During Facebook’s F8 conference that took place April 18-19 in San Jose, California, Mark Zuckerberg and his team of Facebook experts announced a number of improvements, new innovations, and ambitious plans for the future. One of the most interesting announcements to come out of F8 was the launch of Facebook Spaces, a “social hangout” platform where a user’s self-reflecting avatar can hang out in virtual reality with the avatars of his or her friends.
For millennials and post-millennials who grew up playing Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin, this concept sounds familiar. For everyone else, it can either be thought of as an exciting improvement to the social media experience, or a frightening launch further into a world where humans communicate with each other solely through their mobile devices – something that seems to come closer to reality each day.
As of now, Facebook Spaces is still in Beta mode and can only be accessed by friends wanting to “hang out” with each other in the VR world; but as we look to the future of Facebook Spaces and virtual reality in general, there are some assumptions that can be made about where this app will lead to in terms of marketing and sales.
Imagine hanging out in virtual reality with your friends. For the sake of this example, you have chosen Times Square as your destination (though in the real world you are sitting at your kitchen table in Toronto). As Facebook Spaces evolves and other social VR apps are developed, brands may have the ability to pay to have their ads playing on the virtual Times Square billboards. As you and your friends explore New York City, looking up in awe at the massive advertisements, you notice one in particular that shows a pair of shoes you would love to buy.
The ad points you in the direction of a store, and by moving your avatar, you can enter it. There, instead of the online shopping experience as it is now (looking through pages of square imagery, clicking on the picture that represents the pair of shoes you want, choosing your colour and size, and then being directed to a checkout page), your avatar “physically” shops around the store, picking up shoes and trying them on, looking into a virtual mirror to see how they fit. You take your chosen pair to the VR cashier, who informs you that you can pay using your virtual wallet, Apply Pay, or the credit card number on file. The cashier then asks you for your shipping address, and in 3-5 business days, your shoes show up on your doorstep – your real life doorstep. While this is all simple speculation, it does not seem far off given current technological trends.
While Facebook Spaces currently only serves as a way to interact with social media contacts and friends, there is huge potential for the platform to disrupt the way we interact with brands and retailers. Online shopping is due for a major facelift, and Facebook could be the tool that allows this change to occur.