The Verge: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Virtual Reality

The European: Do you think that digital curation is a greater threat to traditional print papers than regular online journalism?

Popova. I’m not exactly sure what “digital curation” even means anymore – certainly not something I identify with at this point. But I do believe the editorial and the curatorial live on a spectrum. Every nonfiction writer is essentially a curator of ideas – whether this means the selection of academic and clinical studies to be cited in a Malcolm Gladwell-style pop psychology book or the snippets of articles highlighted and contextualized in a day’s worth of Andrew Sullivan’s blog. At their best, journalists – writers, editors, “curators”, or whatever we choose to label them – help people figure out what matters in the world and why. The label under which they do it is irrelevant.

via Maria Popova on information in the digital age – The European.

Maria Popova on digital curation

We pay close attention to what the government is doing in digital/social/mobile because it either signals that cultural milestones have reached the tipping point of mainstream OR serves as leadership examples for the public and private sector (specifically thinking of the mobile-friendly website mandate in 2012).

Although this piece, The White House Gives Up on Making Coders Dress Like Adults, focuses primarily on dress code, it also highlights the need to bring in subject matter experts and talent who are excited about emerging technology AND aren’t necessarily conformists — in dress, but also where they went to school, where they’ve worked, and how they approach business challenges.

Watching a guy in an untucked, wrinkled dress shirt and khakis walk into a White House meeting may seem shocking today, but the government is starting to think more about the value of these big thinkers over their pedigree, what they look like, and what they wear. 

It’s a great lesson and example for companies looking to make transformational changes through new sources of talent.

Key quotes:

The U.S. Government wants to hire more people like Mikey Dickerson. He’s the former Google engineer the White House recently tapped to lead the new U.S. Digital Service.

Dickerson has impeccable credentials. He comes from one of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies. He flew into Washington a year ago to salvage the disastrous Healthcare.gov website. And by all accounts, he did an amazing job. Now, his White House on-boarding has become a kind of recruiting tool for Uncle Sam. And just for good measure, the feds want all the techies out there to know Dickerson wasn’t forced to do that amazing job in a suit and tie.

In a White House video, Dickerson says he is asked one question again and again by people curious about his new job. They “want to know if I’m wearing a suit to work every day,” Dickerson explains in the video. “Because that’s just the quickest shorthand way of asking: ‘Is this just the same old business as usual or are they actually going to listen?’”

When it comes to computers, the federal government has a nasty reputation for prizing ISO standards and regulatory checkboxes above working code. The video is the White House’s best effort at saying it’s going to get real and hire people based on what they can do, not how they dress for work.

The White House Gives Up on Making Coders Dress Like Adults | Enterprise | WIRED.

SnowcrashPer my ongoing fascination and excitement for Virtual Reality: Science Fiction Realized, Facebook’s acquisition of the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and the new Photo Sphere 360 photo app (that looks poised to help consumers create VR content), this quote from Dan Hon’s eNewsletter was worth sharing today.

Hon has been going back through Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyber punk novel, Snowcrash (it’s a must-read!!), and often makes references of how the Metaverse could come to fruition in real life through VR (or often, how our offline and online lives are continuing to blur as only the science fiction greats could have predicted!)….

“I mean, I’m really interested to see if, post-public-Oculus and its backing from a multinational, billion-user social network, we actually end up with something like what Stephenson suggests with The Black Sun [ed. note: an exclusive online Metaverse club].

I mean, we kind of had it with Habbo Hotel, we didn’t really have it with Second Life (because the deal with Second Life wasn’t so much social as it was Hey! Build stuff in 3D! and the deal with Habbo Hotel and Virtual Magic Kingdom and all the other stuff was “chat software rocks”). No, I mean the whole thing about movie stars using it to “visit with their friends” and “strut their stuff”. I mean, seriously.

We’re about 12 months out from seeing if this is *actually going to happen*, and that’s pretty phenomenal.

Put it this way: you think single-camera amateur YouTube shows are a big thing? Imagine live streaming from an Oculus Rift instance, and allowing people to drop by.

This is like some weird virtual talk-show shit.

Dan Hon’s Things That Have Caught My Attention eNewsletter, #141

So if he’s right and we have <12 months to see if this VR stuff really pops, what brands and publishers will be leaders in the space? What will we do to help make this a reality?

And if he’s wrong, that’s fine, too. But I can't imagine some semblance of VR/Metaverse not becoming popular as hardware matures, prices improve, video games moving into immersive environments… and the fact that we're exporting more human connectivity to digital experiences than any generation before. It’s definitely worth exploring.

If you haven't yet had a Rift or Google Cardboard demonstration, you have to make it a priority. Heck, Cardboard costs <$20 put together! And some apps work on iPhone, as well as the standard Android app.

