Facebook wants us to live in the Metaverse

Last week, during a conversation about income on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg talked about the future of his company. The vision he put forward was not based on advertising, which provides the bulk of Facebook’s current revenue, or on increasing the overall size of the social network, which already has nearly three billion active users each month. Instead, Zuckerberg said his goal was to help Facebook build the metaverse, a Silicon Valley buzzword that has become an obsession for anyone trying to anticipate the next decade of technology and thus benefit. “I expect people to move from perceiving us primarily as a social media company to a meta-universe company,” Zuckerberg said. For the social media giant, this was a great core in messaging, especially given the fact that the exact meaning of the metaverse and what it foretells for digital life is far from clear. During the conversation about profits, Zuckerberg offered his own definition. “The metaverse is a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces,” he said. It is “the embodied Internet in which you are, not just looking. We believe that this will be the successor to the mobile Internet. “

Like the term “cyberspace” coined by science fiction writer William Gibson, the term “metaverse” has a literary origin. In Neil Stevenson’s 1992 novel The Snow Accident, the protagonist Hiro, once a programmer and pizza delivery driver in anti-utopian Los Angeles, plunges into the metaverse, “the computer universe that his computer draws on his glasses and downloads into headphones.” . It is an integral part of the fictional world of the book, a familiar aspect of the lives of the characters, which moves smoothly between the physical and virtual spheres. On black earth, under a black sky, like an eternal night in Las Vegas, Stevenson’s metaverse consists of “Street,” a branched alley where buildings and signs depict “various pieces of software developed by large corporations.” “All corporations pay an organization called the Global Multimedia Protocol Group for a portion of digital real estate. Users also pay for access; those who can only afford cheaper public terminals appear in the metacosm in grainy black and white.

Stevenson’s fictional metacosm may not be so far removed from what modern technology companies are currently developing. Imagine Hiro wearing glasses (possibly those made by Oculus, which owns Facebook), controlling a three-dimensional virtual avatar, and viewing a series of virtual storefronts equivalent to the metacosm of different platforms such as Instagram (also owned by Facebook), Netflix, or a video game. Minecraft. You can gather with friends in a virtual landscape and all watch a movie in one virtual theater. “Basically, you can do everything you can on the Internet today, as well as some things that don’t make sense on the Internet today, like dancing,” Zuckerberg said. In the future, we can walk through Facebook, wear clothes on Facebook, hold virtual parties on Facebook or own property in the digital territory of Facebook. Each activity that we once imagined as the real world will develop the equivalent of a metaverse with the concomitant ability to spend money on that activity online. “Digital products and creators are just going to be huge,” Zuckerberg said.

This change is already beginning to happen, although not yet in the Facebook domain. The Second Life video game, released in 2003 by Linden Lab, created a virtual world where users could roam, building their own structures; the land can be bought either for US dollars or for the game currency Linden Dollars. Roblox, a children’s video game launched in 2006, has recently become an exciting world in which players can create and sell their own creations, from avatar costumes to their own interactive experience. Instead of one game, Roblox has become a platform for gaming. Fortnite, released in 2017, has evolved from a multiplayer online game that is free to all to a more dispersed space where players can collaborate on structures or attend concerts and other live events in the game. (Ariana Grande has just announced a upcoming virtual show there.) Fortnite players buy custom avatar skins and gestures or gestures that avatars can perform – perhaps that’s where Zuckerberg got his link to dance. If any company wants to make a profit from the metaverse, it’s Fortnite, Epic Games, which owns a gaming marketplace and sells Unreal Engine, a three-dimensional design software used in every corner of the gaming industry and in streaming blockbusters. for example, the TV series “Star Wars” “Mandalorets”. In April, the company announced a $ 1 billion round of funding to support its “vision of the metaverse.”

However, no company should own or manage a metaverse; this requires collaboration to create consistency. Assets acquired in the meta-universe will hypothetically be portable, moving even between platforms owned by different corporations. This synchronization can be enabled by blockchain technology, such as cryptocurrencies and fixed tokens, which are determined by their fixed record. If you purchased an NFT avatar from the Bored Ape Yacht Club online community, Fortnite could theoretically verify your ownership of the blockchain and then allow you to use the avatar in your gaming world. The same avatar may appear on Roblox. It is assumed that different areas must maintain “compatibility”, as Zuckerberg said in a statement of profits, coming together to form a broader hypothetical metacospace, as each website exists non-hierarchically in the open Internet protocol.

The metauniverse represents a techno-optimistic vision of the future in which culture can exist in all forms simultaneously. Intellectual property – a phrase that is increasingly applied to any creative outcome – can move freely between movies, video games and virtual reality environments. This is an extraordinary opportunity for corporate cultural producers to profit from their intellectual property wherever it is. The pantheon of narratives about Disney’s Marvel superheroes is already a “cinematic universe”; why not open it on all possible platforms at once? At Fortnite, as investor Matthew Ball wrote in an influential essay last year, pro-metaworld, “You can literally wear a Marvel character costume in Gotham City while interacting with those who wear an NFL licensed uniform.” (How appealing you find it may depend on how much you depend on logos.) In the future, users’ own creations may achieve the same portability and profitability by allowing fan concepts to compete with Marvel just as self-published blogs once destroyed newspapers. .

However, judging by Facebook’s development strategy over the past decade, Zuckerberg will not be happy to turn his company into a multi-platform meta-universe. Just as a company buys, absorbs, and conquers smaller social media platforms until it becomes like a monopoly, it can try to control the entire space in which users live to be able to charge us rent. Facebook can really create virtual real estate that small businesses on the Internet will have to rent to sell their products, or build a meeting room in the game, where an impressive expensive avatar will be the key to communication, as the equivalent of fantasy. Zoom in background. Our physical life is already so saturated with Facebook and its other properties that the company must build new structures for virtual iterations of our lives, and then also dominate them to continue to expand.

Zuckerberg’s comments made me think of a previous iteration of online life, gaming, and a social space called Neopets. Neopets was released in 1999; I remember playing it in high school, trading strategies with friends. In the game, the player takes care of small digital creatures, feeds and cares for them, as well as buys accessories for “Neopoints”, earned during the game. It was a matter of pride and a form of self-expression, albeit botanical, to have a highly developed profile in the game. However, in the meta-universe provided by Facebook, you are Neopet, and your activities in the game can affect all areas of life that Facebook already touches: career, relationships, politics. In Zuckerberg’s vision, Neopoints are converted into Facebook dollars that can only be used on the platform; your online self-presentation becomes a choice limited by the settings that Facebook provides. A blue-gray virtual universe emerges. The deeper it goes, the more inevitable it becomes, as a comprehensive channel of social networks, with all its problems.

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