As the metaverse escalates as the latest hyped buzzword, it continues to get conflated and overused. Worse, there’s nothing tangible to point to. At least other emerging tech phenomena like blockchain actually exist today. The metaverse is as vague as it is promising.
But when defining what it could become, Facebook (ahem, Meta) has been the most cogent. It’s been able to convey its vision in plain terms – starting with Mark Zuckerberg’s “embodied Internet” comment during a Q2 earnings call. It’s also putting its money where its mouth is….lots of it.
That trend continued yesterday in Meta’s Connect event keynote. Mark Zuckerberg devoted 90 minutes to detail Meta’s metaverse vision….with some new product unveilings and a corporate rebrand sprinkled in. It’s is the focus of this week’s XR Talks (video and takeaways below).
But before diving in, we should say that Meta’s vision applied lots of typical demo fodder. In other words, stylized videos that simulate what the metaverse could be someday. Though it conveys the idea, this requires a grain-of-salt reminder that these things don’t exist yet.
One of the things Meta accomplished in its 90-minute deep dive was to clarify a few key points about its vision. For one, it doubled down on previous comments that it doesn’t want to own the metaverse. Instead, several companies should comprise an ecosystem, like today’s web.
Many people don’t believe Meta when it says this. But consider that Meta benefits more from a massively scaled metaverse that it can monetize in its signature ways. Like the web, that has a greater chance of happening when it’s decentralized rather than insular and owned.
To that end, Zuckerberg repeated a common metaverse talking point which is that it should be interoperable. Rather than metaverse-like fiefdoms today like Fortnite and Roblox, a true metaverse will offer users the ability to “teleport around just like they’re clicking a link,” he says.
Another aspect of that interoperability isn’t just access to different worlds but how people and things render as they bounce around. If there are places to go in the metaverse (the analogy being websites today), your personal representation, status and currency should go with you.
Dead on Arrival
That leads to another key metaverse component: avatars. Personal identity will be a central factor to the metaverse. But you won’t just have one avatar: situational relevance will call for different types of avatars for work, play, etc….just like we have several outfits in the real world.
This could play out through cartoon-like avatars, as well as photorealistic ones, which coexist together in the same virtual spaces (see the “card game” portion of the keynote). Photorealistic avatars will be enabled as photogrammetry gets democratized, led by companies like 8i.
The other thing that avatar variety will accomplish is to scale the metaverse’s access to several devices. As we’ve examined, the metaverse is dead on arrival if it’s just a VR endeavor. People will join from a variety of devices, which means various interfaces and avatars.
Meanwhile, all of the above will require digital assets that have a shared sense of value – in other words, currency. Crypto is likely the answer, while NFTs could be the manifestation of that value in digital assets. But it needs standards and governance, says Zuckerberg.
As that assignment of value starts to materialize and standardize, Zuckerberg also sees digital assets being somewhat fluid. In other words, you can bring things into the metaverse including games and books. Because most of the world’s media is 2D, this is a key stepping stone.
One way this will play out is through familiar 2D tools. Meta is getting started with progressive web apps in Horizons Workrooms, including productivity tools like Slack and Dropbox. These integrations will be the metaverse’s training wheels before things develop natively.
Another example of bringing content into the metaverse is a group of people meeting in virtual space while a friend calls in via mobile video call. She’s in Brooklyn (IRL) checking out AR street art which she shares to the virtual space so it can come to life in 3D (see that part here).
In that way Spark AR is Meta’s foundation to democratize 3D experience creation. This could be another stepping stone as 3D assets created with Spark AR could be the content that fills the metaverse initially. And it’s taking steps to make it more “drag & drop” for anyone to create.
A Ways to Go
Meanwhile, Meta is leaning into VR use cases where it’s currently seeing the most traction. Gaming will continue to be at the top of that list as a $150 billion industry (outside of VR). Fitness is another area that’s natively aligned with VR, as is workplace collaboration.
But Zuckerberg admits that a lot needs to be built for all of the above to come together. Again, very few aspects of this are here today and the rest is theoretical. Meanwhile, Horizon Home, Venues, and Workrooms are early manifestations and the foundation for Meta’s vision.
Speaking of Venues, that’s where we watched parts of the keynote. But there was some degree of irony in the VR environment, which contained a giant 2D screen. There was interaction with the other strangers in the room (not necessarily a perk), but the central focus was a 2D live stream.
After a few minutes, I exited Venues and fired up the live stream on my desktop where I could take notes. The experience of my office and city view is still better than anything in VR….and without the sweaty headgear. So there’s a ways to go. At least Zuckerberg recognizes this.
We’ll pause there and cue the full keynote video below, with more to come on other aspects of the event, such as new hardware and other announcements (full list here)…