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Stop the madness! Facebook’s purchase of Oculus won’t trigger Armageddon

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 8:56am
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

The alternate title for this piece could’ve been “The Internet entitlement mentality” (part II), because that’s what Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus has triggered in millions of disgruntled techies and industry analysts. And it stinks.

Read: The Internet entitlement mentality

On Tuesday, March 25, Facebook acquired Oculus VR for approximately $2 billion, which includes $400 million in cash and 23.1 million shares of Facebook common stock (valued at $1.6 billion), and the tech community collectively vomited. Really, there’s no other way to say it — even though Facebook sports over 1 billion monthly users, the mere mention of the social media giant triggers an immediate repellant — some would say knee-jerk — reaction in many people.

See: Photos of the Day: The Oculus Rift VR headset

Privacy concerns. Fear of corporate takeovers. An innate disgust for large, successful companies who go from being cool, undiscovered, and “hip” to the personification of everything the hipster despises about pop culture.

But the bad vibes spread far beyond a few liberal arts majors sipping cappuccinos and reading Das Kapital in the nearest Starbucks.

Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson was in the process of creating a version of the game optimized for the VR headset, but within hours of the Facebook announcement, Persson tweeted the following:

In a blog post, Persson reiterated that “Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers.”

And that’s the root of the problem — Facebook’s odious reputation. They’ve gone from a cool, underground cult favorite to the epitome of “the man.” Nearly 60% of America’s population is on Facebook, but the social-media giant has some major PR baggage, most of it of its own doing (for better or worse).

Facebook is, and always has been, a free web site, and consequently, they’ve revolutionized the monetization of users and aspects of the “freemium” model. Facebook sells your information to 3rd parties, allowing for targeted advertisements, and they’ve reserved the right to everything you share. They’ve also hosted a number of freemium games (see: Farmville) which turn the players into brand ambassadors.

And this singular focus on monetizing your social interactions — whether it’s urging friends to mend your farm, patronizing advertisers, or even paying to “boost” individual posts — turns a lot of people off.

But let’s face it — the Internet has irrevocably changed the business landscape. In a scant two decades, the Internet has nearly destroyed several industries — among them, print media — and created the expectation that “information wants to be free”.

And a segment of the population resents any attempts to monetize their online activities, directly or indirectly. They feel entitled to the fruits of others’ labor, but they also reject any free business model that relies on microtransactions or any targeted advertorial campaigns. They don’t want their information sold to create indirect revenue, and they innately resent large corporations.

So how do companies survive and thrive? Not their problem.

So Facebook — with its targeted ads and zealous use of your personal data — rubs a lot of people the wrong way. They associate the social-media giant with paranoid delusions of Big Brother and the complete death of privacy, even if Facebook is a voluntary service without the legal authority of, say, the federal government (hello, NSA!).

And this is all a real shame and a gigantic red herring, because Oculus is doing some great work.

I’ve never sampled their signature creation — the Oculus Rift VR headset — because the consumer gaming peripheral falls a bit outside our coverage area, but I’ve read glowing reviews from trusted sources, and I have reviewed the underlying technology.

At CES, I experienced a prototype version of the VR headset which utilizes Hillcrest Labs’ head-tracking technology. And the response time — which allows for a sense of realism in virtual backdrops — was indeed sharp. The newest Oculus Rift uses a 1000 Hz Adjacent Reality Tracker, which lowers the latency tracking even further. This helps to avoid the sense of nausea associated with rapid head turns.

The Oculus Rift allows for a 90 degree horizontal and 110 degree diagonal field of view, with resolution of 1280×800 (16:10 aspect ratio) and 640×800 per eye (4:5 aspect ratio). The final consumer version will feature even greater resolution. Essentially, it provides a near-complete sense of immersion.

And Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus changes absolutely nothing.

Why would it? Mark Zuckerberg may be many things, but he’s always been a savvy businessman. Why would Facebook want to kill the buzz surrounding the Oculus Rift by mucking with it?

Zuckerberg has already assured us that he’s not interested in monetizing the Oculus Rift hardware, and Palmer Luckey, the co-founder of Oculus, wrote that “This acquisition/partnership gives us more control of our destiny, not less! We don’t have to compromise on anything....”

In other words, the massive resources of Facebook could only help Oculus, which once relied on a Kickstarter campaign.

I’m not cynical enough to assume that Facebook’s mere association with the Oculus Rift will kill this fledgling VR headset or destroy its underground charm. I’ll continue to update my status, share my opinions and personal info — that I deem acceptable for public consumption — and enjoy the future of virtual reality.

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