Facebook's Meta And The Metaverse Are Not Synonymous
It’s been a little over a month now since Facebook, amid a whistleblower scandal seemingly tried to change the narrative to project attention away from their misdeeds and toward their new future as a Metaverse company. With a diminishing strong hold on all things social media, in an effort to woo a younger demographic, Mark Zukerberg proclaimed,
In addition, the whole world probably knows by now that Facebook has changed its name and will be rebranding as simply, “Meta.” However, is it really that simple? The problem this presents is the metaverse is not new. It already exists and has been evolving for quite some time. Contrary to what Mark Zuckerberg would have you believe. Facebook’s new-fangled META and The Metaverse are not synonymous. In fact, they are mutually exclusive. The metaverse is not one singular, place, space, or thing.
We're excited to share our vision for the metaverse at Connect next week. While we continue to focus on the important issues of today, we'll show how we're thinking about the future of social connection – a future made by all of us. Big things are on the horizon – see you there. pic.twitter.com/q228bG0qbr— Meta (@Meta) October 21, 2021
The metaverse is the next evolution of social connection. It's a collective project that will be created by people all over the world, and open to everyone. You’ll be able to socialize, learn, collaborate and play in ways that go beyond what’s possible today. pic.twitter.com/655yFRm8yZ— Meta (@Meta) October 28, 2021
Since the announcement, there has been lots of conversation and speculation around the name change and the company’s direction. Many in the already established metaverse community view this move by Facebook as a “flex,” and a clear shot fired letting it be known of their intentions to own the space. At press time there were already over 600 pending applications with the word Meta in the name at the US Trademark Office. In addition, there is a pending lawsuit from a Chicago Based computer company called META against Facebook for alleged trademark infringement. In a statement, Nate Skulic, the Meta company founder alleges that Facebook tried to buy them. However, he didn’t sell. He claims that his company’s trademark is being infringed upon by the media giant and that they are trying to force his company out of business.
Furthermore, Dedric Reid, former head of design at AltSpaceVR (the world’s first social VR communication platform) which was sold to Microsoft in 2017, is currently the founder of HelloVR. For the past five years he and his team have been building TheMetaWorld, a first-of-its-kind, vast-scale VR MMO simulation, and coincidentally, also happens to be a Facebook partner. I happened to be sitting in on a Clubhouse room hosted by Reid and The MetaWold Club listening in to the Facebook Connect event when the new name was announced. Naturally, the conversation immediately took a sharp turn to what to do about the name “TheMetaWorld?” This was happening all across the app, with rooms popping pondering the implications of facebook’s new name and what it meant for other companies with the word Meta in their names.
I guess we will have to wait to see if the wisdom behind that particular name choice proves to be sound or not. However, what I do know is, it did not at all help to ingratiate Facebook (it is just so hard for me to call it Meta) with the already existing metaverse community. I would even venture to say, the opposite is actually the case, as it may have caused further alienation with people already skeptical of the company’s past practices. Meta is such a commonly used term, as in metadata, meta keyword, meta tag, metaphysical; it is hard to think of Facebook as Meta or as a Metaverse. Facebook’s maneuvering and the way the company handles users, controlling who and what a user sees, and holding user data hostage for monetization, does not quite gel with the already established ethos of most already established decentralized metaverse platforms and the communities they serve.
Aside from MetaWorld, there is already an active community of people vested in various metaverse platforms like The Sandbox, Crypto Voxels, Decentraland, Topia, and Somnium Space, and others. Most of these platforms are built with blockchain technology, are decentralized, and interact with different types of cryptocurrency, with are for the most part built-in tokens that are native to the respective platforms. Although the metaverse coin market experienced a surge with a bull-run on metaverse associated tokens after Facebook’s announcement. The truth is it was already happening. The growing popularity of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) lending visibility and exposure to the above-mentioned platforms, earlier in the year in February, CryptoSlate.com reported on the market showing a “24-hour trading volume reached the $700 million mark—for the tokens, not the NFTs themselves.”