We live in an exciting time, and on this timeline, it may get more exciting quickly!

Google Cardboard works on the iPhone, too

Given my recent fascination and advocacy for live-coded audio, this piece in Harper’s Magazine really got me excited…

“In fifty years’ time…I think people will still be playing piano, guitars, and violins, but I also think they will be playing electronic instruments — actually performing virtuosic work upon them. What these will look or sound like, I don’t know. What music can we expect to hear from these new digital instruments? If a generation of people who grew up listening to plugged-in instruments and guitar solos have moved onto the computer, what happens when a generation of musicians who have learned to sample and manipulate automated audio clips are given the tools for expressive digital instrumentation?”

[Postcard] | Virtualsity, by Michael Barron | Harper’s Magazine.

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This week we’re testing Google Cardboard, a Viewmaster-like visor made of cardboard and magnets that turns your cell phone into a virtual reality headset.

Google launched Cardboard at their annual tech summit in June, handing out kits to attendees and helping kickstart the dialog about (and coding for) virtual reality software before the hardware becomes more mainstream and affordable.

You may recall Facebook made news earlier this year in acquiring Kickstarter-darling Oculus Rift, a ~$350 virtual reality headset that will be shipping it’s second iteration to developers later this month. Speaking about that acquisition, a respected industry investor said, “The way to understand this purchase is to think of Google buying Android in 2005. That confused a lot of people at the time. Facebook believes that virtual reality will become the next major platform, the same way mobile computing did, and they want to make sure they have a big stake in that.”

So with both Google and Facebook gearing up for VR adoption, we had to get our hands on Cardboard and see what this is all about.
Building Cardboard is as simple as collecting the pieces needed, cutting out some cardboard and slipping your Android device inside. Except the lenses are hard to come by, so we ordered our kit pre-assembled.

Once the Cardboard structure is set and your phone is rubber-banded into place, launch the Cardboard app and you’re ready to immerse yourself into some next-generation 3D and virtual apps.

Hands On with Cardboard
The official Cardboard demo app features seven different experiences meant to show the breadth of VR beyond first person shooting games:

  • Earth: A fly-over experiencing featuring different landscapes using Google Earth.
  • Tour Guide: A tour of Versailles 360 views and a local guide narrating.
  • YouTube: Stream popular YouTube videos on what looks like a massive movie screen.
  • Exhibit: A number of cultural artifacts that can be viewed from various angles.
  • Photo Sphere: Finally a way to enjoy those panorama pictures you’ve taken over the years.
  • Street Vue: A radiator-eye’s view of a drive through busy Paris streets.
  • Windy Day: A Pixar-like animated short story that follows a hat blowing through a forest.

Google Cardboard

There are also a number of Chrome Experiments for Cardboard (roller coasters and helicopter rides!), although those are browser-based and can be buggy depending on your device.

Another must-test app is VR Cinema for Cardboard, which renders any MP4 video into a split-screen, 3D movie. Prepare your stomach, because it’s going to get queasy! The app also allows you to turn on your phone’s camera and see the world through 3D (for the very first time?!?). All kidding aside, this app could be great for mock-ups and proof of concepts.

And Cardboard Works with Existing VR Apps
Beyond Google’s apps and those web experiences designed specifically for Cardboard, a handful of developers already have VR apps that can be used with Cardboard, although may experience slow frame rates or require a bluetooth controller to move around:

  • Shadowgun VR: A first-person shooter example of how VR can be used in immersive gaming.
  • Tuscany Dive: A picturesque walk through an Italian villa where you control the path.
  • SpaceTerrorVR: A 3D horror game where your spaceship is forced to land on an unexplored planet and you’re tasked with missions.
  • Flight VR Demo: A two minute demonstration video of flying a realistic plane over snowy mountains.

In doing demonstrations, we found it was easiest to start with Windy Day to let them get acclimated, then move onto the others. We’ve had jaws drop, people squeal in delight and many exclaim they are fearful this could become popular (and understand why it may!). The consensus is that once you’ve watched YouTube on an Imax screen that fits in your pocket, it’s fairly difficult to go back to a 2D browser window viewing.

The Consensus?
Overall, Cardboard is cardboard. And after just a couple days, it’s getting pretty beat up and greasy, to be honest. But the immersive feeling you get putting on the VR goggles is immediate. Although almost everyone has felt a bit of disorientation when removing Cardboard, but they also wanted to try them on again.

Forward thinking marketers know VR is an emerging platform worth exploring as we think about creating next-generation immersive experiences on behalf of brands (see our post on that, Virtual Reality: Science Fiction Realized).

Cardboard is a good step forward into helping us explore where things are headed and how we can help shape those experiences.

