Discovering the media of the future w/SVRF
If Snapchat’s puppy dog filter has taught us anything, it’s this: augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) are now fixtures of our everyday lives. On a daily basis, immersive media is helping companies and artists to create new and novel ways of viewing and interacting with the world, on a wide variety of devices.
Despite the rise of AR and VR content, however, tools for finding and sharing it are still incredibly limited — and fragmented. If a user wants to access such content, their options are largely relegated to browsing Instagram and Snapchat filters, or actually purchase a virtual reality headset.
But now, users may be able to skip past the gatekeepers and connect directly to the headwaters of immersive content.
On this week’s episode of the What’s NEXT Podcast, I spoke with Sophia Dominguez, the co-founder of SVRF, about how her company is working to help users find and connect with the interactive media of the future. SVRF’s goal: to become the definitive search engine for AR and VR on the internet.
Sophia became fascinated by immersive media in her early teens, after she read the dystopian M.T. Anderson novel, “Feed” — a book about a society where digital media is connected directly to people’s brains. She realized that immersive content was the future. Her career has included working with Google Glass, a stint as an AR/VR app developer in Silicon Valley, and some time as entrepreneur-in-residence at Rothenberg Ventures — all the while trying to bring immersive media into the mainstream.
Today her company SVRF could help accomplish the goal of making AR and VR more accessible. “We really believe that this content is going to be everywhere,” Dominguez says. “And we want to help power it to the world.”
A fragmented media landscape
One roadblock for consumers has been that while immersive media increasingly surrounds us, we have little choice about how to experience it. In contrast to web, photos, or video, there has not been a dedicated AR or VR search engine, and few companies control the majority of access.
“Immersive media has always been fragmented,” says Dominguez. “Look at mobile. Apple and Android are the two main competitors, and Android itself is an incredibly fragmented market. And then, in headsets, you have Facebook and Oculus.”
In fact, immersive media is, itself, divided. Although often lumped together, augmented and virtual reality differ in critical ways. Augmented reality refers to when digital media is overlaid on a real, physical reality — like that puppy dog filter over a face. Virtual reality, by contrast, transports users fully into an entirely digital world — like a video game — which usually requires a headset to experience.
So far, AR is winning the race. Due to the ability of smartphones to power AR experiences like face filters, mobile AR has become ubiquitous. Its install base, currently at 900 million, is expected to grow to 3.5 billion by 2022. For this reason, social media sites Snapchat and Instagram, which have the largest collective mobile AR audiences, run the table on immersive media publishing.
One key insight from Dominguez is that, as a creator or consumer, you have limited choices: go to Snapchat or Instagram for AR, or buy a headset from a VR company.
“We realized that social networks were really pioneering what was happening in the augmented reality space,” she says. “And we didn’t want to live in a world where just the social networks had access to this content.”
SVRF’s solution has been to become to AR/VR what Google is to webpages, or what Giphy is to GIFs: a search engine. In fact, the company has been working to index, sort, and rank any and all AR or VR media on the internet — which includes everything from face filters, to 360-degree or 3D photos, to explorable worlds created on platforms like VRChat. For the first time, users can access the best and most popular immersive media, with one search, from across the web.
For its small size, the company has SVRF has some big-name backers. Alex Chung, for instance, the CEO of Giphy, was its first investor and advisor, and firms like Techstars and Rothenberg ventures have funded its seed round.
Beyond just indexing AR and VR media, however, SVRF is working to empower content creators with access its rich database of immersive content. The company recently released an API for this purpose, which allows developers to integrate SVRF content directly into applications. The use cases have commercial potential. For example, any company that uses a camera in its applications now has access to a wealth of 3D interactive filters, 360-degree images, and other immersive media, which it can use to engage consumers in novel ways.
Dominguez sees the evolution of SVRF’s focus as natural. “Early on, I started to notice how much content was being created,” she says. “I looked at the history of search engines, and realized that with every new type of content, there’s always a place that organizes media for people to easily search. No one was working on it. I thought, ‘Why don’t I build this?'”
The blurring lines of AR and VR
While Dominguez is busy solving the AR and VR problems of today, she also has her sights set on tomorrow — with some interesting future predictions. For one, she expects that headsets will lose traction among consumers. Her reasoning, though perhaps controversial, is nonetheless astute: “The biggest problem with AR headsets is that they don’t take into account that people are obsessed with themselves. People want to take pictures of themselves — augment what they look like and what they’re doing. But headset cameras face outwards,” she says. “Until a headset, glasses, watch — whatever — can account for that, it won’t happen.”
As a result, she predicts that the lines between AR and VR will blur — and that VR experiences will be increasingly accessible on mainstream devices. In many ways, this has already happened. For instance, users can already browse 360-3D pictures and digital worlds straight from their smartphones. As devices evolve and cameras proliferate, Dominguez expects that technologies like projectors will play a larger role in this trend. Unlike headsets, which limit the experience to once person, projectors could anyone to interact with immersive media, anywhere.
In the coming years, Dominguez hopes that SVRF will come to power the myriad interactions between consumers, digital devices, and enhanced reality. And unlike the book she came upon as a teenager, her vision of the future reads as utopian: “Immersive media will be everywhere. For example, you wake up in the morning and want to shower. But you don’t just shower. You say, ‘I want to be in the Amazon today,’ and suddenly, your entire shower turns into a visual of the Amazon.” It’s a vision fit for our digital future.
To learn more about how SVRF is helping to connect users to the interactive media of the future, you can listen to the full episode in the embedded player above, or subscribe through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, RSS or your favorite podcast app.