Shared Social Virtual Reality Networking for Health, Healthcare, and Health IT Marketing

I’ve fallen in love with the potential of a new social media medium. First there was blogging. Then there was Twitter. About three years ago I fell in love with social video (Periscope, Blab, and Firetalk, RIP the last two!). And now I am gaga over shared social virtual reality networking! I know that is a mouthful. I’ve seen it called at least three things: social virtual reality, shared virtual reality, or virtual reality networking. So I decided to mash them all up, until one becomes the generally accepted moniker.

Think of it this way. There are these virtual characters in a virtual place: a meeting room or conference, a shopping center, or perhaps a beautiful windswept hill or floating somewhere in the stars. You’re wearing a virtual reality headset, and can see out of the eyes of one of these virtual characters. You control it. You move it, point it, and gesture with it. You can customize it to make it look like whatever you wish. (Yep, sometimes it gets freaky. @ReadyPlayerOne anyone?) And there are other people strapped in their virtual reality gear, controlling… stop. No, “controlling” is too detached. You literally feel like you are in this virtual space, interacting with virtual people. And they feel the same way. It’s amazing!

Consider the following quotes:

“Shared VR is about sharing your virtual experience with another human who is also in virtual reality. This is the next step in communication mediums.” (Shared VR Explained)

“Virtual Reality is one of the most social technologies ever created…. Meet people from around the world, attend free live events, and play interactive games with friends. Day or night, there’s always someone to hang out with.” (The Top Social VR Networks You Can Hang Out In Now)

“why the world’s biggest and most popular social network [Facebook, would pay $2 billion] to own a virtual reality company…. Social VR will be entirely about inhabiting virtual space together, and driven by real human interaction…. Social networking has grown from text-based communication to largely visual, through the sharing of pictures and videos…. Virtual Reality is therefore tailor-made to be utilized as a social platform. It is, at its very core, about communication” (Virtual Reality in Social Media: Introducing Next Level Networking)

Shared social virtual reality networking is relevant to health/care/IT marketing in several ways. First of all, virtual reality, itself, without the shared/social/networking aspect, is a great way for prospective clients to kick virtual tires. Outside of healthcare, it is taking off, allowing consumers to more viscerally and immediately experience furniture, cars, and real estate. In healthcare, VR is taking off for educational and clinical purposes from learning to perform surgery, to preparing for a specific surgery, to distracting patients from the pain of surgery. It’s only a matter of time before it comes to health, healthcare, and health IT marketing,

About 15 years ago I was put in charge of researching whether it would be possible to replace our annual EHR user conference with a virtual online conference. I was amazed at the ambitious platforms out there. Many actually simulated a 3d conference space, allowing participants to customize their avatars, and upload and present PowerPoint slides on virtual screens projected to from virtual projectors in virtual meeting rooms. But there were three problems: expense, stability (ambitious but immature software), and lack of the virtual reality experience. It was like playing a game in which you controlled a character on the screen. But it was not immersive. You didn’t feel like you were actually “there”. Today is completely different. I’ve researched a bunch of shared social virtual reality networking platforms. Free: check! Stable: Tolerable (occasional crashes). Virtual reality? Check!

What about shared social virtual reality networking and health IT marketing? Set aside marketing virtual reality products in healthcare. Obviously, allowing someone, from the comfort of their home or office to experience a virtual reality product, while guiding and interacting with a them, will be a great tool. But consider marketing non-virtual reality products. How might virtual reality be used to market an EHR? A patient experience management platform? Imagine being an EHR vendor and being about to “spin-up” an entire virtual reality hospital and clinic, and allow clinicians (and patients!) to wander around and see how the health IT affects healthcare workflows and experiences!

And, further, imagine creating an entire health IT marketing conference one can attend in virtual reality! All (well most, forget the food) of what we love about real-life health IT conferences can be replicated (within a modest time frame, as the VR tech evolves, I am convinced!), from the milling around, to serendipitous bumping-intos, to lectures and panels. And, they can inexpensively be held in exotic places from Hawaii …. to Mars!

OK, enough palavering about the insanely exciting possibilities of shared social virtual reality networking. What are the nuts-and-bolts of getting started, now?

My First Attempt at Hosting a Shared Social Virtual Reality Networking Experience

Since the summer eclipse (during which I attended an eclipse watching party in virtual reality) I attended occasional events in virtual reality via AltspaceVR. When I realized I could, for free, host my own virtual reality event, I began thinking about hosting a health IT marketing VR event. So, about an hour before a recent #HITsm tweetchat, I decided to jump in with both feet. I actually didn’t expect anyone to show up. But what the heck, at least I could still always be able to say I tried it first.

Luckily, Lisa, and then Becky, saved me from failure. I tweeted out a link to the virtual reality space, plus two links to PC and Mac clients to download, install, and join me. Now, these are not full-blown VR experiences. They are 2D AltspaceVR clients. They remind me of the 3D user conference software I investigated 15 years ago. However, I am convinced, once one experiences the 2D experience, I think you’ll consider some extra investment to get the 3D VR headset and experience the full 3D immersive experience.

Let’s start with a short (17 second) video. I’m welcoming Lisa, who’s appeared in the doorway of the meeting space (customized! Nice outfit!). I’m in a blue shirt looking up. I’m actually shooting the video from @MrRIMP’s AltspaceVR’s account, so I can capture myself in the third person. Then, in the middle of the video, Becky materializes behind me (to the left of Mr RIMP). Becky and I successfully got our audio to work. Lisa and I didn’t. But you can text between avatars by clicking on someone and popping up a text box.

We all agreed, it was very cool, and worth trying again. Becky has a Samsung S7 so I pointed her toward the Samsung Gear V R (about $100). Both participants looked around the meeting space (and Lisa wandered around a bit outside the meeting space building).

Here is what I tweeted in order to invite folks to install the necessary software and join me in virtual reality.

Don’t bother clicking that link to the virtual realty space. It was just temporary. But do, if I tweeted out a link during a tweetchat, find THAT link to join me in social VR. Click and download a PC or Max 2D AltspaceVR client. Perhaps visit the “Campfire”, an always on virtual reality space, where newbies pop in and out, trying to figure our how to control their VR avatars. Got to events to see what happening, right now, or register your interest (so you’ll be notified when one is about to start): music, comedy, science, software development (especially VR), current events like eclipses or rocket launches. Just hang around in the back of the crowd, if you are shy. Then ask someone near where they are in the physical world to start a conversation.

Some Caveats about Shared Social Virtual Reality Networking

“Meeting a friend in a space like this is not the same as real life, it is something quite different but it still makes you feel “in touch”. When used with realistic expectations, social media should satisfactorily accompany real life interaction. Virtual social media offers the same benefits, but is more sensory…. Virtual Reality will probably not replace physical interaction – there is too much to be gained from being “with” a person in real time and space. … You dip into it, and it’s as fun to play as it is relieving at times to come out of. Personal interactions through virtual reality will, at best, serve to supplement our social lives as social media already does” (Social VR: Will Virtual Reality Increase Or Decrease Loneliness?)

I ended up focusing on health IT marketing, but social virtual reality has great potential for non-health IT folks, such as healthcare provides, patients, anyone interested in health, to get together to chat about common interests. I hope using virtual reality as part of social media becomes an easy and commonplace experience. And I think one important role for the health IT social media community will have will be to help support the less technical, but nonetheless enthusiastically interested, network in shared social virtual reality!