The virtual reality version of YouTube is adding shared rooms that will let people view 360-degree videos together, part of a larger update to Google’s Daydream VR platform. The new feature, coming later this year, offers what YouTube VR product lead Erin Teague calls a “co-watching experience.” That means that small groups of people can enter a viewing session, talking to each other via voice chat.
Teague describes community as “one of the core pillars that makes YouTube YouTube.” People will have control over what they’re viewing, but they’ll be able to see what other people are watching and choose to sync up the same video. People will appear as customizable (but generally human-looking) avatars, and they’ll speak out loud in real time instead of leaving comments or chat messages. “How do you take comments and apply them to VR?” Teague asks. The answer? “Voice will be the way that people express themselves in VR.”
The whole system sounds a bit like Oculus Rooms, which provided spaces where people could hang out and chat through the Gear VR. Linden Lab has also showed off a group 360-degree video platform in its virtual world Sansar. More generally, many VR social networks let people hang around and watch videos together. Google’s co-watching experience seems less skeuomorphic than these — you’re communicating with friends, but under the illusion that you’re all in the center of the same 360-degree video, not sitting with each other in a virtual living room. We’ll have to wait to find out how intimate that feels.