Facebook is making another update that makes it easier for users to “feel like they were actually there.”
Starting today, users will be able to view 360-degree photos on Facebook’s mobile and desktop sites in their News Feed, and in the next few days, the platform will begin allowing users the ability to share 360 photos. Users can view and experience the 360 photos, indicated by a compass icon, by tilting their phone or dragging their finger. On the web site, users can experience the photos by clicking, swiping and dragging on the photo.
To take and post a 360 photo, users can take a panorama photo and share it as they would other photos; Facebook will automatically convert it to a 360-degree view. They can also take and share a photo taken with a 360 photo app or a 360 camera.
In a post sharing the news, Facebook product manager Andy Huang said when Facebook introduced photos more than a decade ago, “they quickly became one of the main ways that people share their experiences with their friends and the world,” and said that this update would let people “share more immersive views of their world.”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has stated that “helping to connect the world will always be the most important thing that I do.” To that end, he has been making an increasing push toward augmented and virtual reality. Two years ago, Facebook bought Oculus VR, and this is something Zuckerberg emphasized in his recent call with investors. Fittingly, Facebook users can also view the 360 photo in virtual reality using a Gear VR headset and a Samsung Gear VR-compatible phone.
He said that most Oculus Rift early adopters are gamers and developers, and that there were more than 50 games and apps built for Rift. “This is very early, and we don’t expect VR to take off as a mainstream success right away,” he said. “Eventually, we believe that VR is going to be the next big computing platform, and we’re making the investments necessary to lead the way there.”
To coincide with the launch, today, photographer Mario Testino shared a 360 photo that shows the entire scene at a recent shoot with Lily Aldridge and Karlie Kloss; it was part of his personal project called “The Towel Series” (imbedded below). In the Facebook blog post, Huang referenced recent other examples of 360 photos from public figures and publishers like Paul McCartney, The New York Times and NASA. The applications for the fashion and retail worlds are similar. A brand could, for example, take a customer to a photo shoot or fashion show, or share a new retail location.
But so far, experts say that although the technology is there, fashion has yet to fully take advantage of virtual reality videos or photos.
“Right now, what we are seeing is an amazing explosion in tech, but the biggest challenge is the content,” Google’s Aaron Luber recently told WWD. He leads partnerships and business development for Google’s VR and 360 videos on YouTube. “The tech is moving at a rapid pace, but people are still trying to understand what people want to watch. The tech has truly done amazing things in the past months, but the content has to push itself.”
He said that even though the world of gaming is getting a lot of VR attention, “you can draw a lot of parallels for things that would be exciting” in fashion.
According to film producer Kevin Cornish, who spoke about this at South by Southwest, the world of fashion is ripe for adopting virtual reality, particularly in marketing and e-commerce. Because it’s so immersive, he said, virtual reality can be emotional and persuasive. “People talk about it being an ‘empathy machine,’” he said.
In the past couple years, some brands have dipped their toes in the VR waters. Elle and InStyle created virtual reality experiences of a photo shoot, for example and Toms created a video that took consumers along on a trip to Peru. And now that taking and sharing 360 images is as easy as sharing a photo on Facebook, perhaps retailers will begin to experiment more.
Zuckerberg has acknowledged this lag in adoption. “A lot of what we’re building today in areas like connectivity, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality may not pay off for years, but they’re important to our mission of connecting the world,” Zuckerberg said to investors. “And I’m committed to seeing this mission through and to leading Facebook there over the long term.”