Meta… verseAugust 27, 2021
The greatest impediments to changes in our traditional roles seem to lie not in the visible world of conscious intent, but in the murky realm of the unconscious mind.
—Dr. Augustus Napier
The Zuck is obsessed with another Augustus, world-conquering emperor Augustus Caesar. But the boy-who-would-be-emperor has a problem, something standing between him and greater wealth and power. Not the Facebook board; he’s neutered that via dual-class shares. Not the government; his 900-person comms department, coupled with a massive increase in lobbying expenditures, has dispensed with that nuisance. The last remaining obstacle is the world itself … it’s distracting.
So Zuck envisions a series of virtual worlds to absorb our remaining attention. The arbiter of activity algorithms in that world would be a god — and able to serve a shit-ton of targeted Nissan ads.
In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2.3 billion. Oculus was a Kickstarter-backed venture with a head-mounted virtual reality display in pre-production that was targeted mainly at immersive video gamers. The deal was controversial, but co-founder and boy genius Palmer Luckey defended it on Reddit: “I guarantee that you won’t need to log into your Facebook account every time you wanna use the Oculus Rift.”
By August 2020, Luckey and his co-founder were gone, and Facebook announced you would have to be logged into Facebook to use the Oculus headset. Luckey admitted that the skeptical responses to the deal “from people with more real-world experience than me were justified.”
VR headsets, along with similar products from Vive and Sony, will sell about 6 million units in 2021. A real market, but not a category that’s registered broad consumer adoption. Some heavily hyped projects have flopped, such as the notorious Magic Leap, which has raised $3 billion in venture capital over 10 years while frantically pivoting from one vaporware announcement to the next. Or Google Glass, which launched in 2013 but was pulled two years later. People swiftly realized it could do only a handful of things the iPhone could, and worse. Google won’t give up, though, as it refashions the wearable from Tron to hipster.
Wired’s David Karpf called VR the rich white kid of technology. “It never stops failing upward, forever graded on a generous curve, always judged based on its ‘potential’ rather than its results.”
And who loves VR headsets? Rich white kid Mark Zuckerberg. He plays virtual ping pong with the President of Indonesia and sneaks into the company’s VR demo room after hours. But Zuck isn’t pushing VR for gaming. “You’ve known me for a long time,” he once told a journalist. “I don’t optimize for fun.” He sounds like the absolute worst person on the planet to roll in Vegas with — a decent proxy for any person’s true character. But I digress.
I hate sitting in the passenger seat of my British SUV, as I’m certain I can drive better than whoever is behind the wheel at that moment. I can feel my feet pressing and depressing as if I’m actually driving. Take this times a billion, and you’ll be getting warm re understanding Mr. Zuckerberg. A guy who decided it was a good idea to hold an American flag while commandeering an e-foil electric surfboard after depressing our teens, perverting our elections, and making our discourse more coarse. Reportedly, a voice from the boat was yelling, “I’m proud of your progress — but we need to do better!”
That last paragraph has almost nothing to do with this post, but it felt good writing it.
Facebook You Can Wear to Work
To extend its run of success, Facebook must establish vertical distribution (i.e., hardware). As powerful as the platform is, the sixth-most-valuable company on Earth rests behind five others that all have more control over their distribution (i.e., iOS, Playstation, Android, Oil Wells, and Alexa). Facebook relies on other firms, including Apple and Google, for distribution. So the company is investing massively in hardware. With Oculus, Zuck sees a way to leapfrog mobile and laptops to connect people to Facebook in a more immersive and engaging way. And, more importantly, to enable him to treat Tim Cook as he does every elected official and technology ethicist: ignore him.
Facebook has also registered limited success penetrating the world in which most of us spend the majority of our time: work. Last week, Zuckerberg unveiled an attempt to use VR to expand Facebook’s reach into the corporate world.
