Ever since Facebook settled comfortably into its position as the unchallenged king of social networking, people have been searching high and low for "the next big thing."
Trouble is, no one's entirely sure what it's going to be - though there are plenty of guesses to go around.
Some folks are looking towards smart devices and home automation. Others are positive another awesome, innovative social network - one which will dethrone Facebook - will surface.
As for me? I'm tossing all my chips in with augmented reality - and its closely-related cousin, virtual reality. Allow me to explain why.
Google Glass Is Only The Beginning
Ever since we developed the first personal computer, we've been continually seeking ways to make our technology smaller, more streamlined, and more intimate. We've been looking for a way to transform ourselves from simple flesh-and-blood creatures into connected, networked cyborgs who are are in complete control of their surroundings. Admittedly, that sounds a little absurd - but stop and think for a moment about all the latest gadgets we've seen hitting the market.
The Internet of Things. Smaller, more portable smartphones. Voice activation and motion control.
Together, it paints a pretty clear picture - we're on the lookout for better, more intuitive avenues through which we can interact with our surroundings. That's where augmented reality comes in. After all, what's more intuitive - and more intimate - than something which serves as an overlay for our immediate environment?
Alright, so maybe Google Glass was a bit of a failure, but that doesn't mean the core concept behind the technology is flawed - far from it.
Done properly, AR technology allows us to instantaneously call up information on what we see no matter where we are. It allows us to contact our friends and loved ones through Facebook with a simple gesture, and to share the details of our surroundings with a word. It allows us to look at a bar or restaurant, and see immediately what our friends think about it.
That has some very real implications for marketers and content creators alike, who could potentially implement elements of their website into the 'real world,' presenting users with vital information on their brand and simultaneously driving engagement through both the physical and digital realm.
Of course, all this is small potatoes compared to virtual reality - the potential of that particular set of tech could quite literally change the way we look at the world.
A Whole New World Of Social Networking
I don't think anyone really expected Facebook to purchase Oculus VR. It certainly came as a shock to journalists, Facebook investors, and gaming enthusiasts alike; responses ranged from quiet optimism to anger to complete and utter confusion. It's been nearly ten months since that acquisition, and while Oculus has been steadily working on new gaming software, Facebook has yet to do a whole lot with its new toy.
But that doesn't mean they won't.
"After games," explained Zuckerberg at the time of the purchase, "we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting with a doctor face-to-face just by putting on goggles in your home."
"This is really a new communication platform," continued the Facebook founder. "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."
In short, what Facebook is talking about doing is creating entire worlds in which people could immerse themselves - a social network where you aren't just hammering out words on a screen; you're actually walking around a virtual city and hanging out with your friends. It's an idea that sounds like it's torn straight out of science fiction, but it's definitely one that has merit - and one that I think will evolve in close proximity to augmented reality. Plus, if anyone has the capital to make it happen, it's Facebook.
A Bright Future Lies Ahead
As a technology, I suspect that the social network is here to stay - like smartphones and tablets, it's simply become far too ingrained in our day-to-day lives for us to even think of abandoning it. That doesn't mean it'll stay the same, however. With the continued evolution of augmented reality and virtual reality tech, we're seeing a fundamental change in the way we connect with the world - and social media is going to change in tandem.
Image credit: Sergey Galyonkin