Facebook wants to build the metaverse. Not so fast.
Several high-profile tech companies reported their results last week, including Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook. They all have things in common. They are all making a lot of money: everyone has benefited because they are primarily digital companies, well positioned to take advantage of the increased time we have spent in digital spaces during the pandemic. And they all have an interest in what’s called the “metaverse”.
What is that? The metaverse is a kind of shared digital reality experienced in the lenses of augmented reality glasses or in the sealed space of a virtual reality headset – a digital world where you can work, play and socialize. (The term comes from the science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson Snow accident.)
The most talked about tech company about the metaverse lately is Facebook. In an interview with The edge’s Casey Newton, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said: “I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our business, I think we will effectively shift from the people who see us primarily as a social media company. to a metaverse. company.”
Facebook believes its users will end up discovering the social network not on a smartphone screen but overlaid on the real world they see through AR glasses. The company is now exploring how to create a map of the real world so that this digital and social layer can be overlaid, with certain digital elements anchored in certain physical places. In one use case, the glasses can overlap around a person’s head in the real world approaching that person’s social information such as name, city, relationship status, interests. and message history. Virtual meetings between avatars can take place in real world spaces. The cameras inside the glasses will detect where the user’s eyes are moving.
The idea that Facebook could move in this direction is far from new: here is a seven-year article from Fast business’s Mark Wilson broaches the subject. But recently, based on the amount of money being spent by tech giants and smaller players like Roblox, Epic Games, and Niantic to create aspects of a metaverse, the concept has never felt closer to reality. And coming from a social leadership could give Facebook an edge. Who wants a metaverse that isn’t social, after all?
But one of the perks of Zuckerberg talking about the metaverse now is that it gives us more time to fully deal with any negative repercussions if Facebook were to play as big a role as it does in online social spaces today. ‘hui.
The giant seeks the next conquest
Facebook reported $ 29 billion in revenue in its April, May and June quarters. This is a 56% increase from the same quarter a year ago, which occurred just after the pandemic shutdown began in mid-March. An increase of this size for a business as mature as Facebook is a rarity, and this stems in part from a decline in Facebook ad revenue in the June quarter of last year, when the pandemic had just started and brands have reduced their advertising spending. But the company also reported a 12% year-over-year increase in the number of people who use at least one of its apps each month. That number is now 3.51 billion, a staggering figure even at the scale of Facebook.
Building a metaverse could free Facebook from its dependence on app stores and operating systems from Apple and Google.
As more and more people spend even more time in the digital space, what’s stopping Facebook from capturing them? Despite the arguments of Facebook’s lawyers, the company faces little real competition as a general-purpose social network. It pays to be mindful when a company as big, wealthy and ambitious as Facebook talks about creating an alternative digital universe. With that in mind, it was striking to hear Zuckerberg speak to analysts about his company’s aspirations for the Metaverse.
During the hour-long call last Wednesday, Zuckerberg spoke the word metaverse 20 times, calculates CNBC’s Steve Kovach. Zuckerberg explained that his company hopes to make money selling digital products in the Metaverse. Advertising will also be part of the business, perhaps triggered by things that users rely on. The company said in a July 26 blog post that it is currently building a new product team within its AR group, Facebook Reality Labs, dedicated to developing Facebook’s metaverse.
Building a successful metaverse could take Facebook out of an old conundrum: its dependence on Apple and Google’s app stores and smartphone operating systems. Such a platform could also allow Facebook to access unprecedented levels of personal information about its users and the people its users meet in the real world.
Facebook’s most dangerous threat is as a vast platform of misinformation and disinformation. Russian government agents successfully used the platform to spread political disinformation that influenced the 2016 and 2020 US elections. Domestic terrorists used Facebook to plan the January 6 Capitol insurgency. And Facebook is a primary source of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines that still cause unnecessary deaths today. It’s easy to imagine a Facebook-shaped metaverse plagued by the same civic upsets as its current platforms, in a turbocharged form.
Don’t underestimate Facebook
It’s entirely possible that Facebook’s metaverse vision isn’t coming true, or the experience isn’t embraced by a majority of users. It wouldn’t be the first tech company to try and capture the imaginations of investors and others by projecting a fanciful take on its next big tech generation. (Remember when Microsoft’s Satya Nadella said chatbots would fundamentally revolutionize IT?) And Zuckerberg himself made predictions about Facebook’s future products that didn’t work.
But Zuckerberg was right about some very important things. He rallied his company to scramble to move his platform to smartphones. It seemed to work. He knew Oculus and Instagram would be big, so he bought them. He said in 2016 (before TikTok) that “we’re going to be in a world in a few years where the vast majority of the content people consume online will be video.” It’s proven. Zuckerberg said in his company’s latest earnings call that “video now accounts for almost half of all time spent on Facebook,” adding that Reels, the Instagram version of TikTok, is the “biggest contributor to growth. of commitment “.
The metaverse would be much more immersive and could easily grab our attention even more.
Who knows what consumers will ultimately accept, but some really big companies (including Facebook) are betting big bucks that some flavor of mixed reality glasses will be our next big personal computing platform. Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and many smaller players are more and more people overcoming the technical hurdles that prevent creating a pair of AR glasses that are small and light enough to wear all day.
Just as many people are working on the software experiences that will be delivered through the glasses. In a metaverse, many augmented reality experiences would share a common reality and users could navigate between them, as Zuckerberg described. You can socialize in one location, then move to another digital location to play, then move elsewhere for concerts or movies.
One of the most difficult issues that Facebook has been working on for several years is mapping a common 3D graphics world to the real world so that users can see the same digital content when they are in the same places in the real world. Google relies on this type of mapping when it places augmented reality wayfinder graphics to provide walking instructions to users in its Maps app (graphics are visible on a smartphone, but can be seen through eyeglasses. the future). Niantic built a map under his 2016 Pokémon Go AR game to allow all players to see the same Pokémon in the same physical locations.
The quality of mixed reality content and the quality of its integration around and into the real world before our eyes can determine whether people will eventually embrace it. If done artfully, the small screens in glasses could become our primary computing environment. We wouldn’t have to keep our noses in the screens of our smartphones anymore, which would be nice, but at the same time, the canvas for software makers and platform operators would become much bigger. The user interface would cover most of the world before our eyes. It would be much more immersive and could easily grab our attention even more. Technology would develop closer-potentially in a much better position to arbitrate our experiences and know things about us. We should trust him.
That is why Facebook is not the right company to operate this computing platform. In the Metaverse, where user privacy could be at great risk, the company’s worst instincts could be amplified as it harvests user data and keeps the ad machine humming. In the metaverse, there will be many more opportunities for trade; users should trust Facebook not to clutter the world in front of them with flashing ads and digital product deals. There would be more content to moderate, and Facebook would likely continue to rely heavily on artificial intelligence to do so. There would be new ways for content to go viral in a metaverse, and Facebook could continue to struggle as misinformation and misinformation proliferate.
If the next big personal computing platform turns out to be a metaverse in mixed reality glasses, it could unleash all kinds of creativity and new experiences. Hopefully, it also brings a whole new kind of social network – one that is much less centrally controlled, better moderated, not dependent on user monitoring, and less rewarding with deceptive content.