This is the commercial Facebook made to launch Horizon Workrooms, its VR-based challenge to Zoom, Slack, and the world of work as we know it. The promo video would be concerning if it weren’t so lame. Instead of meeting over Zoom (or just joining an easy, old-fashioned conference call), everyone puts on a one-pound plastic headband and meets in a conference room that looks like something from Peacock’s newest animated series about corporate life. A woman snaps her fingers to change the color of her virtual shirt, and then she makes a magenta swirly line around some virtual documents, causing them to pile together and … sort of … merge? Oh, and nobody has legs.
Word is, the technology is going to mate with Microsoft’s Bob and give birth to Rosemary’s Baby. I’m especially proud of the last sentence.
Broadcast media is so desperate for relevance, they will all but guarantee to be a cartoon of access journalism. Alongside the official commercial, Facebook manufactured an even more craptastic “exclusive” virtual interview with Gayle King on CBS This Morning. I haven’t been this grossed out by the fawning of a TV journalist (“Wait, Mark, this is so cool … I can see all your hands.”) since Charlie Rose exalted Bezos and his octocopter delivery drones. BTW, that was eight years ago, and there’s zero chance a fucking octocopter is going to deliver the edibles I’d like (check that — need) right about now.
King didn’t see fit to inform viewers about the product’s numerous glitches and bugs, and she declined to ask any of the sort of questions a … wait for it … journalist might ask, if it were an interview vs. an infomercial. Like: How will Facebook protect private conversations? What’s the business model? Will Workrooms integrate with other companies’ hardware or virtual spaces?
The answers: poorly, ads, and NFW.
That’s So Meta
The most interesting aspect of the announcement, however, is that Facebook is pitching Workrooms not as a 3D version of Zoom, but as something called the “metaverse.”
Defining the metaverse is the kind of thing nerds fight to the death over. (Here’s an excellent nine-chapter epic to get you started on the literature.) I can tell you two things about it. First, it’s a future vision of the digital world beyond today’s internet, in which people socialize, work, and play across multiple domains, that is socially and economically integrated with the physical world. Second, Horizon Workrooms isn’t it.
The metaverse is a concept that’s been floating around tech for decades, and it is legitimately interesting. But also, legitimately not anywhere near real. Interest spiked after Epic Games announced a $1 billion funding round devoted to its “long-term vision of the metaverse” — well timed after a year of lockdowns and Zoom calls that have made a virtual world feel more real.
Multiplayer games are an illustration of what the metaverse could look like; they have the trappings of persistence and community. World of Warcraft is the most popular, and Eve Online is now part of MoMA’s permanent collection. Both are large online worlds populated by a mix of computer-controlled characters and human avatars who socialize, fight, create culture, and trade goods and services for (in-game) currency. (There are 10 million transactions a day on Warcraft, with some items trading for the equivalent of almost $1,000.) In the novel/film Ready, Player One, the hero lives in a dystopian trailer park but spends all his time going to school, socializing, and working “inside” OASIS, which is essentially World of Warcraft 2045.
The hot metaverse game of the moment is Fortnite (disclosure: investor). Once a relatively simple game in which 100 strangers fought one another elimination-style for sole possession of an island over and over again — think Hunger Games — it’s now a multibillion-dollar enterprise that hosts Travis Scott concerts and Christopher Nolan premieres. Its publisher, Epic, is all-in on the metaverse hype. The company opened its antitrust trial against Apple with its CEO claiming Fortnite isn’t a video game at all, but “a phenomenon that transcends gaming,” no less than the metaverse itself.
But 3D graphics and fantasy/sci-fi trappings are not what makes the metaverse. Twitter is also a virtual world, and in some ways it’s closer to the vision of the Metaverse than online games. It’s a persistent, online extension of reality, with a large and diverse community of contributors who trade in the true universal currency: our attention. Imagine Twitter, but with graphics and a currency … and you are getting there.
Cryptocurrency and its offspring the non-fungible token are tokens from the metaverse future, pieces of digital ephemera that are portable across digital spaces and can be exchanged for real-world goods.
