Facebook's plan to unite AR, VR and News Feed with 3D posts

Facebook’s plan to unite AR, VR and News Feed with 3D posts

What if you could digitally sculpt a 3D object and share it on Facebook, play with it in virtual reality or insert it into your world with augmented reality? Facebook is polishing up stages one and two today after debuting posts of interactive 3D models in News Feed in October that you can move and spin around.

Now Facebook 3D posts support the industry standard glTF 2.0 file format, allowing for textures, lighting and realistic rendering of rough or shiny objects. New Graph API endpoints let developers build 3D modeling apps or even 3D cameras that directly share to the News Feed and make websites that show up as 3D posts. Users can now drag-and-drop 3D objects into the feed. And users can take 3D posts and bring them into Facebook Spaces, its social VR hangout rooms.

For example, you could make a metallic personalized chess piece in a 3D modeling app, share it straight to News Feed and then bring it into Facebook Spaces, where you could play with it as part of the playground’s native chess board. Brands like LEGO, Jurassic World, Clash of Clans and Wayfair are already experimenting with 3D posts that you can play with here or on this article.

“We’re trying to make 3D a native part of the Facebook ecosystem. Stage 3 is getting these 3D objects into AR,” says Facebook’s creative director for social VR, Ocean Quigley. He sees this as a natural progression for a social network that’s gone from text, to photos, to videos, to immersive media. “We’re trying to lay the foundational steps so Facebook can go with users into their 3D worlds of VR and AR.”

Now when you share a 3D post, you’ll get to pick a background color and texture to set it on. Quigley says the hope is to “keep the upload flow pretty simple and streamlined” so sharing high-tech posts doesn’t require high-tech skills. He calls glTF 2.0 “the JPEG of 3D,” touting support from Google and Microsoft. And if you have a 3D object in another format, Facebook is open sourcing converters on GitHub so you can port them to Facebook’s preferred file type.

There are huge opportunities for Facebook if it can make this work. It could leave other social networks in the dust by offering the most futuristic ways to share. You could easily imagine Facebook profiles getting a “3D shelf” where you could display objects you’ve collected for friends to play with. And hopefully, Facebook or some third-party will develop a great 3D avatar creator that automatically generates a mini virtual version of you based on your tagged photos. I’m betting Facebook eventually makes its own competitor to Snapchat’s Bitmoji avatars.

Marketers and advertisers would surely love to let users try on an augmented reality purse rather than looking at it in a photo, and some brands like Sony are already paving the way for augmented reality commerce. Wayfair now lets you inspect a 3D version of its furniture in a home setting before buying.

Facebook has been aggressive about adopting new content formats like 360 photos, Live videos and GIFs in an effort to remain appealing to teens despite being over 14 years old itself. “In the future, we envision a seamless digital world where people can share immersive experiences and objects like these across VR, AR and Facebook News Feed,” Facebook product manager Aykud Gönen writes.

There’s no way Facebook can build enough 3D objects on its own to populate the physical world with augmented reality. It needs the help of third-party developers and the crowd. Quigley tells me “we’re not going to be giving you 3D editing tools” to build your own objects inside of Facebook. But if it can make it easier for outside creators to import them, it could provide a much more wondrous and immersive experience whether you’re on a phone, headset or some future AR glasses.

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