Facebook Spaces
Facebook Spaces was announced at the company's F8 developer conferenceReuters

Who am I to ridicule Facebook? Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took an idea which many thought no one would ever want to use and turned it into one of the most powerful companies in the world, with 1.8 billion people using his product regularly— not to mention a valuation north of $400bn (£300bn).

And yet I find myself scratching my head and trying to figure out just what this company is doing with Facebook Spaces, a virtual reality (VR) version of its social network which allows people in disparate parts of the globe to interact using cartoon avatars.

The app has been developed to utilize the Oculus VR platform that Facebook paid $2bn for in 2014. The app is only available to people who own one of these headsets — which will run you to at least £500, not to mention the high-end PC needed to power the thing.

But maybe I'm not getting it and once again Zuckerberg and Facebook are ahead of the curve when it comes to what's next for online social interaction?

If you haven't seen it, here's how the system works — at least according to this rather awkward promotional video:

This is how Facebook describes it: "A new VR app where you hang out with friends in a fun, interactive virtual environment as if you were in the same room."

So the premise seems to be that well-off people can come together in virtual reality to show off new apartments and celebrate each others birthdays. The part of the video which showed people investigating the places they were going to go on holidays reminded me of that scene from Peep Show where Mark pretends he wants to go inter-railing with Dobby by using Google Street View to check out the places they were going to visit.

And in a sense, Spaces just offers an updated version of that.

Aside from trying to remove some of the magic of visiting a new place on holiday, what are some of the other uses of this technology? For couples in long distance relationships who feel FaceTime or Skype is just not interactive enough? Or maybe for business meetings at companies where the CEO doesn't mind being seen as a cartoon character?

But what's it like to actually use Spaces? Some of the attendees at Facebook's big F8 conference got the chance to have a go in the last couple of days. "What I noticed almost immediately is how real it seemed, which is really weird considering I was speaking to an animated avatar," was what Nicole Lee of Engadget thought.

Harry McCracken, writing for Fast Company, described it thus: "It felt more like a theme-park attraction than an advance in human interaction."

While it is easy to make fun of Facebook Spaces, the reality is that Facebook is a company so big and with so much endless resources that it can experiment with something like this to see if it works.

If it doesn't work, so what? But if it does turn out that this is the future, then Facebook is ready to capitalise (which of course means selling adverts in Spaces).

'Make no mistake, Facebook is the only winner'

This is the power a company like Facebook wields simply due to its size and vast financial resources. This is how technology analyst Ben Thompson sees it: "Last year, before Facebook realised it could just leverage its network to squash Snap [owner of Snapchat], Mark Zuckerberg spent most of his presentation laying out a long-term vision for all the areas in which Facebook wanted to innovate. This year couldn't have been more different: there was no vision, just the wholesale adoption of Snap's, plus a whole bunch of tech demos that never bothered to tell a story of why they actually mattered for Facebook's users. It will work, at least for a while, but make no mistake, Facebook is the only winner."

So while Spaces will be ridiculed, Zuckerberg is unlikely to care very much. He knows that if the public want to use the product, they will, and if they don't then they may want to use Facebook's augmented reality glasses, or its brain typing system or its skin-listening product — or one of a dozen other moonshot projects Facebook's billions are currently funding.