Editorial: How the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Sending Me Running Back to Facebook

As you know, I am not a fan of the Facebook social network. In fact, my New Year’s resolution at the end of 2018 was to ask Facebook to delete all the data it had collected on me over 13 years, and quit Facebook.

Then, when it was announced that you will require an account on the Facebook social network to use the upcoming Facebook Horizon social VR platform, I reluctantly decided to rejoin. But I found that I had successfully broken my formerly powerful Facebook addiction. I befriended only six people, mostly close relatives. I would go for weeks, even months, between sign ins. I was no longer addicted to Facebook!

But unexpectedly, the coronavirus pandemic now has me running back into Facebook’s embrace.

Kicking the Facebook habit is hard…

What drew me back in were a couple of Facebook groups:

I also belong to a couple of Sinespace groups on Facebook, where I would cross-post sponsored blogposts.

I had installed the highly-recommended F.B. Purity browser extension to control a lot of Facebook’s annoying features, but I found it interfered with the We Got This group, so I landed up uninstalling it completely. And, of course, now that I have uninstalled Purity, Facebook now sends me reams and reams of friend suggestions…

And this morning, I finally threw up my hands, gave in, and started accepting friend suggestions (Facebook is scarily accurate in remembering who my friends and acquaintances were). I’m baaack

The fact remains that Facebook is tailor-made to keep track of all the loose connections in my life: family (including distant relatives), coworkers (many of whom are now working at home), and friends and acquaintances whom I rarely see in real life. This is now even more true with the imposition of social distancing policies and even lockdowns in places like Italy and California.

And, during a coronavirus pandemic, I am now willing to let Facebook strip-mine my data in order to make me feel more connected while I am maintaining social isolation in my apartment.

So, congratulations, Facebook: you win. For now.

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News: Facebook Horizon to Launch a Closed Alpha This Spring

Finally! I have heard through the grapevine that Facebook will be launching a closed alpha of their social VR platform, Facebook Horizon, this spring:

As I have written before, I did sign up for the alpha as soon as I heard about it, but I have not yet received an email. Sigh. I have sent an email to Janet Lee, inquiring if I might still take part (although from this email it sounds as if they have already made their first selection of applicants).

And, by using the word alpha instead of beta, it sounds as if Facebook Horizon is still a bit rough around the edges. (When Sansar launched their invitation-only testing back in 2016, they called it a beta test.)

UPDATE 1:22 p.m.: Apparently, there was an alpha before the beta for Sansar, which was before my time.

UPDATED! Editorial: Why Facebook Horizon Will Be Delayed

Facebook was originally planning to launch their social VR platform, called Facebook Horizon, in a closed beta test early this year. Many people were expecting an announcement at their annual Facebook F8 Developer Conference, or perhaps at the Game Developers Conference.

Well, on February 27th, TechCrunch reported that Facebook was cancelling its F8 conference, citing coronavirus concerns:

Facebook  has confirmed that it has canceled its annual F8 developers conference over growing concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

More specifically, the company says it’s canceling the “in-person component,” which would have been held in San Jose, Calif. There may still be video presentations, along with live-streamed and local events, under the F8 umbrella.

“Celebrating our global developer community at F8 each year is incredibly important to us at Facebook, but we won’t sacrifice the health and safety of our community to do so,” said Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook’s director of developer platforms and programs, in a statement. “Out of concerns around COVID-19, we’re cancelling the in-person component of F8, but we look forward to connecting with our developer partners through local events, video and live streamed content.”

And more recently, it was announced that the Game Developers Conference, which was supposed to take place this month, would be postponed until later this summer. UploadVR reports:

The organizers of the Game Developers Conference postponed the event after sponsors, attendees, journalists, and developers decided not to come due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

In recent days some of the event’s biggest supporters including Epic, Unity, Facebook, Sony, Amazon, and many more, along with a large number of journalists and developers, pulled out of attendance at the event. Many companies encouraged their employees not to travel to the March event in San Francisco.

Here’s the statement from organizers:

After close consultation with our partners in the game development industry and community around the world, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the Game Developers Conference this March.

Having spent the past year preparing for the show with our advisory boards, speakers, exhibitors, and event partners, we’re genuinely upset and disappointed not to be able to host you at this time .

