LONDON (AP) – The term ‘metaverse’ seems to be everywhere. Facebook recruits thousands of engineers in Europe work on it, while video game companies lay out their long-term visions for what some see as the next big thing online.
The metaverse, which could resurface when Facebook releases its results on Monday, is the latest buzzword to capture the imagination of the tech industry.
It could be the future, or it could be Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s latest grand vision that either doesn’t go as planned or hasn’t been widely adopted for years, if at all.
Additionally, many are worried about a new online world linked to a social media giant that may have access to even more personal data and is accused of failing to put an end to harmful content.
This is what this online world is all about:
WHAT IS METAVERS?
Think of it as the animated internet, or at least rendered in 3D. Zuckerberg described it as a “virtual environment” that you can walk into – instead of just staring at a screen. It is essentially a world of endless and interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices. .
It will also integrate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media, according to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who tracks emerging technologies.
“This is the next evolution of connectivity where all of these things start to come together in a sober and transparent universe, so you live your virtual life the same way you live your physical life,” she said.
But keep in mind that “it’s hard to put a label on something that hasn’t been created,” said Tuong Nguyen, an analyst who tracks immersive technologies for research firm Gartner.
Facebook has warned that it would take 10 to 15 years to develop responsible products for the metaverse, a term coined by writer Neal Stephenson for his 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash.”
WHAT CAN I DO IN THE METAVERSE?
Things like going to a virtual concert, taking a trip online, shopping and trying on digital clothes.
The metaverse could also be a game-changer for working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of seeing their colleagues on a video call grid, employees could see them virtually.
Facebook has released meeting software for businesses called Horizon Workrooms for use with its Oculus VR headsets, although early reviews weren’t great. Helmets cost $ 300 or more, putting the most cutting edge metaverse experiences out of reach for many.
For those who have the means, users could, through their avatars, navigate between virtual worlds created by different companies.
“A big part of the Metaverse experience will be being able to teleport from one experience to another,” Zuckerberg said.
Tech companies have yet to figure out how to connect their online platforms to each other. For this to work, it will require competing technology platforms to agree on a set of standards, so that there aren’t “people in the Facebook metaverse and other people in the metaverse.” Microsoft, ”said Petrock.
DOES FACEBOOK GO ALL ON THE METAVERS?
Indeed, Zuckerberg is banking on what he sees as the next generation of the internet because he believes it will be a big part of the digital economy. He expects people to start seeing Facebook as a metaverse business in the coming years rather than a social media business.
A report by tech news site The Verge said Zuckerberg plans to use Facebook’s annual virtual reality conference this coming week to announce a company name change, putting legacy apps like Facebook and Instagram under one company mother focused on the metaverse. Facebook has not commented on the report.
Critics wonder if the potential hub could be an effort to distract from corporate crises, including antitrust crackdowns, testimony from former whistle-blowers and concerns about its treatment of disinformation.
Former employee Frances Haugen, who has accused Facebook platforms of harming children and inciting political violence, plans to testify before a UK parliamentary committee on Monday seeking to pass online safety legislation.
IS THE METAVERSE JUST A FACEBOOK PROJECT?
No. Zuckerberg acknowledged that “no company” will build the metaverse on its own.
Just because Facebook is making a big deal on the Metaverse doesn’t mean it or any other tech giant will dominate the space, Nguyen said.
“There are also a lot of startups that could be potential competitors,” he said. “There are new technologies, trends and applications that we haven’t discovered yet.
Video game companies are also playing a prominent role. Epic Games, the company behind the popular Fortnite video game, has raised $ 1 billion from investors to help it with its long-term plans to build the Metaverse. The Roblox gaming platform is another big player, describing its vision of the metaverse as a place where “people can come together in millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize”.
Consumer brands are also getting involved. Italian fashion house Gucci collaborated with Roblox in June to sell a collection of exclusively digital accessories. Coca-Cola and Clinique sold digital tokens presented as a stepping stone to the metaverse.
Zuckerberg’s adherence to the Metaverse in some ways contradicts a central tenet of his greatest devotees. They envision the metaverse as the liberation of online culture from tech platforms like Facebook that have assumed ownership of people’s accounts, photos, posts, and playlists and traded what they gleaned from those. data.
“We want to be able to move easily on the Internet, but we also want to be able to move around the Internet without being tracked and monitored,” said venture capitalist Steve Jang, managing partner at Kindred Ventures. which focuses on cryptocurrency technology.
WILL THIS BE ANOTHER WAY TO GET MORE OF MY DATA?
It seems clear that Facebook wants to take its business model, based on using personal data to sell targeted advertising, into the metaverse.
“Ads will continue to be an important part of strategy across the social media parts of what we do, and it will likely be a significant part of the metaverse as well,” Zuckerberg said on the latest earnings conference call. of the company.
This raises new privacy concerns, Nguyen said, involving “all the issues that we have today, and some that we have yet to uncover because we are still figuring out what the Metaverse will do. “.
Petrock said she was concerned that Facebook is trying to pave the way for a virtual world that may require even more personal data and offer greater potential for abuse and misinformation when it doesn’t. resolved these issues on its current platforms.
“I don’t think they’ve fully thought through all of the pitfalls,” she said. “I’m concerned they don’t necessarily think through all of the privacy implications of the Metaverse. “
O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island.
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