Much to everyone’s surprise (and amusement), Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg just announced the company’s name change to Meta in October. The name itself points in the direction the company wants to move forward—to create a virtual reality version of our world, where we can go shopping, go to a concert, or watch a movie with friends.
It’s a massive change for a company that has long been famous for being an endorphin-draining 2D experience that kept us glued to our phones.
What Zuckerberg wants is for us all to exist in the 3D realm, interacting with each other in digital space in the same way we interact in so-called meatspace.
Zuckerberg describes that world as “an embodied internet where instead of just viewing content—you are in it.”
This concept is not new. Author Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” for his 1992 book Snow Crash. The metaverse was the successor of the Internet, where people could interact in a 3D version of the real world as avatars.
Facebook, now Meta, has already been experimenting with AR/VR. It bought startup Oculus Rift a few years back and now produces content for its own Oculus VR goggles, which can be used for gaming and VR chat. The company has also been testing Workplace, a VR meetings app, where people would meet in a virtual reality setting as avatars.
However, there are serious drawbacks to Facebook’s Metaverse idea.
There are already technologies that make a much safer basis for the emerging metaverse. In real life, we are private humans. Why can’t we be private humans online? If we all strap on Facebook goggles, log in with Facebook accounts and wander around in Facebook’s metaverse, where does that privacy even begin? Privacy comes from decentralization and, as we know, cryptocurrencies and blockchain are the root of this decentralization. Vitally, these tools allow for anonymity, which currently Facebook lacks, as well as ownership. Blockchain-based account item management offers a much safer alternative.
Facebook is useless for this purpose. Facebook and its sister platforms, Instagram and WhatsApp, are all connected, which can be a serious issue, as the recent outage showed. Further, you don’t “own” anything you put on Facebook and companies often make money off users by selling off their data to third parties.
In other words, you’re just another product in Facebook’s version of the metaverse.
A blockchain-based metaverse could provide a much safer setting. NFTs allow you to become the owner of digital assets and digital privacy works best with public-key encryption. Your wallet can be you and identify you throughout the meta experience while giving you granular control of everything you share with the world. Your wallet could also be used to authenticate your identity alongside cryptocurrencies which could find their use in a virtual shopping center.
For example, Gamerse combines the social aspect of Facebook with the equity of the blockchain. It has all of the usual accoutrements: a profile, direct messaging, sharing, hashtags, comments. Everything. It connects NFT gamers together to share content and keep up to date with new drops. All gaming NFTs are brought together from all markets. That means that the gamers are no longer products. The gamers own the products. And they come together to buy, sell, and trade in an open market.
The platform even includes incentives for sharing content. No longer will social media users create content fully for the benefit of the corporations. They get paid for their efforts for once.
That isn’t to say that Facebook is the only company striving to create the metaverse and, in most cases, its gamers that are leading the charge. Take, for example, the Vail VR tactical gunplay and combat game which brings the VR experience of the metaverse into your home. The upcoming AEXLAB online-multiplayer shooter VAIL VR is leveraging the VR experience to create an online, team-based game that plays as smoothly as any traditional 2D game. This project is also leveraging NFTs to bring the metaverse to the blockchain. Their in-game pets called VAILIENS are represented as NFTs and can respond to touch and command. They can even gain traits, making them more valuable over time. This calls right back to giving players incentives for their efforts and connecting value to NFTs in the metaverse.
It’s not just the indies, however. Gaming industry giant Epic Games, known for Fortnite, has announced a $1B investment in the development of the metaverse as the company will “accelerate our work around building connected social experiences in Fortnite, Rocket League and Fall Guys”, according to Tim Sweeney, CEO and Founder.
Meanwhile, Roblox has already shown what metaverse gaming could look like—you create your own avatar and use in-game currency to buy belongings.
Another component that the metaverse requires that centralized institutions cannot provide is a framework for equitable job sharing without greedy middlemen holding their hand out to take a cut. Platforms like Upwork and Uber make huge profits standing in the way of people trying to communicate and help each other.
Blockchain-based applications like H3RO3S create a fair environment for players to earn real money completing tasks for other users who need help getting things done. In this case, it is a real-life play-to-earn platform, but the tasks and the environment is gamified, incentivizing more players to join and help more people. Think Taskrabbit or Fiverr, but you’re a hero on a mission to fulfill your goals. As soon as this sort of infrastructure falls into place, the metaverse will have solid tools to draw from when creating similar structures.
At the moment, Facebook is missing some key points when it comes to the metaverse. The Meta announcement is more of a branding move than anything else. But we can’t blame Zuck for trying. The platform is hurting. Facebook has faced a lot of scrutiny following recent whistle-blower accusations and the platform itself has been losing relevance with younger generations per Piper Sandler Taking Stock with Teens research, which found them showing preference to other social media platforms like Snapchat and TikTok over Facebook.
Meta is trying its best to stay relevant by looking forward to a VR future. The problem is there are far better ways to take part in that future than logging into your Insta account.
Disclaimer: The author holds tokens in the above-mentioned companies. The opinions in this article belong to the author alone and should not be considered investment advice.
Lead Image Courtesy of freepik.com