Virtual reality, the future of sharing and the end of writing

At the F8 2015 conference earlier this week, Facebook shared some of its near-future plans with an audience of more than 2,500 developers creating apps and experiences for Facebook’s staggering user base of 1.39 billion people.

Taken together, Facebook’s native functionality and the functionality of its acquisitions cover all four slices of its “Future of Sharing” graphic, presented as a video clip during Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote.


Text, video and image sharing are all handled by the Facebook platform itself. On the acquisition side, WhatsApp dominates text sharing; Instagram owns image sharing; and, most recently, the $2 billion USD purchase of virtual reality juggernaut Oculus positions Facebook to command VR sharing.

That trend line, though

The graphic is more than an illustration of the evolution of sharing on the web (or Facebook) — it’s a manifesto. The confident upward trajectory of the trend line suggests that not only are we progressing from text to VR, but that each successive medium is somehow superior. That form of superiority — usage growth? richness of experience? monetary gain? — is left intentionally vague.

The value of a sharing medium is almost entirely dependent upon its use case. Here, we’re being presented with a travel scenario: “Wow, Italy is so beautiful!” It’s hard to deny that the VR expression of this statement is incredibly compelling. Leaving aside the technical challenges (they will be solved in time), sharing a VR travel experience is more than a substitute for actually being there — it presents a god-like level of control and exploration that isn’t even possible in real life.


St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

Think you’ve seen St. Peter’s Basilica? Try flying around its rotunda, ducking in and out of shafts of sunlight like a heavenly bird.

With VR, you’re not sharing an experience so much as a dream of that experience, a prismatic scattering of place and sensory data that lets you, the viewer/user, modulate your own perception.

The end of writing?

Okay, VR and the travel use case make sense. What about other contexts?

The superiority of VR is less certain if I’m trying to share a poem or a song. While a poem or song could be “gussied up” as an image, video or possibly a VR experience, doing so invariably adds to the original material in a way that fundamentally alters its nature. In other words, to share just a poem or just a song is something left to simpler forms of sharing. And “simpler” is increasingly linked with “older.”

The question is: Will people want to share just a poem or just a song? If the exploding growth of Instagram among younger generations is any indication of the future, the answer is quite probably, “no.”

It’s easy to forget that text — that is, written language — is also a technology. It was created out of necessity, and like all technologies, it can be rendered obsolete. Or if not obsolete, then at least irrelevant.

What the entire Mark Zuckerberg presentation from F8

Header image by Sarah Price (Creative Commons license)

The lonely consolation of righteousness

Hardly spoiled for friends, I recently dropped contact with a colleague whom I liked and admired after he told me that he believed the US should invade Iran. I overheard another friend, this one Jewish, proudly announce that she would never share a taxi with an Arab. That was six years ago. I haven’t spoken to her since.

I don’t view these acts with any sense of pride. I know, logically, that there must be good arguments for these individuals’ strongly held points of view, but when I think about assessing them carefully and fairly, I feel incapable. I don’t fully understand this reaction. It is as if I am too angry, too weak to bear the challenge of it. And there is a fear there too, lying secretly among all the bluster: what if they’re right? What if the truth alters me; fractures something essential?

Towers versus tea kettles: the “superiority” of architecture

Today, I learned that Michael Graves died.

Michael Graves, one of the most prominent and prolific American architects of the latter 20th century, who designed more than 350 buildings around the world but was perhaps best known for his teakettle and pepper mill, died on Thursday at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 80.

That’s the opening paragraph of his obituary in The New York Times, and the ambivalence carried by the phrase, “but was perhaps best known for his teakettle and pepper mill,” sets the tone for the entire article — and apparently for the latter half of Graves’ life. Some saw his commitment to designing inexpensive, often whimsical products for Target and Alessi as “selling out,” a descent from the loftier world of architecture.

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Is This. brilliant?

The latest attempt to wrangle the hydra of firehoses that social media has become is This., an invitation-only network that limits users to just one post a day.

In a New York Times article, This. founder Andrew Golis says:

“The quality of the entertainment, art and journalism being published on the web has never been higher, but the places we find and share links tend to value quantity over quality,” Mr. Golis said. “By limiting each user to sharing just a link a day, we give curators the ability to mark something as special and their audience the ability to find just the best from those curators they trust.”

It’s a brilliant stroke. Rather than filter the endless waterfall of noisy content, why not limit the source of all that content and let only a golden trickle through?

My question is this: Once the network grows and you’re following a couple hundred people (or more), won’t you still have a firehose of content to deal with? Granted, it’ll be a higher quality firehose, but I fear we’ll be right back where we started: drowning.

Hat tip: Ave Carrillo. Image credit: Kat Northern Lights Man.

Google on the importance of motion design

Design is continually evolving. Users are getting more sophisticated. The design landscape is more sophisticated. In particular, motion has become incredibly important over the last few years.

We [at Google] wanted something that was taking the very best of graphic design clarity and the innovations in motion graphics and motion communication but that still tapped into those elements of tangibility, of physicality that industrial designers themselves use.

Matias Duarte, VP of Design at Google, Google I/O 2014 - Material design principles

The end of Mad Men

While fans of the television show Mad Men are familiar with how the ad industry once created consumer desire during Madison Avenue’s golden era, those days are long gone. A multiscreen world of ad-wary consumers has rendered Don Draper’s big-budget brainwashing useless to all but the biggest brands.

The need for curation

For the last several years, much of the web has focused on creating and sharing content. Now we’re drowning in the stuff. Social networking provided an ad hoc way to filter content by privileging stuff our friends like. But then all the likes (and favorites and retweets) became so innumerable that they lost their value.

Rather than cutting through through the noise, social media has amplified it.

We need some help making sense of it all. We need a life raft to keep our heads above water. What we need, in a word, is curation. Not social media masquerading as curation, but real, human-powered curation.

Header image CC by mnorman

On hipsters

Consider the trivial but revealing hallmarks of urban hipsterdom: faux vintage photography, the handlebar mustache, and vinyl record players all hark back to an earlier time when people were still optimistic about the future. If everything worth doing has already been done, you may as well feign an allergy to achievement and become a barista.