One of Arthur C. Clark's famous laws was, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I would revise that sentiment to be: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from science fiction."
I grew up reading about virtual reality in William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. I played the early virtual reality game "Dactyl Nightmare," and even worked at Disney Imagineering as an intern when they developed a VR ride based on flying Aladdin's magic carpet. I imagine Mark Zuckerberg read the same books and had the same experience, perhaps excluding the magic carpet.
The technology and stories were too early. With Oculus VR, it appears they no longer are. CTO John Carmack, who stunned the world a generation ago with the graphics deployed in the video game Doom, seems to have built something special with the rest of the Oculus team. An immersive tool first for gaming, that Mark Zuckerberg next believes will allow you to have the following experience: "Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home."
For Facebook, a high stock price and environment where activist investors demand cash returned through buybacks, this is chance to bet on what comes after mobile phones. As Zuck further explained, "Mobile is the platform of today, and now we're also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow."
This is not wearables like Google Glass but rather a new way to experience the online world or remote places and social experiences in a completely immersive way. With the stock down about 7 percent Wednesday, perhaps investors feel that despite the much more modest price than Whatsapp ($2 billion vs. $19 billion), this is just too far out there.
I like the bet. Something will come after phones and this seems like a good shot of being IT. Facebook got penalized for being late to mobile and it cost them a lot more than $2 billion. So this seems like a good bet to place to be early.
—By Jon Steinberg
Jon Steinberg is the president & chief operating officer of BuzzFeed and is responsible for all business management, company operations, finance, and social advertising operations. Follow him on Twitter @jonsteinberg.
Disclosure: Facebook is a BuzzFeed business partner