We want to thank all our customers and partners for their support, open discussions and encouragement. As everyone has been reminding us, great things happen when the community comes together and connects at GDC. For this reason, we fully intend to host a GDC event later in the summer. We will be working with our partners to finalize the details and will share more information about our plans in the coming weeks.

The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak and resulting travel restrictions has led to dozens of conferences around the world being cancelled or postponed. Many major corporations such as Amazon, Facebook and Google are also restricting or outright cancelling employee travel.

I think all this means that Facebook will likely postpone the launch of Facebook Horizon, since they won’t have any suitable venue at which to make a splashy announcement. And let’s face it, with the world being so preoccupied with this expanding global public health emergency, any platform launch would likely be muted, sidelined, and overlooked. People have other, much more pressing, priorities at the moment, like trying to find supplies of Purell hand sanitizer and 3M face masks.

Another complicating factor, as I have reported before, is that supplies of both Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S VR headsets are simply unavailable in most markets, due to the coronavirus shutting down many Chinese factories. Apparently, production of the Valve Index VR headset is also being negatively impacted. The HTC Vive headset is manufactured in Taiwan, and so far does not appear to have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. (Here’s a February 28th article from IGN on how SARS-CoV-2 is impacting the manufacture and sales of VR headsets.)

Of course, Facebook may just decide to launch Facebook Horizon in closed beta anyway, using livestreamed video and other not-in-person means, but I think they will choose to hold back. A company that makes billions of dollars in profit from advertising knows full well the benefit of a well-timed product launch, with an all-out advertising push. The timing is just plain wrong.

P.S. I am curious though; has anybody been invited yet to take part in the closed beta test for Facebook Horizon? I haven’t (but then, given how critical I have been of Facebook on this blog, I wasn’t expecting to be invited). Any anonymous tipsters want to whisper in my ear? 😉

UPDATE March 3rd: I’ve heard through the grapevine that Facebook will be launching a closed (invitation-only) alpha of Facebook Horizon this spring.

The Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak Impacts the Manufacture and Delivery of New Oculus Quest VR Headsets: Facebook Announces That the Quest Is Now Unavailable In Most Countries

Thanks to the Wuhan coronavirus, the Oculus Quest is unavailable

For the past two weeks—since January 25th, 2020, when there were only 1,438 cases—I have been trying to balance my coverage of “social VR, virtual worlds, and metaverse” (as the tagline of my blog states) with coverage of the rapidly-evolving global health crisis that is the Wuhan coronavirus (more formally known as 2019-nCoV, at least until the authorities give it a proper name or acronym).

There have been many reports in the mainstream news media that the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in China will negatively impact the manufacture and delivery of everything from pharmaceutical ingredients to automotive parts. Yesterday, the Road to VR website published a news report that illustrates the growing impact that the 2019-nCoV situation is having on the manufacture of VR technology. (Yes, this story is about both virtual reality and the coronavirus. It was bound to happen eventually!)

Titled Facebook Expects Coronavirus Will Have “Additional Impact” on Oculus Quest Availability, the article says:

After being back-ordered by weeks in many regions, Oculus Quest is now “unavailable” from Oculus in 17 out of 23 regions where the unit is sold, including the United States, Canada, and much of Europe. Facebook says the Coronavirus outbreak is to blame.

Responding to a Road to VR inquiry about Oculus Quest becoming “unavailable” in many regions, a Facebook spokesperson shared the following statement:

“Oculus Quest has been selling out in some regions due to high demand. That said, like other companies we’re expecting some additional impact to our hardware production due to the Coronavirus. We’re taking precautions to ensure the safety of our employees, manufacturing partners and customers, and are monitoring the situation closely.”

At the time of writing, the Oculus Quest is now unavailable in the following 17 regions: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.

Facebook gave no indication of when it expects the Oculus Quest to be once again available. Given the severe impact that the coronavirus is having on China’s economy, it seems unlikely that we will see any new stock of Oculus Quest VR headsets available anytime soon. How this might impact other Facebook plans for 2020—including the impending beta launch of their social VR platform, Horizon—remains to be seen. (But you can expect resellers on eBay and other places to take advantage of the situation and start selling Oculus Quests at a premium to those people still eager to get their hands on one.)