Why new Facebook 3D imagery fits with Lego's digital strategy

Facebook was forced to apologise last week in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica saga as it faced serious questions over how it shares user data with third-party app providers.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg admitted mistakes in this area as Cambridge Analytica was accused of improperly using personal data on behalf of its political clients – and in particular, the Donald Trump Presidential campaign.

But before this all surfaced, and became a global news story, the social media network had revealed a new 3D imagery tool on its site, enabling brands to showcase their products to users in new and interactive ways.

The new feature, which was announced on the Facebook’s developer blog, lets people see and interact with a digital object from all sides in the Facebook News Feed. Images are instantly responsive to scroll and touch, effectively making content “pop off the screen”, according to product manager Aykud Gönen.

He added: “It also opens the door for a future where people can bring interesting objects and experiences with them across augmented reality, virtual reality, mobile and web — whether it's your favourite game and movie characters, architectural models or museum artefacts, all the way to fully interactive scenes.”

Lego Group was one of the first to test out the new feature, posting an image of a Lego parrot, which Facebook users can spin around on their screens to investigate all sides of the item while online.

Stephen Mader, who looks after global eCommerce, retail and shopper strategy at Lego Group, said this is the type of technology that suits the Lego brand due to technical development previously undertaken at the business.

“What we are trying to convey is not just inspirational moments for kids, but also to show the 'play value' of the product,” he explained.

“We’re very fortunate that we have an extremely robust direct-to-consumer channel – we call it Digibox, and it was built in house. All of those products have individual 3D renders, which allow for us to quickly scale that asset in many different mediums – it could be on Facebook, inside stores, or in an eCommerce environment.”

He added that Lego’s 360-spin capability, which various other retailers offer online in different ways, allows customers to “dive into” some Lego models.

“Customers can go in and see the characters as if they had the item right in front of them,” he noted.

Facebook’s richer 3D posts are supported by the glTF 2.0 file format which the social media network said means items of all materials – rough to shiny, metallic to soft – can be brought to life on the site with detailed 3D art. As part of the move, Facebook is introducing new Graph API endpoints so developers can build 3D sharing into any app.

Using Facebook’s new Open Graph tag, developers from third parties can enable 3D content from their website to automatically appear in 3D when shared on Facebook. Artists using 3D authoring software can directly drag/drop 3D files to Facebook, too.

Mader acknowledged that the work with Facebook falls under the realm of Lego’s social media team, but said it was “fantastic Facebook finally has 3D implementation”.

“We would be advocates of any brand taking more control of the product experience, but also enabling shoppers to experience the product on their own terms,” he said.