Virtual Reality for real

Could Mark Zuckerberg see something we couldn’t when he bought Oculus?

Probably.

But, more interestingly, what did the pitch from the co-founders Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe look like? Slides? Don’t think so.

How about just hand Mark one of these baddy goggles and have him watch a movie about the future where a few million Zuckerbergs are watching a movie about this incredible Kickstarter product that sold for $2bn based on a pitch where… you get the picture.

Zuckerberg explained his thinking briefly in his blog after the acquisition. Today, as ironic as it sounds, we are lonely in the world of our social networks brought to us by a phone near us. We occasionally glance beyond the Like and Poke (ok, maybe not Poke; after all who Pokes anymore!) to have a real conversation.

Tomorrow, we will be even more lonely in our virtual world, where we just think our Likes and Pokes (let’s assume they have a second innings in these second life experiences) assuming these devices can also mind read.

Imagine a London tube (my default barometer for modern urban behaviour) full of people immersed in their VR devices, occasionally stretching their neck before snapping abruptly or at times shaking their head vigorously depending on whether they are playing Angry Birds or Temple Run. Some Google Glassers might of course be satisfied just scratching their temples like they do today.

In this dreamy eyed world, the social network is confined to a few millimetres around our eyes. While capturing eyeballs is nothing new, a VR device gives you front row access to them. If you also offer the VR device bundled with the social network, you swapped the front row for a VIP pass. That’s what Facebook has bought itself!

Having been late to the mobile / smartphone game, Facebook is aiming to steal a march into a world where the primary device is not a mobile phone anymore but a VR entraption around you.

I generally have lot of respect for companies that have the courage to cannibalise their core business. Amazon with its investment into ebooks (Bezos giving Steve Kessell the sole remit of cannibalising the physical book business is… wait for it… legendary) or Apple pushing forward with the iPhone knowing very well it will eat into iPods are stock examples. There are other less known exemplars like x and y.

Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus is not in the same league because it is not a fundamental disruption to its core business in the short term. Nevertheless, this makes me wonder whether I should invest in Facebook stock after all.

It’s a bet on how real Virtual Reality can get.

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