What To Know About Spaces, Facebook’s VR Platform
Social Media Week is a leading news platform and worldwide conference that curates and shares the best ideas and insights into social media and technology's impact on business, society, and culture.
As the largest and most-used social media platform out there, it may seem as if Facebook is doing just fine. Actually, even though it reached 2.01 billion monthly active users (a ), in some ways Facebook is struggling.
For one thing, there are now more platforms to compete with than there once were. Many younger users, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, even favor other platforms. To keep its place as the homepage of the Internet, Facebook needs to expand into new areas. Cue Facebook Spaces.
How It All Began
In 2014, Facebook bought Oculus VR, the company that makes the Rift headset, for the steep price of $2 billion. At this time, the entire virtual reality industry was valued at just $3 billion. Many questioned Zuckerberg’s choice, and ever since, we have been waiting to see just what Facebook would do with the investment.
How Does Facebook Spaces Work?
Facebook released the beta version of Space in April of this year. The virtual reality app allows up to three friends to hang out, or users can use the app alone to browse content.
Every user creates a personalized avatar, which currently takes the form of a floating upper body. Options to customize the avatar are limited — although users can change things like skin tone, hair, eye color, facial features, and clothing, there are only a few options for each. We expect to see much more choice in the future.
Once your avatar is set up, you choose an environment by selecting a 360 photo or video. You have complete control over your environment at all times. For instance, you can pause it to enter a personal space away from other users, mute your friends, and remove your friends from the space.
Features of Facebook Spaces
There are a few ways to use Spaces to make it more interesting than just chatting as avatars.
First, when you are on your own in an environment, you can use Spaces much like regular Facebook: to check out photos, videos, and other posts from your newsfeed. These appear as floating photo frames in space.
Spaces also is a particularly good way to immerse yourself in 3D images and videos. You can search for your own or find a bank of Facebook content under the “Explore” option.
A third option is to create artwork — alone or with friends. You can draw in the air or on ready-made 3D objects and drawings. You have access to a marker pen with four nib sizes and a palette of colors. If you create something you like, you can save it. You also have the option of adding your drawings to your profile and of keeping the objects you create to use in future creations.
A final use of Spaces is to take photos using a virtual selfie stick. You can use the mirror tool to add drawings to yourself or your friends before taking a virtual photo.
Current Limitations of Facebook Spaces
Facebook Spaces is only available on Rift headsets — it is not even available on the cheaper Gear VR, also made by Oculus. Plus, users also need Oculus Touch controllers if they want to check out content, move objects, or make drawings. Finally, users need a computer setup powerful enough for all this. Many of the users who have all this equipment are likely to be VR developers.
In the case none of your contacts have a Rift headset, there is the option to hang out with strangers. However, it seems unlikely that many users will choose this. Whereas it was common to talk with users you didn’t know in chatrooms of the past, the intimacy of VR creates a barrier in Spaces.
Bringing More Users to Spaces
Facebook is using a few tactics to interest more users in Spaces. For example, in July, Facebook added live streaming to Spaces. This allows users to broadcast their virtual reality experiences to other users. To watch live streams, there is no need to have the Spaces app — broadcasts appear in newsfeeds on the regular Facebook platform.
Viewers can react to and comment on these videos just like on a regular live video. The reactions arrive to the streamers by floating in the virtual space. Streamers can even use comments as physical objects, moving them around the environment.
Furthermore, users without Rift headsets can head to the Spaces app to receive Messenger video calls with friends. Although these users cannot participate in the environment, they are able to watch friends’ avatars moving through the virtual world.
Ideally, Facebook would like users to participate fully rather than just watching their friends, especially since this means users will need to purchase Oculus gear. To push for more sales, Facebook is currently holding a six-week summer sale, where the price of the headset combined with a touch controller is just $400, down from $600.
Facebook previously experimented with a discount back in March, when the Rift fell to $500 and motion controllers from $200 to $100. When combined with the motion controller, this makes the Rift the cheapest high-end headset.
Prices may come down even more in the near future. There are suggestions that Facebook will be releasing a lower-end Oculus headset at Oculus Connect 4 in October. This may provide more users with access to Spaces, which should be a priority for Facebook if the company is ever going to profit from its $2 billion investment.
The Future of Spaces
In addition to helping Spaces become more accessible, Facebook says it will be adding more features throughout the testing phases and beyond. For instance, Facebook is also exploring augmented reality, which would give Spaces yet more potential to expand. After Facebook has fully tested and developed for Rift, it is likely Spaces will also reach other platforms.
Zuckerberg wants Spaces to become a place where users can interact for work activities (such as for teleconferences with other professionals across long distances), for education, to watch sporting events, and even for consultations with medical professionals. Neurosurgeons have already used Oculus Rift to improve the precision of surgery.
Such developments would help transition VR from purely enhancing gaming to a multi-purpose tool. Facebook has already transformed our social lives; the company now hopes that Spaces will have the power to change many other aspects of our lives by further removing the limits of geographical distances. Businesses will, of course, also venture into Spaces as they have Facebook and all other social media platforms.
This all assumes, of course, that Spaces will become popular. Right now, this is far from guaranteed, especially while Spaces is limited to Rift. Oculus as a whole has a less than 1-percent market share in headsets. Compare this to the Google Cardboard, which accounts for , or even the next most popular Samsung Gear, which contributes 17 percent. Even Sony PS VR and HTC Vive are slightly more popular than Oculus.
In fact, it is still unclear if the general public is ready for VR at all. The technology is still prohibitively expensive for many, which keeps the user base low. Whereas many users would love to participate in interactions in a virtual reality, the equipment is too big of an investment for the average Facebook user, and even most businesses, especially when you consider that, for full enjoyment, you need to know at least a few other people with Rift headsets.
Learn the latest trends, insights and best practices from the brightest minds in media and technology. Sign up for SMW Insider to watch full-length sessions from official Social Media Week conferences live and on-demand.
Watch SMW Live
SMW Insider is a premium video platform that streams more than 180+ hours of talks, presentations, and interviews from leading industry experts.
Write for Us
Interested in sharing your ideas and insights with the world? Become a SMW News contributor and reach 300k readers each month.