Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg announced the rebranding of the Facebook holding company as “Meta”. This is in homage to the Metaverse, a concept that will include a layer of virtual and augmented reality accessed through wearable technologies, and supported by artificial intelligence, sensoring systems and other tech.
Reaction across the internet was largely critical. Many authors accuse Zuckerberg of trying to distract attention from recent revelations of how Facebook manages its community and the toxic members of it (the “Facebook Papers”). Others believe this is an attempt to boost Facebook’s stock price, which has been lagging behind Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.
I believe that the metaverse is real, and that consumer demand for it is about to break open.
Because besides Facebook’s purchase of Oculus, Apple is about to launch its own virtual reality (VR) goggle set. This product has been in development for some years now. I believe that once Apple launches this, it has the chance to define an entire industry, as it did with smartphones, tablets and watches.
Because user experience on large-screen, 4K+ screens and in massive multiplayer games is creating a new visual reality that is fundamentally more attractive than the real world for a large number of people. The user experience of VR goggles will only improve over time and provide a full sensory immersion for optical, auditory and speech over time.
Because applications like Pokemon Go show how far people are willing to reach for a limited augmented reality (AR) game. Imagine how far they will go for a real VR experience.
Because Facebook has over 2 billion users and the power to back this play over time and succeeding tech cycles.
Because fundamentally, we live in a profoundly lonely and fragmented reality, and VR has the potential to create a new, alternative reality that bridges this.
I also believe that AR and VR are transformative technologies. They have the ability to revolutionise how we learn, travel, and make thousands of consumer selections in our life. They also have the potential to revolutionise movies, music, communications and entertainment. This is an area with incredible potential that has not yet taken off.
We need to remember that what Facebook is doing now is making a play for the platform of the metaverse. It wants to influence, define and drive the basic software and hardware interface -- where hardware will be multisourced and will plug in just as we plug into the internet today.
The challenges faced by Facebook are the following:
1. Can they seed an entire industry and attract the best coding and creating talent onto it? If so, they will have the App Store for Virtual Reality.
2. Will other hardware providers go for compatibility or attempt to create walled gardens using different standards for VR applications and programming?
3. In the past, Facebook’s strengths have appeared to be mergers and acquisitions (Oculus, Whatsapp, Instagram). In creating the Metaverse, they need to prove creating management on a level of Apple or Netflix. The initiatives so far launched—€ 50 million in grants—come nowhere near the level needed.
4. Facebook is encountering a significant regulatory backlash in several countries. Whether this will materialize into anything serious is anyone’s guess. I’m counting it won’t. However, Facebook is also apparently facing a dropout by some younger demographics: this may be a more serious threat, although even there I’m thinking that Facebook will prevail.
One of the software platforms strangely missing from Facebook’s line up is a stand-alone video sharing platform (besides Facebook itself, of course). The two “pure” sharing platforms today are Youtube and Vimeo. With Youtube owned by Google and Vimeo owned by IAC and planning an IPO, I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook needs to find a solution in this space.
Why? Because if you look at the content current available in 3D format for VR, some of the best content is on Youtube. Tik Tok and Youtube have shown us that there are millions of awesome creators out there, many looking for an income stream.
If Facebook wants content, it is probably going to have to provide a video platform equivalent of this sort. It certainly has enough content on Facebook itself.
I’m definitely bullish on the metaverse, although I also believe this will have further negative consequences for our society and psychology. Like all technology adaption, the pendulum typically swings very far in one direction before starting its retrograde journey.
29 October 2021
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