The Future of Social Media: Live Video, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence
Kurt Wagner '12
The majority of Americans—68 percent, in fact—own a high-powered computer and HD video camera small enough to fit inside their front pocket. You probably refer to yours as your phone.
That little video camera is dramatically changing the way we create and consume content today. Video is beginning to dominate. We watch more video than ever, especially on mobile devices. And the world’s most influential and widely adopted social networks, like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, are building out their futures with video as the linchpin.
What does our new video-focused future look like? Here are three ways social media is evolving to put your videos front and center.
Live Video — Networks like Facebook and Twitter don’t just want you watching videos, they want you watching live videos. Both companies have made a lot of investments to make both consumer and professionally created live video the latest hot trend.
Twitter acquired a livestreaming startup called Periscope and offers the product as a standalone app. Twitter also pays to distribute professionally produced live video streams, like NFL games and the presidential debate coverage.
Facebook, on the other hand, built its own livestreaming product, and actually pays some of the world’s top celebrities and media outlets (including the one I work for) to use it. Facebook, which rarely does traditional marketing campaigns, is even airing television commercials in hopes of convincing its user base to create their own live videos from their smartphones.
Why do these companies care so much about live video? Because fewer and fewer young people are watching traditional TV, and live video offers an alternative. At least in theory. Plus, it can be raw and unpredictable, or something different than the produced stuff you usually see on television. (That’s not always a good thing, by the way.)
Virtual Reality (VR) — Virtual reality is still nascent, and the industry is primarily driven by gamers. But if you listen to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talk about virtual reality, you’ll quickly learn that he believes VR is the future of social media. Yes, that means communicating with your Facebook friends in a virtual world, complete with avatars. (Here’s a little demo of how it might work.)
That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given Facebook owns one of the most well-known VR companies around: Oculus, which it acquired for $2 billion back in 2014. But it’s still worth noting, because Facebook has a way of pushing its agenda onto its massive user base. When Facebook wanted to popularize mobile videos, for example, it just changed how frequently they appeared in people’s News Feed streams. It’s the kind of thing you can do when you have almost 1.8 billion users.
We can already see this happening with VR. Facebook can’t force anyone to buy a VR headset, but it has rolled out a number of products specific to 360-degree videos, which are VR-like. By supporting these kinds of videos in your Facebook News Feed, and paying some creators to make content through Oculus, Facebook is getting people comfortable with the idea of immersive video. The VR part will come later.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) — AI is complex, but think of it like this: It’s technology that trains computers to behave more like the human brain does. That means things like text, voice, and photo recognition software. Yes, the computers are learning on their own!
In the movies, this is usually portrayed as a human-like robot that develops a conscience and fights back against its creators. In the real world, though, it’s much less dramatic but much more practical.
When you upload a photo to Facebook, for example, the site can recommend that you tag other people in the photo based on facial recognition software running in the background.
Snapchat, meanwhile, is using facial recognition technology to let users add funny or scary masks to their photos and videos. Eventually, companies want to get to the point where this AI tech works in things like live videos, too, so it can detect something graphic or violent and remove it automatically from your feed.
As those little pocket computers we carry around get more and more powerful, the social platforms we use will change, too. And so will the things we share through them.