Zuckerberg’s Metaverse: Lessons from Second Life
This week, I traveled through time to visit the future.
It’s been about 10 years since I first entered the virtual world of Second Life, arguably the internet’s first attempt at what every tech giant is now striving to build: the so-called metaverse.
The term metaverse was coined in the 1990s in a science fiction novel, Snow Crash, where it served as a virtual reality successor to the Internet, where people live much of their lives in virtual environments.
Second Life peaked in the late 2000s with millions of users and hundreds of exciting headlines about people dedicating hours of their daily lives to living digitally.
Since then, I have assumed he died a slow, silent death. But how wrong I was.
The platform appears to have a small, loyal and potentially growing community of “residents,” as they call themselves, logging in to find out what our future metavers might look like.
So, for this week’s Tech Tent podcast, I dove back into it.
On the visual side, it’s far from revolutionary.
It’s more like the blocky, pixelated world of Roblox than a blockbuster game built around beautiful, immersive environments.
But the difference here, of course, is that, like Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse, Second Life is not a game. There are no game challenges, quests, or storylines. It’s just a place to hang out.
Virtual meeting Rei
One resident I met was Rei.
Our avatars crossed paths after teleporting to a seaside world inspired by a strange 1960s Scottish fishing village. He told me he spent time in Second Life for about four months after “becoming curious about all that metaverse stuff ”.
Rei isn’t a fan of Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse.
“They will want to control everything. But I think people should be in control and it should be completely open,” he told me.
Mark Zuckerberg, managing director of the newly renamed Meta, responded to these concerns when he announced his big plans.
“It’s a future that goes beyond any business. It will be done by all of us,” he said in his opening speech on Facebook Connect.
Other big companies, including Microsoft, Epic Games, Roblox, and even Nike, have announced plans to enter the metaverse in one form or another.
Rei’s concern about a Metaverse monopoly is shared by many, including Anya Kanevsky, vice president of product management at Linden Lab – the company that runs Second Life.
Anya watched with interest as several tech giants began to talk about the new idea of a living online. Second Life has been around since 2003.
“I’m a little concerned about the dystopian nature the conversation seems to be taking on right now,” she says.
“The entry of a slightly oversized, oversized player into space seems to signal people that they don’t own it, that someone else is going to set the rules and run the show and they won’t. than consumers. “
So Second Life looks a lot like Roblox – a place where users create environments and invite others to play – although it has far fewer participants.
Roblox’s record for concurrent gamers is estimated at around 5.5 million versus 90,000 for Second Life.
Mark Zuckerberg also says he wants to put a user community at the heart of his metaverse but he does not yet have residents.
Instead, he pledged to hire 10,000 employees across Europe to build his worlds.
Some argue that it’s not even about allowing users more control: a metaverse should be built entirely by communities.
John Carmack, CTO of Oculus, Meta’s virtual reality headset division, believes that embarking on building a metaverse “isn’t actually the best way to end up with the metaverse. “.
As reported by Ars Technica, he said: “I doubt that a single application achieves this level of support for everything. I just don’t think that one player – one company – ends up taking all of the good decisions for that. “
The Second Life story also has more lessons to teach Mr. Zuckerberg and others.
In its heyday, the site grabbed the headlines after high-profile virtual riots, in-game currency-based Ponzi schemes, and even issues with child grooming.
Even in my brief exploration this week, I caught a glimpse of the moderation challenges Second Life faces. These would be amplified if a metaverse became common.
Searching for events or places with certain keywords such as “porn” or “drugs” is blocked.
However, the search for “sex” took me to virtual strip clubs where I was offered digital dances in exchange for money around the world.
“The approach to governance in a virtual world is complex,” says Ms. Kanevsky.
“Some of it can be automated, but a lot of it has to have a human touch. It’s not just escape behavior, cute dresses, and gorgeous avatars.”
Back in Second Life, I asked Rei one last question before logging out: why does he keep coming back?
He replied: “I like to dream with my eyes”.