By Jurica Dujmovic
Facebook, according to a July 28 earnings call , plans to “transition from the social network to a metaverse company.”
Let’s start with a definition for that new buzzword, metaverse: A confluence of physical, augmented and virtual reality.
In the metaverse, those media formats come together to form a persistent digital presence in which users can communicate, share experiences and exchange goods.
If this reminds you of the internet, you wouldn’t be wrong. The metaverse is an evolution of the internet, and so much more. The full breadth of the term has been discussed in other articles (including this excellent primer ), so in this piece I want to focus on Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -5.05% CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse framework and, by extension, why any dominant, profit-driven entity would hold back the concept’s full potential.
In his interview with the Verge’s Casey Newton , Zuckerberg explains in detail what metaverse means to him and Facebook’s role in it. The biggest takeaway is an emphasis on developing a seamless, natural way to connect — whether it’s meetings, work collaboration, gaming or some other type of interactive experience.
To achieve that goal, Facebook wants to rely not only on existing smartphones and PCs, but also on futuristic versions of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) devices. The company wants to develop sleek, processing-power-packed fashion statements that are socially acceptable to be worn outside. Forget about weird-looking helmets or visors.
Zuckerberg mentioned someone wearing AR glasses and drinking coffee in a Starbucks /zigman2/quotes/207508890/composite SBUX +0.10% coffee shop. Instead of unpacking her laptop or whipping out a mobile phone to work, she’d bring up her entire workstation with as many virtual monitors as needed with just a few hand waves, using the existing configuration she has at home or in the office.
The next example was VR/AR-style meetings, where people in the same workgroup can see not only each other’s faces, but also entire virtual bodies, and hear spatial audio , and share multiple screens (something we still can’t do today).
There’s also a sense of presence , and an ability to read expressions and physical posture, which adds more elements to interaction, making it more natural and seamless than its 2D alternative.
Content — whether it’s gaming, meetings, collaboration or something else — is at the core of the metaverse experience.
The limits of hardware
However, there are other pillars that make it possible. One of them is hardware.
Today’s hardware still isn’t where it needs to be. Zuckerberg reckons we need another decade or so. New hardware will feature higher resolution, more processing power, and better-quality screens and lenses that will provide crazy immersion .
The other important pillar is the economies that will spring up to support the metaverse or be facilitated by it. Creators will be able to sell real-world goods, but even more so, consumer-grade digital content such as virtual offices or VR/AR fashion items for users and their avatars.
Users will be able to buy those items using cryptocurrencies or centralized digital currencies earned while working in the same metaverse — much like how remote workers nowadays buy goods on Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -2.90% with their hard-earned cash.