Metaverse: Hype or Reality?

This week’s newsletter is all about the metaverse, a buzzword that Facebook (now known as Meta) introduced to the mainstream at the end of October. I’m tracking this trend closely, so here are some of my recent notes 👇

Notes from the Present 📱

What is Meta Building?

My column at The New Stack this week looked at how Meta, née Facebook, is building out its metaverse. Andrew “Boz” Bosworth (pictured below) is the key figure in all this. He’ll be the new Meta CTO and, according to his about page, will be responsible for “Meta’s efforts in AR, VR, AI and consumer hardware across Quest, Portal, Ray-Ban Stories and more.” Yet, currently, the Oculus Quest VR headset has very little in common with Portal, a kind of household tablet designed primarily for video calls. So, as of now, Meta’s metaverse is made up of a bunch of scattered products and technologies. I’ll be looking for signs of more cohesiveness in 2022.

Mo’ Meta News

The Verge reports that Meta is opening up access to its VR social platform Horizon Worlds (for US and Canada only at this point). The Verge calls Horizon Worlds “Meta’s first attempt at releasing something that resembles CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse.” But we hope avatars eventually have legs in the metaverse.

Virtual Land Grab

The “Web3” hype I mentioned last week is intersecting with metaverse hype. According to DappRadar:

“Metaverse land is the new big hit in the crypto community, as leading virtual worlds recorded upwards of $100 million in NFT land sales in the past week. According to DappRadar data, activity for The Sandbox, Decentraland, CryptoVoxels, and Somnium Space is booming.”

The Metaverse Thesis

Benedict Evans, an analyst who previously worked at a16z, has a presentation entitled Three Steps to the Future. This slide is thought provoking:

As that slide implies, Meta is indeed positioning the metaverse as the next major platform after the smartphone. But it will take years for the metaverse to be a means of self-expression and as present in pop culture as the smartphone is today. My 2016 scifi novel, Presence, featured a fully-functional and mainstream “metaverse” from the year 2051 (note: I wrote my book before metaverse was a trendy word). Who knows if my fictional timeline is realistic in real-life, but I did base the metaverse company in my book — Doppel — on, you guessed it, Facebook.

Notes from the Past ☎️

Lessons from Second Life

Before the metaverse hype of today, there was Second Life — a browser-based virtual world which launched way back in 2003. Its creator, Philip Rosedale, featured this week in a fascinating podcast with Patrick O’Shaughnessy. Also present was VC Bill Gurley, who invested in Second Life. At one point, Rosedale commented that Second Life never succeeded in becoming mainstream partly because most adults aren’t compelled to create avatars in a virtual world. However, the subsequent success of Minecraft and now Roblox has shown that for kids, avatar creation is much more attractive. Here’s precisely what he said:

“Kids want to play with their identity. For example, they want to grow up, try what it’s like to be 20 when they’re 12. And that drives the appeal of a lot of experiences for kids. And we have to be careful, obviously, as to make those experiences good ones. But that desire is there from every kid. When you’re a grownup, reasons why you would essentially give up your body and take on a new body in a virtual world are very different. And they’re certainly not common.”

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Lessons from 1993

My latest Web Development History post (and the last for this year — more on that in a minute) takes us back to 1993. The Web was a niche, still mostly academic, internet network by the end of 1993. But a handful of cultural organizations had started an experimental website: MTV, Wired Magazine, and Mother Jones.

The most significant event in 1993, though, was the launch of Mosaic — the first truly multimedia browser. Mosaic eventually became Netscape. And yes, there is a metaverse tie-in here. Among the “future capabilities” Mosaic co-creator Marc Andreessen listed in his announcement message was a “3D/immersive interface.” Well, we’re still waiting on that…

Also in 1993, the Web was gifted to the world (by CERN) as open source software. I mention this because “the metaverse” — whatever that ends up being — should ideally be an open platform like the Web. Mark Zuckerberg has said that he too wants “interoperability” in the metaverse, but we’ll have to see how that pans out.

A CERN illustration promoting the WWW, circa 1993

So what’s next for WDH? “Season 2” will start in January 2022 and will focus on the 2000s — yes, Web 2.0. You can subscribe to WDH directly, or just keep reading Cybercultural and you will know about all new posts as they happen.

One More Thing 📞

Think the metaverse will be free of advertising? Think again…

See you next week! Do reach out by email (just hit reply) or on Twitter (@ricmac) if you have any content suggestions, or just want to touch base.