New Media experts: 3 steps to get ready for Virtual Reality

You’re a new media expert, specializing in video, social media, liveblogging or infograhics? Get ready for the final breakthrough in virtual reality, which is starting to impact sectors such as education and even the newspaper industry. As a columnist about new media for the business newspaper De Tijd in Belgium, I realized this year that there’s little time left to get ready for the transformation virtual reality will cause in very diverse industries.

When Facebook bought Oculus VR in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said:

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

Zuckerberg sees virtual reality changing industries such as healthcare, education and sports news coverage. This evolution will take quite a few years, but the future is being prepared now and early but convincing examples will be soon accessible for huge audiences. Also take note that Facebook and YouTube enable users to post 360 degree videos, right now.

I’ll present you two recent articles demonstrating the high expectations regarding virtual reality, then I’ll give my recommendations.

The first article was published in the British newspaper The Financial Times and seems totally enthusiastic: Our virtual reality future is bigger than it appears. The author of the article, Jonathan Margolisbecame firmly convinced about virtual reality during a number of meetings in Los Angeles.

Interesting enough, the breakthrough is not “just” in entertainment. Education for instance is very interested in the new possibilities. Roy Taylor, a vice-president of the chipmaker AMD, told Margolis: “VR is happening here on a scale and with an energy you can’t believe.” Taylor added that the universities are pouring “millions of dollars into it.”  

The author of the article also refers to first-hand experience: he was totally blown away by a virtual reality video about the Wright Brother’s flight. He watched it using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Personally I use a prototype of the Oculus Rift but recently I bought the Google Cardboard headset – less sophisticated maybe, but very cheap.

(Graphics from

A second article which is very positive about the future of virtual reality – even outside the traditional gamers communities – comes from Jessica Davies on Digiday. She reports about the worldwide ambitions of the British newspaper The Guardian in sports coverage.

Sports journalism is often very innovative as The Guardian demonstrates with the use of liveblogging. The future of sports coverage will be even more spectacular.  Davies quotes The Guardian’s sports editor Ian Prior as saying: “VR could have major ramifications for live sport experiences and really drive the next iteration of journalism.”

The New York Times recently sent Google Cardboard virtual headsets to its subscribers. In combination with the app NytVR people can experience news coverage about the refugee crisis and the Paris terror attacks in a far more immersive way.

What should you do in order to keep a close eye on the virtual reality breakthrough?

  • Get Google Cardboard It is cheap and gives access to a lot of interesting virtual reality content, it works with most smartphones.
  • Consider buying Samsung Gear VRThis headset works with Samsung smartphones and it powered by Oculus Rift.
  • Wait for Oculus Rift VR headset –  It will be available for consumers in Q1 201 and you’ll need a gaming PC to get access to a premium quality virtual reality experience.


Virtual Reality will start going mainstream in 2016, if you want to be part of the action, invest now in getting hands-on experience with it.

 I got inspired for this post as a participant in the Social Media Marketing course at Coursera, created by Northwestern University. Feel free to reach me at @rolandlegrand on Twitter. 


Avatars as digital personal assistants

Imagine that you don’t have to search for each individual app, select it, then use it according to its own little system. Instead you would speak to your device (smart phone, watch, headset, whatever) using natural language, and the thing would do whatever you instructed it to do. You could ask for a high quality French restaurant in a certain neighborhood of your city at a certain time and specify that parking should be easy and safe. Your device, or rather the “digital personal assistant” in it, would mobilize a number of apps and databases and book a table. That would be the era of the post-app, so Richard Waters explains in the Financial Times, writing about Artificial intelligence: Digital designs for life.

I wonder what form that personal assistant would take. A cute robot? Or rather something very small, almost invisible? In a virtual world setting such as Second Life and OpenSim it could be an avatar without a real life typist behind it, but chatting away like Siri responding more or less intelligently to questions and remarks. Such a bot could be the representation of a personal assistant.

However, such an avatar does not have to be confined to a traditional computer screen, just imagine what could be possible using Magic Leap or HoloLens. It would make our future digital personal assistant even more interesting…

Big tech in love with VR and AR, so we update our mindmap

Crazy times for virtual reality, or so it seems. ‘It’s the future’, people at Facebook say. Users will not only be able to experience immersive Facebook-experiences, but will also create them, Eric David posts on SiliconAngle. ‘Users’ means not just developer-types, but the average user. However, it is totally unclear when virtual Facebook-apps would hit the market.

