Facebook released the beta version of Spaces today. After using it for an hour today, here are are my initial comments. This is written for people who haven't had a chance to use Spaces yet.
THE AVATAR IS THE STARTING POINT
You start by logging into your Facebook account and customizing an avatar. Other people see your name and Facebook profile picture above your avatar.
My biggest issue was how to select things. I’ve never had a good handle on using the Oculus Touch controllers. Someone in my office had to coach me to extend my finger and actually touch things and/or extend finger and use the x button. Even after the coaching, it took me multiple tries to get it right.
It was especially difficult at the beginning when I was trying to change my skin tone and couldn’t select my skin. I kept getting a beard instead
TOOL MENU IS GOOD, BUT LIMITED
The primary tools are a mirror, a selfie-stick and a pencil you can use to write in the air.
There’s also things like stickers and pre-made drawings that you can use to decorate your environment. Our space got a little cluttered with graffiti so we left rather than figure out how to clear it.
Big Screen Beta has acclimated me to being able to share videos and monitor a screen when I’m hanging out in VR. Spaces already feels dated because it doesn’t offer that feature.
THIS IS A BETA
Here a short list of the things that didn’t work for me
1. My friend using a Vive was frozen and I could only see him blink and move his mouth. I couldn’t see anything else that he did or made.
2. We could only get 3 people in our space at a time
3. I had transparent Touch fingers and everyone around me had opaque hands
4. When I opened up the menu to change my appearance, everything else in the environment was frozen
5. To change my t-shirt color or my eyewear accessories were entirely different menus to the side of the mirror
6. The setting of the park was unappealing to me. In the park, I felt like a creepy person spying on these couples having a day out. I’d prefer to be solo in a beautiful environment.
7. Making a Facebook Messenger call crashed the application…twice.
8. When Facebook Messenger did connect, only I could see my friend on the “tablet.” No one else connected via VR could see or hear him.
9. I couldn’t find a way to change my the default environment (park, campsite, etc.)
10. I didn’t know how to change the audio from the Oculus headset to the computer speakers so that everyone else in the room could hear my conversation. There were four other people in the room with me and I had to repeat what I heard for their benefit.
11. When the anyone in the room with me spoke, the lips of my avatar moved.
SOCIAL INTERACTION IS THE MAIN EVENT
Despite the technical challenges, I had fun. But why?
Was it because Eva Hoerth was there? Eva could probably cheer me up at my grandmother’s wake. Overall, it validates a belief that private VR spaces where you hang with friends will be appealing, but that’s hardly a new idea.
Was it fun because everyone I interacted with was acting a bit silly? Are goofballs the key to social VR’s success?
The novelty of it made the experience fun. But, will people quickly habituate and the novelty decrease? Perhaps, but I typically hang out in the exact same environment every time I hang out with friends. We spend time in my living room - but it’s often different people and we do a variety of things.
Overall, it’s a good use of the Facebook infrastructure, leveraging friend networks, Messenger calls, sharing on your feed, but it still feels very beta.