The term “metaverse” is the latest buzzword to capture the imagination of the technology industry, so much so that one of the best-known Internet platforms is rebranding to indicate its acceptance of the futuristic idea.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement Thursday that he will change his company name to Meta Platforms Inc., or Meta for short, could be the biggest thing that has happened to the metaverse since sci-fi writer Neal. Stephenson coined the term for his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.” “
But Zuckerberg and his team aren’t the only tech visionaries with ideas for how the metaverse, which will employ a combination of virtual reality and other technologies, should take shape. And some who have been thinking about it for a while are concerned about a new world tied to a social media giant that could have access to more personal data and is accused of failing to stop the proliferation of dangerous misinformation and other harm online that exacerbate real world problems.
What is the metaverse?
Think of it as the internet coming to life, or at least 3D rendering. Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” that you can enter, rather than simply staring at a screen. Essentially, it is a world of interconnected, endless virtual communities where people can meet, work, and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps, or other devices.
It will also incorporate other aspects of life online, such as shopping and social media, according to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies.
“It’s the next evolution of connectivity where all of those things start coming together in a seamless doppelganger universe, so you’re living your virtual life the same way you’re living your physical life,” he said.
What will I be able to do in the metaverse?
Things like going to a virtual concert, taking a trip online, viewing or creating artwork, and trying on or buying digital clothing.
The metaverse could also be a game changer for the work-from-home shift amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of seeing co-workers on a video calling grid, employees could join them in a virtual office.
Facebook has released a business meeting software, called Horizon Workrooms, for use with its Oculus VR headsets, though early reviews haven’t been great. Headphones cost $ 300 or more, putting cutting-edge metaverse experiences out of reach for many.
For those who can afford it, users can, through their avatars, flit between virtual worlds created by different companies.
“A lot of the metaverse experience will focus on being able to teleport from one experience to another,” says Zuckerberg.
Tech companies have yet to figure out how to connect their online platforms with each other. Making it work will require competing technology platforms to agree to a set of standards, so there are “no people in the Facebook metaverse and other people in the Microsoft metaverse,” Petrock said.
Is Facebook Betting on the Metaverse?
Zuckerberg is getting big in what he sees as the next generation of the internet because he believes it will be a huge part of the digital economy.
Critics wonder if the potential pivot could be an effort to distract from the company’s crises, including anti-trust crackdowns, testimony from former employees whistleblowing and concerns about handling misinformation.
Former employee Frances Haugen accused Facebook platforms of harming children and inciting political violence after copying internal investigative documents and turning them over to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
They were also provided to a media group, including The Associated Press, which reported numerous stories about how Facebook prioritized earnings over safety and withheld its own investigation from investors and the public.
Is the MEtaverse just a Facebook project?
No. Other companies talking about the metaverse are Microsoft and chipmaker Nvidia.
“We believe that there will be many companies that will create virtual worlds and environments in the metaverse, in the same way that many companies will do things on the World Wide Web,” said Richard Kerris, vice president of the Omniverse platform at Nvidia. “It is important to be open and extensible, so you can teleport to different worlds, either by one company or another company, in the same way that I go from one web page to another.”
Video game companies are also taking a leadership role. Epic Games, the company behind the popular Fortnite video game, has raised $ 1 billion from investors to help with its long-term plans to build the metaverse. Gaming platform Roblox is another big player, describing his vision of the metaverse as a place where “people can come together in millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize.”
Consumer brands are also trying to follow the trend. Italian fashion house Gucci collaborated with Roblox in June to sell a collection of digital-only accessories. Coca-Cola and Clinique have sold digital tokens presented as a stepping stone to the metaverse.
Is this another way to get more data?
Zuckerberg’s acceptance of the metaverse somewhat contradicts a central tenet of his greatest enthusiasts. They envision the metaverse as the liberation of online culture from tech platforms like Facebook that took ownership of people’s accounts, photos, posts, and playlists and traded what they got from that data.
“We want to be able to get around the internet with ease, but we also want to be able to get around the internet in a way that we are not tracked or monitored,” said venture capitalist Steve Jang, managing partner at Kindred Ventures. which focuses on cryptocurrency technology.
It seems clear that Facebook wants to take its business model, which is based on the use of personal data to sell targeted advertising, to the metaverse.
“Ads will continue to be an important part of strategy in the social media parts of what we do, and will likely be a significant part of the metaverse as well,” Zuckerberg said in a recent company earnings call.
Petrock said he’s concerned that Facebook is trying to pave the way to a virtual world that could require even more personal data and offer greater potential for abuse and misinformation when it hasn’t fixed those problems on its current platforms.