As if you weren't already glued to your Newsfeed, there will soon be yet another time-suck feature added to the mix: Facebook announced Thursday that it will now support 360 degree photos, giving everyone the possibility of "exploring moments on Facebook as if you were actually there." Get ready to look like a weirdo, waving your phone around as you 'explore' someone's Hawaiian beach vacation.
If you don't have a 360 camera or app on your phone, you'll be able to take a simple panoramic picture and Facebook will convert it "so when friends and family see it, they'll feel like they're there with you." This promise of a more immersive experience is at the center of the move towards 360 degree visuals. Facebook has supported 360 video since September of last year, and if you haven't yet checked out these videos on your phone, you are missing out. While you can click and drag your way around a 360 photo or video on a desktop, these have truly been designed to utilize the gyroscope on your mobile device, allowing you to tilt and spin your phone like a window to another world.
Sometimes that other world might be the tight quarters of a hotel room shower, proving that the best application of this new technology might be advertising, such as this clever commercial from Holiday Inn Express. It cashes in on the potential to put the customer at the center of the action by putting you inside a shower with friendly spokesperson Rob Riggle. (It's entirely SFW; he's outfitted in a yellow rain suit.)
Holiday Inn Express is far from the only brand using 360 video to engage users. Royal Caribbean Cruises takes you to a beach in Barbados, while Mercedes Benz has made an immersive test drive, allowing you to check out the interior of their new E-Class as you cruise around Lisbon.
Kia upped the stakes and released an entire first person shooter VR experience earlier this year to announce their DriveWise technology. In the video your Kia Soul acts like KITT from Knight Rider, driving autonomously as you get your battle wounds tended to. The video was clearly meant to be viewed on a VR headset, but uploading the 360 video to Facebook allowed them to reach those that don't have access to a headset. 360 video has become the poor man's VR.
The fact that 360 visuals take what is a generally passive activity of scrolling through your timeline and present an opportunity for physical engagement is an exciting prospect. CBS just published a 360 video advertisement for the upcoming Tony Awards in which I found myself actually getting out of my seat to twist myself around to see the entire cast.
This impromptu game of 'find Lin-Manual' is exactly why this new format is so exciting. Who knows what could be just out of frame around the corner? That thrill of discovery is what is going to make 360 visuals more than just a gimmick, and give everyone a taste of what virtual reality is all about.
Cara Rose DeFabio is a pop addicted, emoji fluent, transmedia artist, focusing on live events as an experience designer for Real Future.