The coming battle over the metaverse
Many of the digital aspects of our lives today would have seemed like science fiction even a couple of decades ago. Why, the way most of us, at least in the knowledge economy have taken to working online seamlessly through the pandemic is something few could have fathomed until recently. The buzz word these days that paints a similarly fictitious sounding futuristic picture is Metaverse – which Wikipedia defines as “a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet.” Whilst the concept has been around for long, it has gained traction of late thanks to some powerful voices in the tech industry. As this article says, it is understandable for Mark Zuckerberg to talk up the Metaverse, given Facebook’s investments in virtual reality. But Satya Nadella’s reference to it at a tech conference earlier this year and Ben Thompson’s detailed yet skeptical piece earlier this month makes it worth tracking this development.
“A fully immersive, virtual reality world, it is a place where people will be able to pursue all aspects of life vicariously, as if in a parallel digital universe.
Like with the Information Superhighway, early visions of the metaverse are likely to be an imperfect approximation of what the ultimate reality will look like. What form it takes and what its first “killer apps” will be are a matter of conjecture. And, most importantly, it is not yet settled who will set the rules and collect the profits — though today’s internet giants are in pole position.
…..The final product could be an ultimate “walled garden”, a place where a single company benefits from the total immersion of users. If Facebook and other big internet companies build their own — and particularly if they each sell their own proprietary hardware to access these zones — then the result could be a collection of isolated worlds, forcing digital citizens to pick where they spend the bulk of their time.
On the other hand, the metaverse could comprise a set of more closely interconnected worlds, some of them controlled entirely by their users. This would be a place where people could take their personal data, digital goods and favourite services with them as they move from place to place.
It is tempting to view the internet giants as today’s version of the telecoms and media powers of the early-1990s, dreaming of shaping and owning the next iteration of the online medium. In this comparison, it is also tempting to view blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies as the decentralising forces of the early internet. Crypto enthusiasts see people owning their own corners of a more fragmented metaverse, rather than throwing all their data in with a few vast platforms.”