There's only so much you can tell from a Yelp review. After all, what do phrases like "funky ambiance" or "cool place" really mean?
For consumers looking for a greater depth of detail on locations and businesses they're thinking of frequenting, virtual reality technology provider YouVisit launched an app featuring more than 1,000 immersive experiences from venues, travel destinations, hotels, universities, restaurants, and real estate properties.
YouVisit, which was founded in 2009, has been in the immersive media game for a few years already, anticipating a time when virtual reality will be more widespread. Earlier in 2015 they partnered with the Savannah College of Art and Design to bring campus tours to prospective students via Google Cardboard. They've also released stand alone experiences for New York restaurants and US universities available through Cardboard and Samsung that allow users to take interactive, 360 tours. The new app now puts all of those, plus more, in one place.
In talking with businesses about virtual reality, YouVisit co-founder Endri Tolka said they explain it as the next computing platform.
"When we go back and think 10 years ago or 15 years, why would a hotel need a website? We're trying to make that same case. Fifteen years ago, you didn't really need a website. Those people could book a hotel through a travel agent," he said.
These days, no one uses travel agents when they can book a room using a smartphone.
And what's more, he said the idea is to drive conversions by giving potential customers the ability to experience something before they make a purchase. So, stand in a restaurant before making a reservation, tour a house before contacting a real estate agent, or take a spin around a hotel room before booking it.
In some ways, web-savvy consumers already so this — they read reviews online and look at pictures, but Tolka said it's the immersiveness that they see as driving conversions. Across experiences, users tend to average more than ten minutes looking at them.
And because people are used to navigating decisions online and especially via mobile, YouVisit's made sure to accommodate that. At the risk of understatement, not everyone has a VR headset, so when brands ask about getting these experiences to a wider audience, part of the answer is mobile.
"Most people have a smartphone. Being able to download the app onto their smartphone allows for anyone who may just get a Google Cardboard, which is easily available and very cheap, to start experiencing VR," Tolka said.
When a brand decides is does want to create a VR experience, they have some options — YouVisit will work with them depending on what their needs are.
If they have the content created, they can just use the platform to showcase it. If they don't YouVisit has an internal team that can help them identify what their goals are in creating an VR experience, how to achieve them, and then help them actually to shoot and put together the experience. Tolka said it can take anywhere 4-6 weeks.
YouVisit worked in that latter manner with electronic music festival TomorrowWorld. The festival takes place in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia over the course of three days on an 8,000 acre section of land.
TomorrowWorld's Joe Silberzweig said they've worked with YouVisit since 2013, relating more to photography, and after the inaugural festival in 2013, they started telling him about VR and 360 experiences. TomorrowWorld had released "after movies" which brought in several million views on Youtube, so the idea of furthering that experience resonated.
YouVisit sent a team to shoot at last year's festival, and they worked together to figure out what an interactive tour with various stops at places like stages and campsites would look like.
"They really helped guide me in terms of what they thought would look best in the tour," Silberzweig said.
Tomorrow World has plenty of strong visuals — rolling hills and lakes, plus all the crowds, cafes, performances, etc.
"Being able to see that in an immersive environment is amazing, " he said.
Silberzweig sees the TomorrowWorld experiences as being not just for people who have already gone, but anyone interested, wherever they are in the world. Sometimes past attendees recognize themselves in the images from the virtual tour.
"I think that's what makes it so special is that yes, it has the big main stage stuff, but then it gets really intimate. You see people grilling, or you see couples holding hands or kissing," Silberzweig said.
Going forward, YouVisit is working on improved navigation for the app, maybe even eye tracking or voice activation, as a way from get from one scene to the next in an even more immersive way, Tolka said.
- Mini-glossary: Virtual reality terms you should know
- The pros and cons of low-cost virtual reality headsets
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.