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Facebook's new 360-degree photos put you smack dab in the middle

Starting today, Facebook will let you upload and view panoramic photos. You can even stick them in a VR headset to feel like you're reliving a memory.

How to view a 360-degree photo on Facebook for iOS.

Sean Hollister/CNET

Facebook wants to make it easier for you to help your friends feel like they're part of the action when you share an image on the social network.

On Thursday, Facebook will begin rolling out a feature that lets you upload your panorama images to the network and have them converted to 360-degree views. Those rotund photos will be viewable on iOS and Android devices, as well as on the web.

What's a 360-degree photo? Well, it's a little bit different than the panoramic photos you might have created with your phone in the past. Instead of just offering a slightly wider landscape than a traditional picture, a 360-degree photo lets you look in any direction. That way, it's easier to imagine yourself in the photographer's shoes, whichever wonderful or terrible place they might have been.

And your friends can then view the images to feel like they're chillin' poolside with you or ready to catch the bouquet at a wedding.

In fact, if you've got a phone that's compatible with the Samsung Gear VR headset, you'll be able to press a special "View in VR" button on any such photo to view it in virtual reality, Facebook says. (For everything you need to know about the impending VR revolution, be sure to check out CNET's Virtual Reality 101.)

The feature is part of Facebook's effort to attract people to the social network and keep them there longer so they'll be exposed to more ads, which of course is how Facebook pays the bills. This isn't Facebook's first foray into immersive imagery. Last year it launched 360 video, which has been used by a wide variety of publishers to immerse people in causes, sports, fashion, nature, entertainment and news.

Once you upload a panorama image captured on an Android or iOS device, or a 360-degree photo using a 360 photo app or 360 camera, your friends can navigate around images marked with a compass icon by moving a finger or tilting the phone.

In addition to images offered by friends, you'll also be able to experience being on stage in front of 100,000 fans with Paul McCartney or visiting the International Space Station with NASA.

If you've got a 360-degree photo app on your phone or a dedicated spherical camera, it should be only a short while before you can begin sharing those memories.

Disclosure: Sean Hollister's wife works for Facebook as a business-to-business video project manager.