While Facebook executives dream about immersing all of us in their product, some people at Apple share that dream for their own products. Apple was awarded a patent titled “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display,” which details a virtual reality headset powered by an iPhone or iPod, according to Apple Insider. The device does look not fundamentally different from other systems strapping your smartphones on your face such as Google’s Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus).

But we may still have to wait a long time before Apple presents a consumer-ready device, and that device could also be something rather different from Oculus and be more along the line of Microsoft’s HoloLens – as one could think looking at patents filed two years ago, BusinessInsider says.

Since I started a wiki mind map about Oculus Rift developments, quite some people added useful stuff to it. I now added these latest developments (use the icon with the arrow under the map to maximize):

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Virtuix works on virtual treadmill for military and police

Virtuix, the maker of the virtual reality treadmill Omni, prepares applications beyond gaming. Here you see the treadmill in a gaming context:

Roel Verrycken, the US correspondent of the Belgian newspaper De Tijd, had an interview with founder Jan Goetgeluk and asked which new applications his company is developing. Goetgeluk:

For training police or military personnel. We have a special military version which is a bit bigger and sturdier and which has some additional functions. Recently we participated at a specialized fair and there’s a lot of interest from that sector. Remember the attack on Osama bin Laden? The US military built the house in which he was hiding. Using the Omni the training coould be done virtually without having to build a complete house. Every possible environment can be programmed virtually for training purposes. We see a very important market there.

Asked how dependent Virtuix is on the development and commercial launch of the Oculus Rift headset, Goetgeluk explained Omni is compatible with all devices. He referred to the Samsung VR goggles, and said that smartphones will have the capacity to be transformed into virtual reality devices. “Everyone in the industry is determined to advance virtual reality. It’s still a fledgling industry, now we’ll have to gain mass market traction. That’s something for 2015.”

You can read the complete interview (Dutch language) on our newspaper website.

500,000 Google Cardboards

In June 2014 Google showed the world the Cardboard VR headset, today it has been announced 500,000 of those devices have been shipped. This is extraordinary, realizing the project was ‘just’ an experiment done by two engineers in the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, David Coz and Damien Henry, during the 20 percent time Google engineers get for personal projects.

As explained in the previous post, cheap and mobile VR headsets could be crucial in turning virtual reality into something which is used by a mainstream audience. Especially students and learners could benefit (one can assemble a Cardboard oneself or buy it for around $25).

At the LeWeb conference in Paris this week people could try the Cardboard, it seems it was quite a success.

Oculus Rift in Second Life: nice to have but not enough for a breakthrough


So I bought an Oculus Rift virtual headset and ventured into Second Life using the special viewer. This was rather frustrating using a MacBook Air 1.7 Ghz, Intel HD Graphics 5000, but things went a lot better with a MacBook Pro 2.5 Ghz and an Intel Iris Pro for graphics.

I got no motion sickness as the environments were rather slow – a tranquil Japanese sim, an Italian one, a stunningly beautiful beach scenery with a few avatars. It was captivating to be immersed  this way, looking down into a fascinating tropical sea, up to birds in the sky and high rocks. Or flying and looking deep down. On the other hand the interface is still difficult to use as you cannot see the keyboard, the first person view is imperfect as one looks down without seeing legs and feet. Small imperfections in the scenery or the scale of the objects seem to become more important as it stops the “suspension of disbelief“.

I guess it will get better, especially as there is a new Second Life in the making. Yet  I wonder whether a virtual headset version, even perfectly implemented, will attract that many more users. The immersion into another body and into artificial paradises appeal to a niche. We live in times of short attention spans and people love to integrate the digital closely into the ‘real’ physical environment, so mobile augmentation possibly has a future on a mass market, but this is not what this Second Life virtual experience is about. My guess is that virtual headsets will make user-generated virtual worlds even more appealing for the existing fan base, but they won’t convince the mainstream to embrace these environments – unless new applications and use cases are discovered.

Update:  I also noticed how important audio is in such a highly immersive environment. The Oculus makes you notice so much more of the virtual environment. It’s as if when you use one of your senses more, you also need using at least one other sense more intensely.


Understanding Google, embeddable content and MOOCs

googlecourseWhat makes mobile so transformative? Why is Google a revolutionary company? These are questions asked and answered in the Coursera course
Understanding Media by Understanding Google. Professor Owen R. Youngman (Northwestern University) focuses during six weeks on Google and what makes it so important, not just for media people but for all of us. If you use a smartphone or a social network, you should know why these technologies are so much more than gadgets. The course offers the typical talking head videos but professor Youngman also adds his talent as a curator by selecting half a dozen books and many press articles dealing with fundamental aspects of Google – and of course both highly critical and more jubilant commentators are being discussed.

