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Beyond the Buzz: the metaverse

“Man, I wish I was Mark Zuckerberg!” said no one recently. After another spate of negative revelations about its platforms, Facebook’s parent company was renamed Meta. This change also revived the discussion around the metaverse, a virtual universe said to be the future of the Internet. But is the world really waiting for a new digital platform built by one of the most controversial tech barons of his time?

When in the middle of a sh*tstorm, just... change your name

In recent months, Facebook has been under more scrutiny than ever. The tech giant has had to deal with whistleblowers, misinformation about vaccines, an unprecedented outage and an extensive investigation into the toxicity of its platforms. Instead of addressing these issues, Facebook resorted to the oldest trick in the book – a classic red herring: they casually got rid of their tarnished name.

In November 2021, Facebook officially announced that its parent company would no longer bear the same name, but would instead be renamed Meta as part of a major rebrand. The new name highlights their ambition to move further away from social media and shift to a metaverse company in the years to come. Shortly afterwards, Meta revealed their intention to recruit 10,000 people in Europe to help build the foundations of its metaverse: the first step in their drastic metamorphosis. Or is it?

As with everything Mark Zuckerberg undertakes, this sudden move provoked immediate criticism. Sure, it might be a bit premature to name your company after something that doesn’t even exist yet, but who are we to judge? That said, we do agree with the critics: there are several reasons to believe that this endeavor will flop hard. To understand why, we must take a look at the core of the metaverse.

The metaverse: reshaping our current reality by augmenting it

First things first: Meta didn’t invent the metaverse. The term was coined in the 1992 novel Snow Crash, and has since been adopted several times in popular culture, for example in the video game Second Life or in the movie Ready Player One. Meta isn’t a metaverse pioneer, either: Microsoft is already developing its own version of the metaverse, while Nvidia has been working on a similar idea called Omniverse.

Generally, the metaverse is described as the next version – or even vision – of the Internet as we know it today. It encompasses a collection of interconnected virtual worlds where people can meet, work, play... all outside of the physical world. The metaverse would be accessible through VR and AR hardware to fully immerse its users in the virtual experience.

Sounds like something Meta could develop, right? They have the knowledge and the money, so who can stop them? However, there is one big problem: the metaverse fits into the vision of Web 3.0, while Meta is essentially a Web 2.0 company. This major difference raises several fundamental issues.

A prediction of why Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse is bound to fail

  • Decentralization
    Decentralization is a core principle of Web 3.0: information would be stored in multiple locations at once, consequently breaking down the massive databases currently held by internet giants like Meta. In turn, users would retain ownership control. In a fully decentralized environment like the metaverse, a central control mechanism like Meta simply isn’t justified to work.

  • Trustless and permissionless
    In addition to decentralization, Web 3.0 is trustless (i.e., the network would allow participants to interact directly without going through a trusted intermediary) and permissionless (i.e., anyone could participate without authorization from a governing body). As a result, all Web 3.0 applications – the metaverse included – will either run on blockchains or decentralized peer-to-peer networks.

    This would mean that Facebook has no power over who enters the metaverse and who interacts with it, once again excluding them from any form of control and profit.

  • Interoperability
    The metaverse encompasses a collection of different worlds, with users being able to hop from one of those worlds to another without being restrained by a third party. This implies the need for open-source technology, which is the complete opposite of Meta’s current technology. Therefore, Meta could never guarantee full interoperability, which would inherently lead to a restricted monoverse.

  • A new revenue model
    Web 3.0 replaces ad revenue models with NFT’s and tokenization. This change implies that Meta would no longer be able to make profit with their current revenue models.

  • VR and AR access to the metaverse is still unclear
    Meta’s Oculus Rift division is a key player in the development of VR and AR technology. While it is true that the metaverse would be accessed through this technology, it is important to prevent another iOS versus Android-like story. That’s why there is a need for new hardware to enter to the metaverse.

So, will the Metaverse ever become reality?

We guess so, but it probably won’t be in the near future, and certainly not the realization of Meta. Its fundamentals are just too different from those of Web 3.0. Meanwhile, Meta continues to ignore all the obvious red flags. Instead of embarking on this new adventure, they would be better off focusing on solving their current issues and improving their core business: content moderation.

Mark Zuckerberg is desperately trying to keep a firm grip on the reins of his visibly dying company. In these final throes, their metaverse attempt is just a deception to gain even more control over our lives in the name of profit, despite causing social harm and continuously ignoring calls to fix it.