The dragons of Silicon Valley

It’s back! The drama, tribulation, intrigue and power struggles. Facebook that is, the ever-acquiring social media platform is buying up technology companies like they’re in […]

It’s back! The drama, tribulation, intrigue and power struggles.

Facebook that is, the ever-acquiring social media platform is buying up technology companies like they’re in the discount section in Tesco. However, its latest acquisition has irked the technology community.

Oculus VR aims to bring Virtual Reality to everyday consumers. Its simple (yet complex) set of goggles immerse the user in virtual worlds.  Techies raved about it and even the creator of the original Doom video game resigned his high-paying programming job to work with Oculus full-time. This initial platform raised a little over £1.5 million for entrepreneur Palmer Luckey on Kickstarter, the online investment hub. He talked to his potential investors as one of them, a techy upstarter who wanted to change the game for immersive experiences online.

However, after the Kickstarter project was completed and a happy community watched their investment start to grow into the next big thing, the firm announced that it had been sold to Facebook for $2 billion and would be looking into the potential of Virtual Reality and social. The idea of Virtual Reality and social is simple – Skype style conversations with family become more interactive; watching a movie with friends in another country or live sporting events as if you’re there is appealing. However, the upset in the community isn’t with Facebook’s idea of using technology for social gains – in fact most technology is used that way. It’s with Facebook’s overbearing ability to dominate new technology and make it business oriented at the expense of innovation. Evolutionary for Facebook but less revolutionary for the user.

What really helped set the techie community against the deal was the way it was communicated. As a Kickstarter investor and backer of the firm it’s hard to see your investment trumped by an organisation that has paid 1000 times your collective investment – particularly when you didn’t get a say in the matter. Palmer Luckey treated their faith in him casually, and their hard earned funds as initial sales rather than an investment in him and his technology.  For although Kickstarter doesn’t deal in shares, he could have treated his supporters as his investors, instead of blindsiding them with a note about being bought, and by doing so taken them and the broader techie community along with him.

Oculus VR will take the hit and be called a sell-out by the tech community, one that was more interested in the dollars than the innovation potential.  But the bigger issue is the tech community’s view of Facebook, already captured in thousands of negative memes, tweets and reddit posts. This community is made up of Facebook first adopters, and now they’re now considering whether to stick with the platform or not.

For those of us in the communications business, all of these acquisitions (Instagram, Whatsapp, Oculus and the rest) should make us wonder whether Facebook is as innovative as it wants to appear to be. With even lower interaction with fans (down to 2%), a Newsfeed that’s not as intuitive as it used to be, and a platform that changes regularly for brands, pages and fans, should we be looking to escape the big FB when it comes to mass consumer engagement? Maybe it’s time to do so.

16 year old João Branchier, a high school student in Brazil who saved $350 to buy a development kit with Oculus, said to The Verge:

“I ordered my Oculus literally days ago, but now knowing that Facebook bought it I don’t know how I feel about it, I understand that Facebook will supply Oculus with unlimited money for development and we will probably get a better product, but I fear they may try and make it just another product to get revenue and forget about all the indie essence of this project, initially funded by the community.”

Are his generation starting to see Facebook as the Lannisters of Silicon Valley?  Feared, but not loved.

For now, this deal won’t make too much of a public splash, but in the world of technology, while Facebook’s seat at King’s Landing gets stronger, we may be seeing the first signs of an uprising from the North. *queue Game of Thrones music*

Photo credit: Patrick Nouhailler