MOOCs and embeddable content

This is a second run for this course. Of course, it would be interesting to ask the question What Would Google Do (title of a book by Jeff Jarvis) about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as they are organized by Coursera. In an interview by Youngman, professor Jeff Jarvis promotes the idea of the ’embeddable article’. Just like Google makes YouTube-videos embeddable, media companies could do the same for their news articles (incorporating their brand and ads in the embeddable content and adding a link back to their site). Wouldn’t this be a great idea for parts of the Coursera-content – or not really? Maybe this is less a problem for more connectivist-styled MOOCs such as Connected Courses – ultimately it boils down to choices about the business model (or lack of such a model).

Learn Literature, New Media, Creative Programming

I look forward to this course on Coursera focused on Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings Online, exploring what happens to stories and films when they become online games. Jay Clayton of the Vanderbilt University will teach about narrative theory, media studies and video games (history and theory). Also included are some ‘landmarks of romance literature’.

The course starts on July 14 and runs till September 1.

Another course on Coursera which may interest those interested in video games is Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps. Teachers are Mick Grierson, Marco Gillies and Matthew Yee-King of the University of London. It seems to be a more technical course for those wanting to do creative work in video games, art installations or interactive music. The programming language used is Processing: an open source programming language and integrated development environment (IDE) built for the electronic arts, new media art, and visual design communities with the purpose of teaching the fundamentals of computer programming in a visual context, and to serve as the foundation for electronic sketchbooks. The project was initiated in 2001 by Casey Reas and Benjamin Fry, both formerly of the Aesthetics and Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab (Wikipedia).

You don’t have to be a programmer to start this course. The course started already, so hurry up!

Second Life 2.0 will be interesting, but no breakthrough for the multiverse

Quite some excitement among virtual worlds fans: Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, confirmed that they work on a new virtual world. They won’t let themselves be restrained by concerns about backward compatibility with the eleven year old Second Life as they want a fundamentally better virtual world and not just incremental improvements. CEO Ebbe Altberg of Linden Lab said that the ‘old’ Second Life will continue and new developers are being recruited for the new project. In the meantime, the founder of the Lab, Philip Rosedale, is working on yet another new virtual world, called High Fidelity.

More can be found on New World Notes and on Living in a Modemworld.

I cannot help being excited about these new developments, yet I don’t think we’ll see a spectacular growth in virtual worlds usage. My impression is that Linden Lab tries to benefit from the excitement around Oculus Rift, telling the world that the biggest open-ended and user generated virtual world is Second Life. However, people outside the fan base of Second Life are sceptical (as reading the discussions on Reddit makes abundantly clear).

My guess is that the niche of users of Second Life and OpenSim (the open-source version of Second Life) will be dispersed over three worlds now: the old and the new Second Life and Rosedale’s new project, but that the whole open-ended user-generated virtual worlds scene will remain a niche-thing. Will it change in a few years time when motion trackers, body sensors and 3D-cameras will become more mainstream? Maybe, but it won’t be next year.

Second Life fans often say that the lack of traction of virtual worlds is because of the learning curve and the difficulties in using mouse and keyboard to navigate those worlds. I think the real difficulty is the identity-play: the fact that people represent themselves by avatars which may be very different from the physical person using those avatars. For some this opens a world of creativity and exploration, for many others it’s just a bit creepy, especially in ‘serious’ (for instance work-related) contexts.

The other issue with these worlds is that they tend to be very time-consuming. Social networks and mobile communications help people to navigate from the physical to the digital world in fast bursts of time – checking updates, having a facetime of Google Hangout videotalk etc – but without spending hours immersed in a virtual environment.

Both these behavioral phenomena – preference for short time span interventions and for seeing ‘the real other’ – make widespread usage of open ended virtual worlds a tough sell.

Imagine 3D-sensors…

… in your phone, and what you could do with it as a developer… Imagine the games, the education projects, consumer and business projects…. These are exciting times, as Google says about its Project Tango. Google has built a prototype Android smartphone that can learn and map the world around it – what would you do with it?

Seth Rosenblatt on CNET has pretty interesting background information. Movidius’ Remi El-Ouazzane explains in an interview how his chip firm is more than just another partner in Google’s mobile 3D-mapping project — it’s at the center of a revolution in how computers process visuals. The chips can be used far beyond smartphones and tablets: think wearables, robots, autonomous cars, drones…

Google itself mentions various possible applications: interior design, helping the visually impaired, but also immersive gaming – mixed reality style.