What's the metaverse and why is Mark Zuckerberg pushing for it?
Mark Zuckerberg's announcement that his company (which includes Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) will be known as Meta from now on is not just rebranding but a strategic move. Zuckerberg wants to push for the metaverse, an immersive virtual reality space where users can find games, shopping and everything that can satisfy their needs. It's the final frontier and Zuckerbeg wants to be a pioneer, an explorer of yore settling in a whole new world.
Wikipedia defines the metaverse in the following terms: "A speculative future iteration of the Internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe".
The concept of metaverse was introduced by the novel Snow Crash, published in 1992. The book, written by Neal Stephenson, is part of the science fiction subgenre known as Cyberpunk.
The concept of a metaverse tends to be associated with the idea of total immersion via 3D devices. The truth is that you only need a full universe to jump in, with games such as World of Warcraft counting as metaverses. These are spaces of virtual reality where people can become their avatars and experience lifelike adventures, emotions, shopping, group events…
Second Life, a virtual world launched in 2003, was meant to be the future but it was dead on arrival. It was ahead of its time conceptualizing a metaverse, creating a space where users could live, socialize, and trade. The complex interface of the program, along with its rudimentary design, undermined the program's evolution. It came too soon.
Mark Zuckerberg is in crisis mode in regards to Facebook, the social media network he created and that is currently facing an image problem. A virtual world full of business possibilities would open a whole new way to grow. However, what's Zuckerberg's plan to profit from the metaverse?
Before Zuckerberg announced the launching of Meta on October 28, Facebook sent out a press release informing that they would be pursuing the sales of "skins", that is, clothes and other visual elements that alter the appearance of in-game avatars. Free-to-play battle royale video game Fortnite earned over 9 billion US dollars in 2018 and 2019 with the sales of skins alone, according to The Verge.
Skins won't be the only thing monetized inside the metaverse. Once a consumer audience settles in this virtual universe, a market will open up for all sorts of products. Wearing virtual clothes or driving a new type of car in-game is already in development. There's still a lot of work to do, though.
Another alternative to profit from the metaverse is through events. Artists like Ariana Grande (pictured) and Travis Scott have given successful concerts in Fortnite. Why not make attending these acts something commonplace inside the metaverse?
Mark Zuckerberg revealed during the October 28th Metaverse presentation that "over time you won’t need a Facebook account to use our other services" and that "from now on we're going to be metaverse first".
Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg's vision already has its critics. Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff writes the following on a scathing piece for the CNN website: "Instead of making human facial expressions, our avatars can make iconic thumbs-up gestures. Instead of sharing air and space together, we can collaborate on a digital document. We learn to downgrade our experience of being together with another human being to seeing their projection overlaid into the room like an augmented reality Pokemon figure".
Nonetheless, the Facebook founder understands (surely with plenty of reasons) that the future is the metaverse. That's why he's willing to put a lot of money on this gamble. Business Insider and other financial sources comment that Zuckerberg foresees pouring 10 billion US dollars to Reality Labs, his company division dedicated to developing the metaverse.
Fortune and other trade publications agree that Zuckerberg is "obsessed" with the metaverse.
Time will tell if fake news, misleading political propaganda and other vices that affect social media will find their way into the metaverse.
The infinity symbol was chosen as a logo to sum up the philosophy of Meta, the company that is replacing Facebook. It stands for the idea of the metaverse as a new world full of endless possibilities.
Mark Zuckerberg wants to start anew and have a hand in creating a new universe. His aim is to make a profit as any other businessman but perhaps to anote himself as well and move on from past Facebook controversies. The metaverse could be his dream of a happier, better world. Hopefully, it is.