To make this investment worthwhile, the VR sector must achieve growth and sustainability. In order to accomplish this, the VR industry will need to explore a variety of applications, such as manufacturing and Social VR. Social VR is an interactive virtual reality where users interact and meet in a virtual environment.
As a University of Toronto Mississauga Associate Professor who teaches virtual environments and researches social VR, I often find myself asking the question of why the broader public will adopt social VR.
As the UTM leader of the University of Toronto Responsible Data Science Initiative, I’m also interested in data collection, retention, and deployment, which are needed to build an efficient, ethical metaverse.
Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash in 1992, coined the phrase ‘ metaverse.’ (Penguin Random House).
In the current moment, the cultural imagination of the Metaverse is greater than the reality. In books about metaverses, you can ride a motorcycle while holding a katana or flit in and out of cyberspace to carry out a mission.
In movies and TV shows, you can abandon your daily life in order to go on a scavenger hunt or save the world by bending your body into a bullet trajectory. you can walk through the door of your office to find yourself in Sherlock Holmes’s London, or in the Wild West. All of these metaverses imagine us leaving our physical world to enter a fully-formed digital universe.
This is not the state of VR technology today. We are stuck at the walled-garden phase for this potentially revolutionary interactive tech. The metaverse will never be able to live up to its hype until the VR industry is able to break out of these walled-gardens.
A walled garden is an environment that limits users to certain content on a website or social networking platform. It was the way early internet providers such as AOL and CompuServe kept their users on affiliate sites.
Later, this changed as the full potential of the Internet was realized. Users began to freely navigate sites and platforms. Users connected to and used information from many sources.
Information, memes, and images, as well as celebrity gossip, cultural moments, and other information, are all available on the Internet today and can be accessed from a variety of hardware devices, including smartphones, tablets, and computers.
The VR of today is more like a walled garden environment rather than an interconnected internet. Only a few social software programs are available on different headsets.
It may be difficult for software developers to develop for multiple VR headsets simultaneously, due in part to the lack of a common software development kit that is compatible with all VR hardware devices. The current virtual reality market is more like a gaming console than a communication medium, despite its potential for immersive, social, and interactive experiences.
To make VR the next communication medium widely adopted, the industry must move past the phase of walled gardens. VR must increase its interoperability to achieve this. This means that software and programs can run on VR hardware and be integrated.
The interoperability of VR hardware and software raises important questions regarding the data infrastructure, consumer and corporate data sharing, and our ability to traverse to different parts of the metaverse.
The tipping point
Virtual reality adoption often sounds like it is just getting started. VR visionary Jaron Lanier predicted that home VR would be possible by the turn-of-the-century.
Researchers Tony Liao and Andrew Iliadis discovered something similar when they conducted research into the augmented-reality industry. It was always assumed that widespread adoption of augmented reality would be five to ten years away.
As author and researcher Dave Karpf explains in WIRED succinctly, while augmented and virtual realities continue to advance, they still haven’t reached the tipping point needed for widespread adoption.
Karpf believes that virtual reality is “always about to turn a new corner, about being more than a gaming machine, about revolutionizing other areas.” However, its primary use remains as a game device.
The industry could benefit from embracing VR as a platform for gaming — usage as a device for gaming is on the rise, and players are used to consoles that only run titles designed for that console. But it would miss the full potential of virtuality. VR can bring communicators into shared spaces where they can engage in human social experiences, interact with each other, and have fun.
Social VR is an experience in virtual reality where users meet and interact within a virtual environment. (Shutterstock)
Likely,The creation of these social VR spaces shared by all users will require a move towards interoperable areas, where users are able to move freely and easily from one VR social space to another.
Interoperability requires, on the other hand, open software standards and data sharing among entities who have historically kept tight control over their data collection and analytics processes. The consumer deserves to be confident in the security and protection of their data.
VR: The Future of VR
The VR industry needs to grow to be worthy of the billions invested. We need to see the metaverse like public infrastructure.
We in the VR industry, as well as the VR research community, need to focus on how data can be used to improve interoperability while also protecting social interactions from being monitored and commodified.
It won’t be easy to find the right balance between openness and protection to ensure consumer confidence. Without this balance, social VR adoption will remain out of reach.