Facebook has 1.5 billion users, give or take a few thousand. The social platform allows people to post updates, chat to and stay in touch with friends and family wherever they may be. Long lost friends and even family members have found each other after years of separation through Facebook.
As much as the social platform has done much to give us a continuous peek into each other’s lives, and as much as it has become an addictive day-and-night pastime for many, what follows after Facebook, threatens to be far more habit forming. It’s called social VR and it has the potential to be more transformative than all other social media platforms put together.
What is social VR? Simply put, social VR is social interaction in virtual reality. With a virtual reality headset like an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive strapped to your head, you, via your avatar, can meet up with family and friends in a virtual world of your choice.
Starship, a UK-based innovation studio, is one of the first companies in the world to make it possible for people to enjoy virtual reality as a social space. Starship has just released a free app, vTime, which allows anyone, anywhere to socialise with family and friends in one of the virtual environments that the company has in its library. The company describes vTime as the first truly sociable network on mobile VR. That app was initially released for the Samsung Gear VR, but Starship plans to expand the vTime network to be compatible with all kinds of VR headsets.
Using intuitive, hands-free controls, vTime Early Access users can create a lifelike custom avatar, and chat with other members of the community in one of eight virtual destinations, with new locations and features added continually. Users can locate existing friends easily by connecting vTime with social media accounts, or searching by name or email address. The random match feature is also enabled to allow users to find new friends. More ways to connect will be introduced as the platform develops.
Starship CEO Martin Kenwright said in a statement: “vTime is the first truly ‘sociable’ network on mobile VR. Unlike conventional social networks, where you spend time mostly with your PC, tablet or phone, vTime is about spending that precious time with family and friends.
“Opening the doors to vTime Early Access is just the start of the story. We’ll be working closely with the community to develop the network you want to see. We’ll be holding regular vTime FOURums where you’ll have the chance to vTime with us directly and give your feedback.”
Notice the verb: “to vTime”. That is reminiscent of ‘to google’, ‘to what’s app’, ‘to skype’ and others. Nouns that have become verbs are analogous with brands that later became ubiquitous. Could it be that we’ll say to each other in the near future: “Do you want to vTime tonight?”
All this sounds great and exciting, to be sure. But, I can’t help feel a slight sense of unease. How are we going to stay interested and committed to, for the most part, a mundane reality? Wouldn’t we rather spend our time in those fantastical virtual worlds that creative minds are creating for as now? It seems to me that virtual experiences in fantastical virtual worlds will become the ultimate escape – more addictive than drugs or alcohol.