Now Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the master of the virtual universe Alex Hern

Brun yourself: Mark Zuckerberg has a new pivot for Facebook. The visionary genius who brought us the pivot to video, the pivot to privacy, the pivot to trusted news, and the pivot away from trusted news, is now preparing for the final twist: the pivot to the “metaverse”.

“The metaverse is a vision that spans many companies – the entire industry,” Zuckerberg told technology news site The Verge in an interview last month. “My hope, if we do it right, I think that over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our company, I think we will effectively move from people who see us as primarily a social media company to being a metaverse company “.

Yes, it’s time for fashion words. A metaverse (or shared space of virtual reality) is the new and hot concept of the technology sector, the last thing we are promised will move from science fiction to reality. Imagine the virtual worlds of Ready Player One, Neuromantic or The matrix and you are halfway there. But in addition to simple virtual reality, most metaverse visions take into account the creativity and commerce they allow, seeing a place where you can order an avatar from a digital craftsman, a personalized voice for a second, and use -they to play in a game made by a third party.

Zuckerberg has never been one of those he acknowledged when he changed his mind, but the metavers pivot seems particularly uncomfortable with the other major change Facebook is pushing. It is the encryption of all direct messages between its users and those of Instagram and WhatsApp and is part of the pivot of privacy announced in 2019.

I don’t want to accuse the founder who has had fantastic success, who individually owns almost 2% of all the millennial wealth of the United States, of fantastic thinking. And, in fact, his vision of what a notional future of Facebook might look like is impressively detailed. But I’m starting to get tired of the fact that the tech sector periodically stops to reflect on the deep strategy behind Zuck’s latest brain farts as if they were anything more than repeated panic attempts to enter and destroy any sector of industry that seems to pose a problem for your company in the future.

This is not to say that the concept of metaverse is empty. The term goes back to Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, a book that Zuckerberg likes long enough to assign as a must-read for subordinates. Alarmingly, he seems to have overlooked the fact that the world he describes, of a future hyper-capitalist and libertarian America and a virtual reality protointernet, is an arc dystopia.

However, in recent years, many have tried to create a metavers like this. Perhaps the most famous is Second Life, an online virtual space where users could create avatars, buy land, build houses, and obviously participate in mountains of cybersex. The service and Linden Labs, the company behind it, briefly experienced the 00s equivalent of the bitcoin boom, when the price of virtual land soared into Second Life community spaces.

But while hard users have been stuck for years, Second Life has finally slowed down, due to the problem that all virtual worlds have online: the Internet already exists. In the world of Snow Crash, does not and the metaverse meets these needs. Long distance communication, shopping, entertainment are done by jumping into a virtual world and moving around. But in our real world, the virtual layer adds a lot of fuss, with little extra capacity.

This is not to say that there have been no more successful attempts to do the same. But his home has been the game, where Roblox and Fortnite they try to build a metaverse for the 2020s. The goals are necessarily narrower than Zuckerberg’s: less “a single virtual space for anyone to do anything” and more “a place where Ariana Grande can hold a concert with Master Chief of Hello to the crowd. ” But there are some basics, as they were with Second Life. Users can build items in the world of Roblox and sell them to others and can create whole subplots that have their own rules, art and even physics.

However, it doesn’t seem like Zuckerberg is looking for his inspiration in video games. Instead, the recent buzz around the metaverse is due to the fact that it has been reused as a way to justify the millions of dollars spent on NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in the last six months.

The thought is simple. You have an NFT work of art, but what can you do about it? In the real world, not much: you could buy a video screen and show it at home, but that doesn’t really interact much with the beautiful NFTness of it all. Why not buy a print if you just want to hang it on the wall? But in a virtual world, it suddenly makes more sense. Obviously, a physical object cannot be hung in a digital home. But what if you want a virtual item that still has some of the desirable rarity of a physicist? Well, NFTs are perfect.

Now I am what I am glib. Perhaps the most concrete example of how metaverse would work comes from venture capitalist Matthew Ball. But it is also, in my eyes, a vision that Zuckerberg could never achieve. A metaverse, Ball writes, must “offer unprecedented interoperability of data, digital elements / resources, content, etc.” Contrast with today’s digital world, where you can’t, for example, buy a song from the iTunes Store and upload it to Call of Duty so you can explode from your Jeep as you pass through Verdansk. You also can’t grab a virtual H&M suit and wear avatars in it Fortnite.

This metaverse would be perfect for Facebook, as long as there is “unprecedented interoperability” making sure all services under the sun become part of Zuck’s house. Until that happens, we get caught up in the wild ambitions of a man who bought the virtual reality company Oculus Rift for $ 2 billion in 2014 and never knew what to do with it.

What I have been reading

Green sleep
A psalm for the savages, Becky Chambers’ latest novel is a quiet and welcoming introduction to a “solarpunk” world: a sustainable futurism of electronic bicycles, biodegradable buildings and wild areas on a planetary scale.

Type of distribution
A pleasure Economist piece, How the proverbial voters of Europe explain a continent, shows the different national equivalents of “Mondeo man” in Europe, from the Swabian housewife of Germany to the breakfast man of Ireland.

Digital remnants
What if you give the same metaverse tools to a digital artist with extraordinary talent? Get Everest Pipkin’s fantastic study of abandoned worlds in Roblox.

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