The Web is Not Flat

AR + VR + 360 = Mixed reality

The world is not flat, the web is not flat.

The Earth is round, and we shouldn’t be worrying about falling off the edge.1 The web, however, has been flat since the beginning.

Not for lack of trying, though.

Some of us remember Second Life, the hyped 3D community that quickly morphed into a cesspool of pornographic avatars and shady 3D-casinos that has since been referred to as “the Vietnam of digital marketing”.

But finally, after a fair share of false starts, the digital world seems to be ripe for some non-flatness.

Let’s begin in Tony Stark’s garage:

In Marvel’s blockbuster movie Iron Man, lead character Tony Stark, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., interacts with his AI computer Jarvis, an immensely popular feature recurring in all Iron Man movies.

Tony Stark working on his computer.
Tony Stark working on his computer. When will this become reality?

We have seen different types of holographic projections already, like this one of the late Michael Jackson:

Or this one, with the equally late Tupac Shakur:

And, of course, the Japanese anime character, Hatsune Miku:

The challenge with holographic projection is, of course, that the technology requires projectors from multiple locations and good lighting conditions. Could anyone create a consumer-viable product, using multiple projectors locations, without making it too complex and expensive to set up and use?

Well, as it turns out, that was the wrong question to ask. There is a way to interact with holograms without having to use projectors:

Augmentation technology (AR).

Augmentation isn’t a new idea. Many downloaded and played around with the app Layar, through which you could see a layer of digital content on top of the physical world. Augmentation was also something Google took a stab at with their Google Glass project, but only by using a small viewfinder in the upper corner of the user’s visual field.

The Silicon Valley startup Meta Vision seems to have found a solution:

By creating see-through goggles, the interactive 3D user interface (the “augmented reality”), only had to exist in front of the user’s eyes. You can still interact with other users within the same holographic universe, just as long as your goggles are running the same program in sync.

Meta Vision, a Silicon Valley startup.
How long before we can fit this technology into regular glasses or contact lenses?

The “see-through” part is critical, of course, since virtual reality (VR) goggles, which by nature are not see-through, are already commercialised and used mainly for gaming purposes.

And full-view augmentation isn’t Meta’s only secret weapon:

Using 3D visual recognition software, the AR goggles can recognise your hands without any extra devices or sensors. It allows the user to interact with the augmented layer, much the same way Tony Stark, in his garage, can interact with his holographic interface.

Second Life, holographic projection, Layar, and Google Glass, hasn’t been commercially useful. Will full-view augmentation be useful enough? Applying Moore’s Law,2 we can expect AR goggles to shrink down to the size of a pair of Ray-Ban’s in only a few years time.

What are some use cases for augmented reality?

The list of potential and practical uses of a pair of AR goggles are seemingly endless. A few examples:

  • Assisting professionals. Surgeons could have X-ray vision if the patient’s body has been scanned before the operation. Real estate agents could show listings to prospects without visiting it physically. Soldiers could be able to see around corners. Why not walk around in your living room and experiencing how various interior designers would choose to decorate it?
  • Immersive classroom experiences. Teachers could, together with their students, interact across vast distances and work on practical projects together. Even the whole idea of collaborative meetings could be disrupted, changing how we interact socially and professionally across the web.
  • AI instructors. Imagine having a virtual PT with you in the gym, always analysing your form, monitoring your vitals, and giving you feedback. These types of companionships could be commercialised across great many service areas. Why don’t let a local celebrity avatar guide you to your destination instead of using a map?
  • 360 storytelling. Looking at the Game of Thrones 360 intro trailer, it gives us a hint of how to experience entertainment in the near future. And Facebook has already deployed 360 videos on their platform. Will we even distinguish between movies and games in the future?
  • No more screens. Imagine not needing a screen on your desktop, only a keyboard, a mouse, and a pair of AR goggles. Then imagine not needing a television in your home. Screen size and location becomes arbitrary and more a question of mood and personal preference.
  • Immersive marketing. When buying clothes online, just put on your AR goggles, stand in front of a mirror, and then swirl to get an accurate 3D rendering of your body shape. Now you can see how various sizes will fit you before you buy.

It’s safe to say that we can only begin to imagine the various types of use cases we’ll see emerge from AR technology as a commercially available platform. And marketing will need to change, again.

AR + VR + 360 = Mixed Reality

Even if technological advancements are moving forward at a faster and faster pace, it still takes trial and error for entrepreneurs, engineers and software developers to develop market-viable products. And then it still takes time for consumers to adapt and for manufacturers to figure out the ethical implications. At this point, there will be time for us to experiment as these technologies become more readily available.

As marketers, we’re still struggling with how to conquer the flat web. We often think of the online space as a large print magazine. We still talk about pages, even.

What we can do now, is to start figuring out mixed reality, meaning this: How can we start to create online experiences for all senses?

How can we manufacture experiences for a non-flat web?

Photo by Brandon Mowinkel on Unsplash.


  1. Unless you’re subscribing to the Flat Earth idea, of course. Good luck with that, by the way.
  2. Moore’s Law is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled every two years.


Avatar of Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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