VR for Social Media

By Matthew Brennesholtz
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Display Daily, like most on-line news services, invites its readers to share content on Social Media. The default Display Daily sharing screen shows the ten most popular ways to share content. At least I’ve heard of all of these. If your favorite form of social media isn’t there, click on the “Load More” button and you get 183 more social media apps, from 100zaklodok and Adfty to ZicZac and ZingMe. Most of these I’ve never heard of before.

VR Social Media DD resizeIcons for sharing Display Daily free content (Image: Display Daily)

The Austrian startup e.com GmbH wants to add one more form of social media to the list, called Connect. Connect is designed to be used by persons wearing Virtual Reality (VR) goggles but the company says it will be available on all platforms, including VR headsets (HTC Vive, Oculus, Playstation VR), VR-compatible smartphones, tablets, PCs, Macs and game consoles.

VR Social Media Connect Logo Crop resizeIcon for Connect (Image: e.com)

The company doesn’t consider other social media feeds as competitors and says, “Our users can link all their existing networks to connect and reach all their contacts from here. That applies to telephone contacts (per SMS) and email contacts as well as Facebook or WhatsApp friends, or many other social networks or messenger services they may use in the future. The success of other networks, consequently, is not a loss for us.”

E.com uses a virtual House paradigm for its system, also known as a Loft or Apartment. You furnish the Loft with the tools and decorations you want – a virtual desk for your text documents and your calendar, a virtual television for your video feeds, a virtual radio for your audio feeds. Newspapers and magazines go on a virtual coffee table by the virtual sofa. There will be a virtual camera – activate the camera and you take a photo with the smartphone or tablet camera.

In addition, there will be Connect-specific items including a virtual pet you can play with and take care of and VR games. You move between these hotspots by swiping, using your VR controller or moving your head, if you have a 3-DOF (degree of freedom) or 6-DOF headset. Do you want your virtual pet – e.g. a cheeky duckling – to behave? A gentle nudge and the animal promptly lands on its behind. The appearance of the Loft will change with the time of day. Presumably, the apps shown can also change depending on the time, for example, allowing the user to avoid certain types of input during the business day. Not everybody’s Loft will look the same – the company is planning on offering one that looks like the Oval Office, presumably with its Twitter feed prominently displayed.

VR Social Media connect sunset 2 resizee.com’s Loft at Sunset, showing the virtual desk with icons for linked apps, laptop computer, phone and television. (Image: e.com)

E.com says new social networks all suffer from a major problem: their initial emptiness. The company doesn’t expect this problem for Connect, however. Since Connect is multi-messenger and bundles the communications from various different messaging services, even an isolated Connect user will see the benefit of using Connect, even if he never “Friends” other Connect users or uses Connect-specific content. “From the outset, we will ensure that everyone can reach all their contacts through connect” summarizes e.com Founder and CEO Michael Schöggl.

Detail of the desktop with a virtual pet duckling (Image: e.com)

Popular services such as Facebook messenger, text messages, or emails will be incorporated in Connect. This will save the user time, according to the company, as he does not have to open and answer all his messages in their different, native apps. In addition, the company says more people can be reached with Connect than via any other social network, regardless of the device. “Text message from the PlayStation? No problem!” The company says that, above all, Connect will be intuitive, simplifying both adding a user’s apps to the virtual Loft and then using those apps.

E.com is aware that it has access to much of a user’s private data. The company says their primary focus will be on data protection and state of the art end-to-end encryption. “We are convinced that there is an ever growing rethinking taking place on this subject. The current top dogs are coming under increasing pressure because of their Big Data politics and because emerging companies, like us, are reacting to peoples‘ justified worries. At the very latest when we get to the sensitive subject of virtual or augmented reality, many will be frightened off by these surveillance capabilities.” Note this statement doesn’t quite disclaim the use of Big Data as a way for the company to monetize Connect.

In my previous DD on VR and the monetization of VR, I speculated that advertisements were the future of VR. The e.com GmbH Business Plan confirms this, at least for their VR app, and says “We will generate revenue, amongst other ways, through discretional, subliminal advertising in the form of product placement and increasingly through VR-shopping and In-App shopping for games, virtual pets, graphical enhancements and fun extra features. Even conservatively estimated, we can bring in twice as much revenue than the market leader Facebook with this strategy.”

E.com GmbH is putting Connect on Kickstarter beginning on July 18, 2017. In addition, on that same day, a Beta version of Connect will be ready for download. Since Connect is free for end-users, e.com GmbH is looking for small donations such as $5. For this, the donor will get virtual content (a duckling?) for his donation to the company. More details will be available when the Kickstarter campaign actually starts. –Matthew Brennesholtz