The Future According to Facebook … Is Terrifying

In a lot of ways, I feel like marketers are still catching up to what the Internet has done to marketing. But a couple weeks ago, at the F8 developers conference, Facebook announced plans to totally upend what the Internet is, blur the lines between our offline and online lives, and basically take us all one step closer to The Singularity … And I don’t think marketers are going to be ready for that.

In a lot of ways, I feel like marketers are still catching up to what the Internet has done to marketing. But a couple weeks ago, at the F8 developers conference, Facebook announced plans to totally upend what the Internet is, blur the lines between our offline and online lives, and basically take us all one step closer to The Singularity … And I don’t think marketers are going to be ready for that.

The Facebook Plan

The Facebook Future: Zuckerberg's 10-year roadmap.
The Facebook future: Zuckerberg’s 10-year roadmap. … Am I the only one who finds the word “planning” under “AI” a bit ominous?

The plan put forth at F8 is not exactly sinister, but many do see it as a bit creepy. Over the next 10 years, Facebook is dedicating itself to solving certain problems:

  1. Connectivity for Everyone: Facebook is working on two systems that would improve wireless Internet access in cities and provide it in rural areas.
  2. Applied Artificial Intelligence: This would allow real-time processing of things like translation, image search, real-time video tagging, and other capabilities that aren’t remotely possible without advanced machine learning.
  3. Social Virtual Reality: This is the one causing the most visceral reactions. Using the Oculus Rift headset, Facebook plans to make social media much more of a virtual social-visit-like experience. The tip of the iceberg of that is Facebook Spaces, which would let you and a friend chat via cartoon avatar in the real world via VR. Facebook promises this is only “0.1 percent” of their plans for virtual reality, but it’s an indication of how they plan to use it to pierce the veil between the online and real worlds.
  4. React Native: Facebook’s open source, cross-device development platform is built to allow designers to create apps for anywhere with a base on Facebook.

Isn’t This Great for Marketers?

On the surface, there is a lot of potential to Facebook’s vision of the future. Everyone gets access to your website, there’s AI to help you monetize them, virtual reality spaces to let your sales people (or bots) talk directly to customers as if they were meeting in person, and all your favorite technologies can build for the platform.

The gap from where we are now to there is really wide, though. There are aspects of the online world that are currently truly interactive in real-time, but for the most part the Web today works at the speed of typing. In most cases, your audience is reading something that you had the chance to think through, proof, check for lible, etc.

Everything Facebook is describing here will work in truly real time, more like an actual conversation. All the AI is made for real-time processing, and the VR spaces are literally real-time conversations.

So what will a world like that look like? Surely there will still be crafted, designed marketing, but will you have to have a sales person available via VR to take every order? Or are you counting on virtual assistants to be able to carry on a real-time conversation with a live human being? Chatbots have come a long way, but this functionality still seems further off.

I feel like in some ways the Facebook future for marketers is actually less automated, and would require more free personnel to do the interacting.

So my question is, how many of you are thinking about integrating AI, or preparing for virtual reality at all at this point?

I have a feeling the answer is close to zero. But technology is about to force all of us to think that through very soon.

Free Virtual Reality Is Totally Metal

When it comes to technology, adoption is everything. And that’s a great opportunity for marketers … like Megadeth. Their “metal origami” gambit is a model of how virtual reality can work for marketers today, even though VR adoption may not yet seem ready for prime time.

Megadeth's "Dystopia" limited edition, virtual reality bundle.
Megadeth’s new “Dystopia” in its “metal origami” limited edition virtual reality bundle.

When it comes to technology, adoption is everything. That’s why many of our ubiquitous devices either have cheaper versions (you can get a PC or laptop for less than $300) or subsidized versions (like smartphones, which exploded after phone carriers began bundling them “for free” with their services).

A few years ago, Facebook bought the virtual reality (VR) gaming headset Oculus Rift for $2 billion and Mark Zuckerberg called it one of the company’s most important platforms. But the $599 headset is going to be a serious buy-in, and each one needs a $1,000-plus computer system to power it. That’s a significant barrier to mass adoption.

There’s already a growing market of cheaper devices. The Samsung VR Gear is designed to use your existing smartphone as its screen (with an app controlling the display), and already retails for $99. Lenovo recently bundled a similar headset with a low-end tablet it only sells in India, and the company sold 10,000 of those mobile-VR bundles in less than a second.

But the real beginning of VR, and the real usefulness of VR in marketing today, is even cheaper.

The future is cardboard.

By that I mean Google Cardboard, a project to create a VR player for smartphones held in cheap cardboard “viewers” with glass lenses, literally a poor-man’s Samsung VR Gear. You can order one for yourself for $20 to $50.

Or, as a marketer, you can give them away.

That’s where this gets “Metal.” Enter Megadeth.

What’s beautiful about Megadeth’s new symphony of VR destruction is that it’s basically an album. The virtual reality experience, including the cardboard viewer — which frontman Dave Mustang describes brilliantly as “metal origami” — comes with purchase of the “limited edition VR package” of their new album Dystopia. And that’s being sold for the very typical album price point of $15 to $25. The VR experience is essentially free, a marketing gimmick, a response booster.

Of course, in our post-Napster time, few people actually buy albums anymore. But when you couple it with a free virtual reality experience and the equipment to make that real, that’s a great offer.

Verizon and Star Wars teamed up to put fans in the universe with the "Jakku Spy" experience.
Verizon and Star Wars teamed up to put fans in the universe with the “Jakku Spy” experience.

Megadeth isn’t the only organization using cardboard VR to build a bridge with its audience. Star Wars got in the game ahead of December’s release of Episode VII. And in the January/February issue of Target Marketing magazine, Mobile First columnist M.J. Anderson talks about a virtual reality holiday card with cardboard viewer that TREKK sent last year.

I boiled Google Cardboard down to just the viewer, but the wider project goal is to make VR more approachable to creators and audience alike. And other companies have stepped up and pushed the technology forward themselves, including Megadeth’s tech partner, CEEK. The tools have been developed.

Creating the experience takes investment, including a pretty high quality video shoot using special camera set-ups (which are available, you can see some options in the Megadeth video and on the Google Cardboard website). But it seems to be similar to any other professional video creation.

I’ve had a few conversations about what virtual reality means for marketers. For now, I think it means this: It’s a value-added, immersive experience that is within the marketer’s reach to offer candidates as a freebie. People have heard a lot about VR without necessarily having the chance to see it for themselves. Most people want to try it. If you provide that, along with a cool experience as part of it, that’s going to get a lot of exclusive attention from your target market.