What kind of metaverse would you like to live in?
With the announcement of Facebook’s rebrand to “Meta” – where the social media giant designs and builds “the metaverse” and claims the next digital frontier – the battle for the future of cyberspace is on.
What is “the metaverse”?
“The metaverse” describes virtual worlds that break distinctions between digital and physical space. In more detail, the metaverse has been described as “a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications and payments.”
The concept is aptly depicted in Neil Stephenson’s 1992 Novel “Snow Crash” where people plug in to conduct business and socialize in commercially owned digital worlds, the book turned film “Ready Player One” and the recent Netflix film “Free Guy,” where a non-player character becomes a sentient artificial intelligence.
Metaverse investor and writer Matthew Ball estimates the metaverse could be worth up to $30 trillion in the next decade. How this impending digital reality is built and governed will determine societal outcomes in the near future and for generations to come. This piece argues that the battle for the future of the metaverse comes down to hardware.
Centralized versus decentralized visions
The two major competing visions for the metaverse are private versus public.
The privatized metaverse is a centralized future where big corporates such as Facebook’s “Meta” determine how people “socialize, learn, collaborate and play.” This occurs through virtual reality (via headsets that project a digital world) and augmented reality (such as glasses, that project digital things over the physical world).
The private metaverse is owned and governed by Facebook, and value is extracted from users as consumers. First, Facebook attempted a blockchain and cryptocurrency play with Libra (rebranded to Diem). Now, crypto people are once again riled up about Facebook for trying to steal and monopolize another Web 3.0 (the participatory web) idea and monopolize it, as Facebook announced that its metaverse will leverage non-fungible-tokens (NFTs) to represent and exchange digital assets.