What is the Metaverse, and Why is Facebook now Meta?


What is the Metaverse?

Neal Stephenson first coined “Metaverse” in his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash.” He envisioned a virtual, dystopian world populated by lifelike avatars of people. This digital land with 3D buildings and environments was accessed using goggles plugged into terminals.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Fast forward to our time in 2021, and that same technology has become common. Many companies now sell AR (augmented reality) or VR (virtual reality) goggles or headgear for people to participate in virtual worlds that these same or partner companies are now creating.

Is this what Facebook and Zuckerberg talking about when they speak of The Metaverse? The short answer is yes, but there is more to it. Many believe it’s the next version of the Internet, and it may very well be so. However, the Metaverse will also continue to exist even without Facebook/Meta in it. No one company owns The Metaverse. It isn’t a single product built by one company. Like the Internet, it will be a composition of people and entities building an interconnected virtual world. It will be a new, hyper-real, always-online, or persistent, alternative world made of pixels, 3D items, buildings, and people. Those excited about the metaverse envision its users playing, working, relaxing, and staying connected with friends through everything from games, meetings, conferences, shopping dates, movie dates, and live music concerts.

Why did Facebook become Meta?

According to Zuckerberg, “Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.” In a nutshell, it seems like Zuck is looking to transfer his social network of Facebook into the virtual world. But, again, the metaverse will come to life and will exist with or without Facebook in it or working on it. In other words, Zuck is not needed to “bring the metaverse to life.” The metaverse already exists in different forms by different companies and will continue to evolve. For example, Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft games can also be considered in the metaverse and other virtual reality applications connected to the Internet. The question as we advance is, will there come a time when these different operations and virtual worlds meld seamlessly in a 3D world as the holistic Metaverse.

However, I believe it was clever of Zuckerberg to realize that he could be a first-mover in the metaverse category and seized the opportunity. Facebook has also been facing backlashes as a notorious fake news platform. The recent whistleblower Frances Haugen who disclosed the Facebook Papers continues to damage the social network’s reputation and leadership. Facebook already carries a ton of brand baggage even before the Facebook Papers, and it is safe to say that it is an old (in Internet years) and dying brand. In that regard, rebranding Facebook to Meta to escape negativity made a lot of sense.

I also believe that Zuckerberg is trying to beat rivals, namely Apple and Google, to the punch for the metaverse hardware/software standard with Facebook-owned Oculus VR headset. I somehow think he has been eyeing the hardware frontier to compete with the big boys in the space. Smartphones are too late for him, so the next best thing is hardware for the metaverse. Just like Apple and Google have been competing for mobile hardware/software, I feel that Zuck wants to make sure he is the first to dominate the metaverse hardware/software sets ahead of these rivals.

Remember when “mobile-first” was all the craze for companies? Companies wanted to make sure they have a mobile-friendly presence as more smartphones drastically outpaced ownership of desktop computers. I am betting that “virtual-first” may become a thing in the next two to five years as user behavior and adoption of virtual applications start to become the norm. Zuck wants to be in the middle of this conversation and movement. After all, he has had spats with the two (Apple, Google) that dominate the mobile hardware/software space and would be happy to wave something back at them. From now on, Zuck probably does not want to be at the mercy of Apple and Google or any other company’s hardware.

Should I care about The Metaverse?

It depends. Most applications right now for virtual reality are around gaming and communications. If you are an avid gamer, then this new medium can be fascinating for you. Imagine immersive experiences and worlds such as in the cyberpunk movie Ready Player One. Or maybe you enjoy new technology and love trying new experiences out; then the virtual world may be entertaining for you. As far as communications, instead of staring at a 2D person in front of a screen using Zoom or other video chat software, two or more of you can interact with each other in a 3D space which can be exciting and at the same time eliminate “Zoom fatigue” which many experienced during the WFH pandemic episodes.

I love gaming but at the same time also enjoy spending my time with real people and doing real things like having dinner or watching a movie together in the real world. I’m sure there is a place for The Metaverse, but I am not sure it will completely take over the natural world around us as others may overly predict or fantasize. This can only happen in a post-apocalyptic disaster, in my opinion, when we can only experience natural environments we did before virtually. It is just another form of entertainment or medium of communications, albeit the most immersive one. Are you ready to live or thrive in the Metaverse?

What is the Metaverse, and Why is Facebook now Meta? was originally published in Coinmonks on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.