The big news in tech this week is, of course, that Facebook is now called Meta. If you’ve watched Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Connect keynote, the new name shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as he uttered the word “metaverse” about 7'293 times during his cringe-filled presentation.
Facebook is betting big on the metaverse. But, what is the metaverse, anyway? The term metaverse was coined by sci-fi author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash. Simply said, it’s a copy of the real world, but everything is virtual and on steroids. You log in with your VR headset, create your avatar (that can look like anything you want) and spend all your time in there because it’s so much better than your pathetic real life.
If you listen to Zuck and other tech demigods, the metaverse will be amazing because everything is interconnected. You can buy a digital t-shirt, and wear it to different experiences like a virtual party with your friends or a work meeting. Your avatar is your identity in the metaverse. You can jump into games with friends, or invite them over to your virtual home.
Wait a minute?! Isn’t this how the internet works today? Facebook already tried to create a 2D version of the avatar, Facebook Login. And I can already play multiplayer games with my friends or do video calls with my parents.
The metaverse is already here, and it’s called the internet.
Sure, VR, and AR are impressive mediums that will for sure take over a lot of the things that we currently do on 2D screens. If you try today’s VR tech, you can already see glimpses of how social hangouts, games and working virtually will get better in the future.
So, why is Zuck talking about this big new metaverse thing? Well, the cynic in me believes because they want to own this new internet. In some countries, Facebook is already equivalent to the internet because they partner with local telcos and offer free or extremely cheap data rates to users that connect to Facebook services. I think that this time around, they want to become synonymous with “internet” for the whole world. The name Meta, of course, is a first step in controlling that narrative: Many people will think that the metaverse is called metaverse because of Meta, not the other way around.
Mark Zuckerberg is touting open protocols and interoperability. If he’s serious about it, why not start by opening up Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram right now?
There are already siloed social experiences in VR: Facebook Horizon, Rec Room, VRChat, and AltspaceVR, to name a few. Why not start developing open standards and protocols now and make sure I can talk to my friends in Rec Room from Horizon?
John Carmack said in his keynote talk at this year’s Facebook Connect that he thinks the top-down approach to create a metaverse, as attempted by Facebook, is the wrong one. He said that it makes much more sense to build the individual experiences first, and slowly the metaverse will emerge (I’m paraphrasing, here’s his full speech).
I completely agree. In the end, the metaverse will be the internet, but mostly experienced through the medium of VR/AR. In the meantime, all we can do is make sure that Facebook’s cut of VR social networks stays as small as possible.