominant social network in the world today, with 1.8 billion regular users. Some claim it has enough power to sway the U.S. presidential election, and its users are catnip to advertisers — pushing its valuation to over $400 billion.

But they're smart enough to know that unless they continue providing the right features, users will simply move to another platform. 

Is Facebook Spaces, announced this week by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, really the way social interaction will happen in the future?

The man who turned the idea of comparing students at Harvard into one of the most powerful and influential companies in the world is probably worth the benefit of the doubt. No matter how crazy this idea may seem, we need to pay attention.

How it works

The company describes the new platform as: “A new VR app where you hang out with friends in a fun, interactive virtual environment as if you were in the same room.”

That doesn’t really convey what the app is. Check out this somewhat awkward promo video:

You can show off your new apartment, host a virtual birthday party, or uncover new parts of the world.

Spaces has possibilities for companies, and could be used for hosting more interactive meetings with employees spread across the globe. Where Skype or Google hangouts allow for basic video and audio communication, your Spaces cartoon avatar could better express your feelings than a disembodied voice in the background.

For couples engaged in long distance relationships, who are sick of FaceTime or Skype, it could at least feel like they were spending some time in the same room together with this app.

But it’s an app which can only be used with an incredibly expensive VR headset (minimum €700 plus the cost of a high-end PC to run it on). 

Worth the gamble

Spaces is very much a work in progress. I imagine that even Facebook doesn’t fully understand how users will incorporate the platform into their lives.

But Facebook is a past master of creating platforms and letting users define how they develop.

 

As VR improves and the price of VR headsets capable of running Spaces come down — and they will in the coming 12-24 months — it will be available to more people. Those who have headsets will be looking for something to use them for, beyond gaming.

For Facebook, it is worth the gamble. This could become the de facto way people communicate in years to come.

The downside, if it all comes to nothing, is a few million dollars wasted. But for a company which generated almost $9 billion in revenue in the final three months of 2016, that is a drop in the ocean.

And if Spaces doesn’t work out, then their users may want to use one of Facebook’s dozens of other moonshots, such as it augmented reality glasses, the brain typing system or its skin-listening product.