You can be in a blizzard in Times Square one minute and on the sidelines as FC Barcelona takes to field the next. The immersive qualities of 360 degree video can certainly plant you in the middle of some awe-inspiring scenarios, but it is hard to escape the feeling that whichever way you choose to look, you could be missing out on something. Facebook's new Guide feature allows publishers to direct the viewer's gaze toward desired points of interest, which might not only make for better entertainment, but also enable new kinds of narrative technique.
Since introducing the feature last year, Facebook says more than a quarter of a million 360-degree videos have been uploaded to the social media platform. We know that Facebook sees video content as a huge part of its future, with recent changes to its algorithm prioritizing live video in the newsfeed and the unveiling of an advanced, spaceship-looking VR camera to encourage a new generation of content producers.
But tuning out of the TV and into FacebookVision mightn't be the most profound change in the way we consume video content. The rapid rise of virtual reality and 360-degree video has opened up all kinds of possibilities, many of which will be explored in ways we haven't even imagined yet. But they do also raise a few questions, such as how does the conventional narrative form, where a director decides what the audience sees in order to tell the story, work in a world where they can look wherever the hell they want?
Introduced today, Guide is Facebook's way of giving some control back to the publisher, while taking nothing away from the viewer seeking more freedom. It allows uploaders to select points of interest within the video, be it a balloon floating away or an important conversation, so that when the video plays, the view will be automatically directed toward the action.
Videos uploaded with the "Enable Guide" box checked will automatically play in this self-directed style, but if the viewer wants to turn it off they can pan their mobile device or swipe away from the scene, in the same way you'd normally look around Facebook's 360-degree videos. To turn it back on, users simply click on the heading indicator on the right side of the screen.
Along with Guide, Facebook introduced another tool that publishers of 360-degree video might find useful. Heatmap is exactly what it sounds like, laying a map over the 360-degree video so that publishers can see which sections of their video are attracting the most eyeballs. This feature can be accessed through Publisher Tools, but will only be available on videos posted from May 1 onwards with more than 50,000 unique views.
Facebook has lined up a few launch videos to demonstrate how Guide works. There is a New York Times piece on Usain Bolt's record breaking 100 m sprint, an ABC News video cruising the New York Harbor, but the coolest in our eyes is a shark dive in the Bahamas with wingsuit extraordinaire Jeb Corliss. You can check it out below.
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