I sometimes imagine a group of Facebook employees sitting around a table and asking themselves: "What exactly do a billion people do in VR?". They are idly twirling an Oculus Rift headset on their polished conference table, looking back and forth between it and an open Facebook page, trying to plan their next move.
These are experts in human communication and behavior. They have a pretty damn good handle on how their Facebook application is used and under what context. Now what of VR?
I'm not Facebook, but if I were, I would be thinking about how to properly leverage time in VR.
Ok, lets run through the problem:
You build a beautiful VR ballroom and invite everyone to come. Everyone does, they wander around the ballroom, dance a few waltzes and exclaim that "Why, this is simply splendid! Isn't it dear?"
Evening gives way to night, night gives way to morning and eventually it comes to pass that everyone logs out.
As short time after, a college student in Osaka learns about the ballroom and logs in only to find everyone gone. They look around briefly at the pretty environment and log out.
The next day, a past user in California wakes up and say to themselves, "That was a swell evening last night, I'd simply love to return once more."
They log in, find themselves in an empty ballroom, sigh and promptly log out.
Log in, empty room, log out. Repeat.
The dancing stops, the music dies, worlds crumble. End scene.
Do you know what might sell social VR?
Let's call it "The Murmur".
The Murmur is the sound and motion of interaction between by people doing interesting things in the Metaverse.
It is the stands in stark contrast to the deafening silence that permeates our traditional web. It is the underlying reason why people eat at restaurants, drink at bars and watch movies together; and it may just be the key reason why people will be willing to tolerate the cumbersome trappings of modern VR.
VR will be attractive to the masses if it comes with the promise that the murmur will be waiting for them.
What if the ballroom never stopped? What if the conversations and the dancers simply kept going.
Instead of depending entirely on live performances, VR worlds must transcend time and contain the essence and interactions of previous users. The ballroom MUST always be filled with interesting people, even if they are long departed.
Imagine if your Twitter timeline only showed tweets that were being posted now and nothing previous. This is the current model for social VR.
Imagine if Bill Murray showed up in the ballroom for a couple of minutes and served a few drinks. What if you could keep him on perpetually on a loop in the environment perpetually? What if Bill could log back in later, say a few more quips and extend his loop?
Just because you missed Bill last night, it doesn't mean you you can't see him the next day and just because he isn't logged in anymore, doesn't mean you can't try to interact with him.
You might think it would feel very wooden, but then you start to wonder what it might be like if Bill Murray's loop could also make eye contact with you at times and never quite looped the same way twice. These aren't just recordings, these are self governing representations of self, designed to be consistently interesting and fresh.
These aren't avatars as we know them today, but representations rendered with facial features and articulation that are very true to their host.
There's also good chance that Bill might also be appearing the shape of a walking narwhal or Kali. Certain rules do not apply to where we are going.
It's likely a bit confusing so let me walk you through an example:
You log out for the night.
A few minutes Bill logs in for 20 minutes, says a few clever things and serves a few drinks.
The next day you log in and Bill, despite being long gone, is looped at the bar serving drinks.
Being a big fan, you walk up to his avatar and tell him "Hi Bill, I'm a big fan."
A few months later, Bill logs in and visits again, while he's there, at a given time, your avatar will walk up to him and deliver your previous interaction "Hi Bill, I'm a big fan."
If he responds, you'll see it happen the next time you log in.
The software layer, using cues from visitor interaction and opinion will automatically orchestrate a flow of recorded avatars and mix them in with the real visitors. The longer other users gaze upon a recorded avatar, or stay within earshot, the more likely it will hang around and keep entertaining later visitors. Literal "views" as a world governing metric.
A careful ballet of people and conversation needs to be orchestrated through software and the company that can pull it off with finesse stands to gain everything.
Easy to do? Nope. God no.
But it will be an iterative process with lots of sample data to help designers along the way.
If you missed your friends while you were logged out, no worries. They walked up to your highly entertaining recording while you were gone and said a few choice things to you. Now that you've logged in, their avatar will casually sidle up to you up and deliver those messages now.
You can do the same for them.
(Note: Expect a lot of advertisement delivered via this route as well, just thought I'd warn you now. On the upside some of it will be fantastically entertaining.)
Note 2: A lot of what I've written above might sound unwieldy, but I strongly believe that we are moving into a time where all of our online personalities are intertwined with a guiding AI that helps smooth things along. Think how much smarter you seem to be with Google. Why not enhance yourself in terms of being funny, clever and witty as well via a service?)
You might log in and have a number of avatars approach you over time, some will be real time users, many will be recordings of people you missed or people you don't know have on your friends list trying to reach you. The best software services will be the ones that blend real time and past recordings into a logical mesh that "works".
The murmur never stops. The dance is without end. You need never be alone again.
Give me a shout at @ID_R_McGregor on twitter, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.