To a large degree, for this community, the mere mention of Facebook in the same breath as metaverse is kind of cringe-worthy, to say the least. Oddly enough, it is also kind of a conundrum of sorts, considering that Facebook owns Oculus, which has a large share of the VR headset market. Even more interesting is that somehow most people don’t relate the two.
Nonetheless, the ethos of these spaces and platforms adopted by the communities that frequent them is all about open-source protocol, decentralization, autonomy, sovereign ownership, and community governance. One might go so far as to say this is the antithesis and polar opposite of what we now associate with Facebook. This is especially true considering revelations by whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, of the company misleading the public about its progress with regard to hate speech, violence, and misinformation.
With the media-hype surrounding Facebook’s appropriation of the metaverse, for the uninitiated layperson, when The Metaverse is mentioned; Facebook is what conjures or comes top-of-mind. During Facebook’s Connect Conference, Mark Zuckerburg when describing the company’s new direction said they are building “an embodied internet where you are in the experience not just looking at it. We call it, “The Metaverse.” This statement was made as if “the metaverse” doesn’t already exist and is a new concept. As a result, although the metaverse is something I’ve been talking about long before Facebook’s announcement, I now find myself having to clarify that I am not talking referencing Facebook or “Meta” when I speak of the metaverse.
By all accounts, the first known use of the term metaverse was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash. The metaverse in the book was described as a 3D virtual world inhabited by avatars of real people. For that reason, games like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite can also be likened to metaverses.
However, to use a colloquial term, Facebook “tried it!” Some say the name change to META is Facebook’s attempt at planting their flag and basically asserted that they intend to be the “King of the [Block]chain” (pun intended). Or do they? It’s doubtful. Platforms like Decentraland, The Sandbox, and Crypto Voxels, are built on blockchain technology with trustless smart contracts and are decentralized. It is highly improbable that Meta will exist on the blockchain or adopt the concept of decentralization. META confirmed that NFTs would have a place on the platform, as well as Deim, its renamed cryptocurrency, and Novi, their forthcoming crypto wallet. However, it is hard to imagine that Facebook would relinquish its vice grip on user data to embrace autonomy, user control, community governance, and certainly not user ownership of their own data.
This is not to say that there cannot be more than one kind of metaverse platform. There can certainly be a case made for coexistence. Different strokes for different folks. Different utilities for different occasions. Take for instance the recently announced Meta and Microsoft partnership and the integration of Meta’s workplace enterprise social network software with Microsoft Teams. With the whole world now conditioned to work virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this makes perfect sense. However, outside of work-life one may want a decentralized option.
How Long Before We Actualize The Metaverse?
Some assert that the metaverse is still an emerging concept and not yet here. Although the space will continue the evolve only limited by our imagination, we have certainly crossed the threshold beyond emerging and into the land of no return. In the TheVerge.com article, What is the Metaverse, And Do I have To Care?, Ali Roberston and Jay Peters, write that,
“In most current discourse, “the metaverse” arguably isn’t a fixed set of attributes (i.e. feature sets that overlap with older web services or real-world activities, real-time 3D computer graphics and personalized avatars, and support for users creating their own virtual items and environments) it’s an aspirational term for a future digital world that feels more tangibly connected to our real lives and bodies.”
Although the first part of that statement is certainly true, I would also offer that we have already broken the threshold beyond aspiration into a burgeoning ecosystem of multiple independent as well as some connected worlds, places, and spaces for interaction and immersive experiences with other people in real-time. These interactions can emulate In-Real-Life (IRL) experiences and are not just an exchange of text characters, photos, video, or even voice communication. The part that is aspirational and inevitable is the evolution of the metaverse that includes interoperability, meaning the ability for digital beings to transport seamlessly from one metaverse space or platform to another.
It remains to be seen what Facebook and Meta have in store for its version of the metaverse, however, speaking to CoinTelegraph, Mitch Penman-Allen, the co-founder of play-to-earn startup Perion, is quoted suggesting that Facebook doesn’t fit into the definition of the Metaverse. “The Metaverse is the idea that we are building interoperable digital networks founded upon digital asset ownership and platform-agnostic useability,” he says, and I tend to agree.