Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms: don’t believe the anti-hype

Everyone’s hella snarking about the FB Horizons Workrooms project (collaborative work in virtual reality) but mark (ha!) my words…

  • 99% of them haven’t tried it.
  • 95% of them didn’t bother actually RTFA (“Who is gonna pay thousands of dollars per person for this??!?” [it costs $299])
  • Nearly everyone will be “WOW! This is revolutionary!” when Apple eventually copies, er, makes their own version (in fairness, Apple will introduce it in a far more polished way) 😀
Introduction to Horizon Workrooms, by Oculus (a Facebook company)

I haven’t tried Horizons Workrooms yet because, well, it’s not like Google is gonna go all-in on this for our remote work… and other than Google stuff, I’m generally not collaborating on projects (and I don’t think all my fellow non-profit Groupmuse Foundation board members have the Oculus Quest headset this software requires).

But it seems reasonably useful to me. In particular, I’ve really appreciated spatial audio in gamings and social meetups on various apps!

I know that a ton of us are really Zoom’d out at this point (including me), but there are some very key aspects of VR collaboration that mitigate many problems with ‘regular’ video conferencing:

  • No more constant eye-contact. Seriously, every colleague literally facing every other colleague is so unnatural and sometimes even unnerving, not to mention fatiguing!
  • You no longer see yourself on camera. Whew! Also a big stress relief.
  • And the aforementioned spatial audio is a surprisingly helpful way of quickly getting clued in on who is speaking. It’s just more natural to hear voices coming from different “locations” vs. all blended together via your laptop speakers.

Not Yet Frequently Asked Questions

(but I thought I’d answer them anyway)

“But Adam, won’t the ads be annoying?”

I’d be surprised if this product gets ads shoved in it, since it’s targeted at professionals vs. consumers. I expect it’ll be a loss leader, a way for Oculus to get people to buy their hardware, or something with a freemium upsell in the future.

“How can we trust Facebook with private conversations?!”

If they hope to get big companies onboard (and that’s their path to major profit on this I’d think), they’ll need to include pretty ironclad guarantees re privacy. And lying in that context would screw them over big time.

“But… cartoon characters? With no legs? This looks like a kiddie game!”

Fair. But, as I said, this thing runs on $299 headsets, and it has head and hand tracking but no other physical tracking. With the available computing power at that price point (and without a required PC in the background), any attempt at animated photo-realism would be a pretty painful Uncanny Valley experience.

“Wouldn’t this be uncomfortable for 8 hour stretches?!”

First of all, those of you in 8-hour-stretches of meetings on the daily… you have far bigger problems worry about than the uncomfortableness of a headset. But that extreme aside, yeah, I can’t imagine a typical VR headset being comfortable for particularly long stretches and, besides, the Quest’s battery only lasts 2-2.5 hours.

But for collaborations that last, say, 1 hour… heck, I’ve spent far more than that playing mini-golf on my Quest without any adverse effects :).

“Speaking of adverse effects, don’t people get nauseous in VR?!”

Yep, they sure do, but usually from games involving motion (roller-coastering, running, falling, etc). I would be really surprised if many folks felt sick from a virtual collaboration app in VR.


Curious to know what you think!

Have you tried this yet? Or even just socialized in VR before? 🙂
Any sort of collaboration you’d be interested in tackling with this?

2 comments

  1. This is the first positive angle I’ve heard, outside of Facebook’s marketing of course – thanks!
    When videoconferencing was the ‘new thing’ I bet it was slammed hard too, probably the same for conference calls back in whenever that was new tech. The fact is, any way to improve human contact – virtual or real – is a good thing in my experience. If this takes off, great! If not, then we’ve learned something. As long as it’s fair, ethical and accessible I for one an keen to give it a go.
    Now, if only I could actually BUY a Quest in Australia…

  2. Heh, thank *you*! I do think the backlash isn’t unexpected; a lot of people are very distrustful of Facebook (in some cases, for good reason), and it’s rare to hear people be passionate about ANYTHING associated with work (especially now anything with video, considering how over-zoom’d we all feel).

    Re the Quest… wow, I’m honestly surprised it’s not available there! Is it just sold out, or was it gobsmackingly never made available down under?!? I do hope you at least get a chance to try it. I’ve been a VR cynic forever (I mean, come on, being physically tethered to a computer with a long cable…?). But I think this Quest 2 may be seen in the history books as a turning point. It’s relatively affordable ($299 USD), easy to use, is stand-alone (doesn’t require a separate computer), and… is just darn fun to play with. When I had my dad try it out (pre Horizon Workrooms), he was just grinning from ear to ear and got the hang of it in minutes :).

    But yeah, jury is still definitely out on whether (or more likely when and how) VR will become useful in the workplace.

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