Additional Resources:

Photo Credit: Marc Wathieu via Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Marc Wathieu via Creative Commons

Yesterday’s virtual word experiments, like The Sims and Second Life, taught us that consumers will interact with brands in simulated environments if the value proposition or unique experience is compelling enough.

The Google Glass Explorer program launch taught us that consumers are attracted to the proposition of augmented reality, but only if privacy and fashion concerns are addressed.

Meanwhile, social networking has reached the mainstream, and consumers expect brands to leverage this rising connected culture. But in a world where every brand wishes you a Happy National Doughnut Day, brands are struggling for ways to connect with consumers on a level that’s genuine, offers real value and rises above the noise.

That’s why we’re excited about recent strides in blending immersive technology with the real world.

Simply put, Virtual Reality (VR) is no longer the stuff of science fiction.
After a lull in consumer-facing VR products thanks to the flop of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in the 1990’s, a handful of companies are working to make virtual experiences accessible to the masses. Although we may be far off from the Star Trek holodeck in every living room, we believe forward-thinking brand managers should be thinking about VR today.

For example:

  • Oculus Rift is a virtual reality head-mounted display, launched via Kickstarter with a focus on gaming, that was recently purchased by Facebook for two billion dollars. With Rift, the field of view is more than 90 degrees horizontal, 110 degrees diagonal, and the real world is completely blocked out, which creates a strong sense of immersion. Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to keep the consumer price of Rift as low as possible.
  • Google released an app called Cardboard that lets users slot their Android device into a do-it-yourself cardboard viewer. When looked through using special lenses, consumers can interact with various Google services like a VR headset. Supported apps include Google Earth flyovers, tour guides, and immersive photo and video experiences.
  • AdAge: Virtual Reality: Advertising’s Next Big Thing?

Where do we go from here?
Like Google Glass, today’s brand opportunity for these exciting hardware advances in VR is in building first-ever pilots and proof of concepts that demonstrate thought leadership and spark interest among stakeholders.

Existing software for these platforms have a strong focus on gaming, which leaves the opportunity to build creative and practical applications that inspire, educate and amaze across all categories — consumer marketing, education, science, healthcare and more.

Also like Google Glass, we expect that technology will continue to advance the general public will not all be wearing giant black VR helmets with an Oculus logo (or Cardboard cutouts with Google logos!) anytime soon. However, as part of our role in pursuing innovation, exploring consumer behavior and sharing helping brands really stand out, we know investing in emerging technology has proven to pay dividends in the short- and long-term.

Time to “jack in” and see what this is all about.

Explainer posts and “Top XX Reasons Why” posts are rooted in the notion that we want more than the 5w’s lede. Consumers desire more than the “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nut_graph.&#8221;

And with the popularity of sites like Five Thirty Eight and Upworthy, it’s worthy studying a bit…

Try this: Make a list with two simple columns. On the left, write Who, What, When, and Where. On the right column, write How and Why. Then, go to any news site — local, national, or global — or even to a print newspaper and see which questions the stories you see answer.

At most news sites, the hashmarks will fill up quickly in the left column — slowly, if at all, in the right one. That’s the column for explanatory journalism — the new craze of the past year, but built on ideas as old as good journalism itself.

Explainer journalism derives from knowledge — and from ignorance. “Our authority comes from knowing what we do and don’t know,” Leonhardt says. It also lets readers know “we’re trying to think it through.”

Explainer journalism assumes a certain curiosity and appetite among intelligent readers — and that alone is worth understanding.

via The newsonomics of how and why » Nieman Journalism Lab.

I did this interview ages ago, talking about the concept of “success theater,” what passes for an “influencer” these days, and some of the stand-outs I’ve been most impressed with from Minnesota — namely Abraham Piper and Nick Massahos.

Here’s what made it into the Social Status: Influential Minnesotans on Social Media piece

Through the lens of social media, there are no dirty dishes.

“Whether or not we realized it, from the beginning, social media has been about online reputation management,” says Greg Swan, senior vice president of brand innovation and digital at Weber Shandwick. “Social media is an extension of your personality—but only the best parts.”

“Our parents might have been greatly influenced by Don Shelby or a Minnesota Viking endorsing a car dealership,” says Weber Shandwick’s Swan, who has nearly 9,000 Twitter followers of his own. “Young people today are more moved by an endorsement from people their age, in their interest group.”

I have to say this is one of the best social media influencer round-ups I’ve read from the Twin Cities media community. The subject of who is popular on Twitter was played out years ago, but the individuals they’re highlighting here truly are niche influencers — tastemakers — who are impacting their respective communities.

Nice work by Allison Kaplan at MSP Mag pulling all of this together. It’s really great.

Full article: Social Status: Influential Minnesotans on Social Media.