Of all the communities and social networks on the internet, perhaps none has embraced virtual reality in the way that reddit has. The /r/oculus community is especially active, with over 48k subscribers. One of the reasons that this community is so perfect for the current state of VR is held within the very nature of the network – social proof. In a nascent industry where ideas both good and bad are beared hourly, reddit provides a peek into the collective minds of some of the most passionate people around the industry – and that is something that has been incredibly valuable for the growth of the industry.
Well now the network that has been so instrumental in helping grow the VR industry may be stepping into it. Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of reddit, posted this on his Instagram yesterday:
The picture shows Alexis and reddit “creative projects manager” Michael Pope supposedly trying out the app on the GearVR. Posted with the caption: “Just @catsweaters testing out @reddit VR… #priime.”
Assuming that the post is, in fact, real there are some things we can likely infer from this. First of all, it would appear to be a GearVR app, whether there is cross platform support – I couldn’t tell you. What this does mean though is that the app must function within the constraints of the GearVR, at least for that platform, which hints us in a bit on its potential scope.
The first thing that strikes me about it being on the GearVR is the input issue. Right now, without a gamepad, the interaction on the GearVR is far from ideal. If you have ever had to look for a certain app in the library on the Gear, you know what I mean. Constant swipes are bad UX. So, looking at a reddit app in that environment you would think that some serious changes and simplifications would need to be done to the UI in order to create a pleasant browsing experience on the GearVR. I am thinking that it is likely some kind of grid based UI with posts arranged 4×4 (with an adjustable scale to add more rows and columns) with their titles and side images displayed next to upvote downvote arrows.
The input is likely gaze and tap, so that when you look at one of the posts and tap it expands out so you can see it in full. Taking advantage of all the real estate afforded by VR, we may even see comments and the image/post displayed at the same time, provided a clever solution to make the comment text legible (we can’t lean in and squint with the Gear).
As for actual site interaction, that is where it gets a bit trickier. At first the reddit app will likely be a lurker’s dream, allowing them to see the site in a whole new way. But for those who are active on the site, it may prove difficult to post and comment from within the app. A potential solution for this would be voice commands and speech recognition, both of which are possible with the GearVR. However, I doubt many people will want to be shouting any of the craziness that typically gets posted to reddit at the speech recognition, and especially not anywhere in public. It will be really interesting to see how they tackled this problem with their integration.
This marks the first of the major social networks officially bringing their platform to VR – as much as you can call an Instagram photo from the co-founder an official move that may never even make it out of the reddit labs, where it was birthed. Facebook arguably could hold that title as well, as it is working on versions of it’s apps for VR (and because it bought a little company called Oculus), but we haven’t heard much more than that; and there has been no word from Twitter, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. as to their approach for the medium. The possibilities are exciting, beyond just the basic browsing experience and we are excited for what the future holds for social VR.