What is the Metaverse? And why should we care?

To emphasize its Metaverse ambition, FACEBOOK has changed its name to Meta

Facebook Inc announced on Thursday that it would change its name to Meta(Metaverse), a move that comes as the company faces increased scrutiny from politicians and regulators over its market power, algorithmic judgments, and policing of abuses on its platforms. 

According to the internet giant, the transition will unify its various apps and technology under one new brand. Speaking at the company’s live-streamed virtual and augmented reality conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the new moniker represented the company’s commitment to constructing the metaverse. It stated that it would not make any changes to its corporate structure. 

The phrase “metaverse,” which was first used in dystopian fiction three decades ago and is now gaining traction in Silicon Valley, refers to a shared virtual environment that anyone can access using various devices. 

As he started the company’s annual virtual and augmented reality conference on Thursday, Zuckerberg stated that privacy and safety must be integrated into the metaverse. In the most recent controversy, former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen disclosed information that she claimed indicated the business prioritized profit over user safety. The records, according to Zuckerberg, are being exploited to construct a “false picture.”

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Zuckerberg has been pushing Facebook as a “metaverse” corporation rather than a social media firm, even though the company has spent substantially on augmented and virtual reality. 

The CEO highlighted examples of privacy and safety controls that would be needed in the metaverse, such as the option to stop someone from appearing in your space during the live-streamed Facebook Connect event. Zuckerberg believes the metaverse will be the next significant computer platform, referring to it as “the mobile internet’s successor.” 

Internal research and employee discussions on Instagram’s effects on teen mental health and whether Facebook stokes divisions, as well as its handling of activity surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and inconsistencies in content moderation for users around the world, is revealed in the whistleblower documents, which the Wall Street Journal first reported. 

The company released a series of improvements for its virtual reality and augmented reality devices. It announced that users of its Oculus VR headset would be able to call friends via Facebook Messenger this year, as well as invite others to a virtual version of their home called “Horizon Home,” where they can converse and play games as avatars. 

Users of the Oculus Quest will be able to utilize 2D apps like Slack, Dropbox, and Facebook while in the “Horizon Home” VR world, according to Facebook. The company, which started a beta test of its virtual meeting spaces “Horizon Workrooms” earlier this year, said it was working on customizing them with company branding and graphics and adding more work features to consumer Quest devices. New fitness options for Oculus Quest users were also unveiled. 

Facebook announced this week that its hardware subsidiary, Facebook Reality Labs, which is in charge of AR and VR activities, will become a separate reporting unit. The company’s investment will cut its total operating profit by nearly $10 billion this year. 

Facebook formed a metaverse-focused product team earlier this year, and it recently revealed intentions to hire 10,000 people in Europe over the next five years to work on the

project. Facebook recently announced a $150 million education program to assist creators and developers of augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). 

What is Metaverse?

Consider the internet coming to life, or at the very least rendered in 3D. According to Zuckerberg, it’s a “virtual environment” that you can enter instead of just staring at on a screen. It’s a universe of infinite, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work, and play utilizing virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps, and other technologies. 

According to Victoria Petrock, an expert who analyses developing technologies, it will also include other areas of online life such as shopping and social media. “It’s the next generation of connectedness,” she explained, “when all of those things start to come together in a seamless, doppelganger universe, where you live your virtual life the same way you live your physical life.” 

What be will I able to do in the Metaverse?

Things include:

  • Attending a virtual performance.
  • Taking a virtual vacation.
  • Viewing or creating artwork.
  • Trying on or purchasing digital apparel. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, the metaverse could be a game-changer for the work-from-home shift. Employees could join their coworkers in a virtual office instead of seeing them on a video call grid. 

Horizon Workrooms, a meeting software for businesses that work with Facebook’s Oculus VR headsets, has received mixed reviews thus far. The headsets are expensive, costing upwards of $300, putting many of the metaverse’s most cutting-edge experiences out of reach.

Users who can afford it would flit between virtual worlds established by different corporations using their avatars. “Being able to teleport from one experience to another will be a big part of the metaverse experience,” Zuckerberg says. Tech firms must yet figure out how to connect their various web channels. 

Is FACEBOOK going all-in on the META? 

Zuckerberg is betting big on the next generation of the internet, which he believes will be a vital part of the digital economy. 

Critics question if the prospective pivot is an attempt to divert attention away from its current problems, including antitrust investigations, testimony from former whistleblowing workers, and concerns about how it handles misinformation. 

After duplicating internal research materials and giving them over to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, former employee Frances Haugen has accused Facebook’s platforms of harming children and instigating political violence. 

They were also given to many news organizations, including The Associated Press, which published multiple articles about how Facebook put profits ahead of safety and withheld its research from investors and the public. 

Is the METAVERSE just a FACEBOOK project?

No. Microsoft and chipmaker Nvidia are two more corporations that are promoting the metaverse. 

“We believe that many firms will construct virtual worlds and environments in the metaverse, just as there have been many companies doing things on the Web,” said Richard Kerris, vice president of Nvidia’s Omniverse platform. “It’s critical to be open and expandable so you can teleport to multiple worlds, whether they’re created by one firm or another, just as I do when I move from one web page to another.” 

Companies that make video games are also taking the lead. Epic Games, the famous video game Fortnite, has received $1 billion from investors to help fund its long-term metaverse aspirations.

Another major player in the game platform is Roblox, which describes the metaverse as a place where “people can come together within millions of 3D experiences to study, work, play, create, and socialize.” 

Consumer brands are also attempting to capitalize on the trend. Gucci, an Italian fashion business, teamed up with Roblox in June to sell a line of digital-only accessories. Coca-Cola and Clinique both sold digital tokens that were marketed as a way into the metaverse. 

Will this be another way to get more of my data?

In some ways, Zuckerberg’s acceptance of the metaverse contradicts a core premise of its most ardent supporters. “We want to be able to go around the internet with ease, but we also want to be able to move around the internet without being tracked and monitored,” said Steve Jang, managing partner of Kindred Ventures and a cryptocurrency expert.

They saw the metaverse as a way for online culture to break free from digital platforms like Facebook, which took control of people’s accounts, images, posts, and playlists and traded off the information they collected from it. 

Facebook’s business model, which is centered on utilizing personal data to sell targeted advertising, appears to be expanding into the metaverse.

In a recent corporate earnings call, Zuckerberg stated, “Ads will continue to be an important element of the strategy throughout the social media parts of what we do, and it will probably be a big part of the metaverse, too.” 

Petrock expressed concern that Facebook is attempting to lead towards a virtual world that may require even more personal data and provide more significant opportunities for misuse and misinformation. However, it hasn’t addressed such issues in its current platforms.

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