The full metaverse lies in a distant future in which distinct virtual worlds coalesce into a single integrated online world that is in turn integrated with the physical world. Your identity, your relationships, your money are the same online and off, and among different communities within the Metaverse. It’s probably not a proprietary, branded environment, like a single website, but a linked world of multiple environments of varying public and private nature, like the Internet. Put another way, the interoperability of a metaverse is the key to becoming THE metaverse.
Zuckerberg has been on a metaverse kick lately, telling people that, in five years, he thinks Facebook will be known as “a metaverse company,” and mentioning the term 16 times on the company’s most recent earnings call vs. once for “advertising.”
Yet the metaverse, a technologist’s dream, is Facebook’s nightmare. It would essentially render the social network irrelevant. Facebook’s most valuable asset is its social graph, its dataset of users, links between users, and their shared content. In a metaverse future, we’ll all have identities on the metaverse, and anyone can open a virtual space for sharing photos of your 10-year-old’s birthday party or arguing over vaccines. BTW, they work … really well.
There will be trillions of dollars in value created by the creators of these spaces, and the infrastructure to support them, but an open world of interoperable identities and information is antithetical to Facebook’s project, which is to keep you on Facebook. (The same is true for Twitter, of course, but two of Twitter’s great advantages are that it isn’t a well-run business, and that it has far fewer legacy assets to inhibit a pivot into a metaverse-friendly model.)
So Zuckerberg has a different vision. Make Facebook the metaverse. He told Gayle King that he saw that as a five- to seven-year project, which tells you what you need to know. The metaverse, as everyone but Zuck defines it, is decades away. The technical challenges alone are immense. Zuck’s plan is clear: He’ll build out a VR presence so Facebook looks like the metaverse, extend it into the corporate environment through Workrooms, brand the whole thing “metaverse,” and then fight off all challengers with a war chest of ad money the model generates.
Will it work? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a cause for concern. We’ve been having these structural arguments about the digital world since the web first emerged 25 years ago. In the 1990s, America Online was a “walled garden,” while the Internet was an “open ecosystem.” And though the market has tended to favor innovation, the trend toward consolidation and anti-competitive behavior is troubling. A single-owner metaverse is not an ideal future.
I believe Mark Zuckerberg’s passion for the metaverse stems from a desire to exit this one. A man who’s become the fifth-wealthiest person in the world before turning 40 and has more influence than any individual in history (I believe this), and yet he’s increasingly viewed as a menace. I believe he likely finds this bewildering and frustrating. And maybe unfair. We should acknowledge his achievements. We should set him free, into the metaverse.
Life is so rich,
P.S. The team at Prof G Media is taking off next week to rest up for fall. We’ve got a lot on tap, with new email products coming (let us know how you like Chart of the Week), more video content, and … something big to be announced soon. No Mercy / No Malice will be back in your inbox September 10. Enjoy the Labor Day weekend.
P.P.S. Registration for my next Brand Strategy Sprint closes on Tuesday, August 31, at midnight. Get in there.
One thing is certain, Scott’s predictions have a terrible track record. That means FB’s vision will likely be a huge success. https://galloway-index.webflow.io/
Lol ok Mark. Like you said, the metaverse already exists, it’s called gaming. Hell, these games have their own huge economies (google CS:GO skins), which is a key step in a -verse being legitimate. I’d maybe be worried this would catch on if it didn’t involve expensive, heavy, unsavory, nausea-inducing headsets. VR will never work unless it’s on your phone. Even then, it’s a novelty. I’m staring at a $20 plastic headset, I was given for free, as I write this on a better screen, my laptop. I along with millions of others will be gaming later tonight on a flat screen, and am perfectly content with that. I seriously think Zucc may have some social disorder with the fact he can’t see that nobody is asking for this, especially from him.
Was just reading some of your tweets. I really don’t know how you developed such strength to give your opinion whether people agree with it or not. Most people(like myself) hide behind the comments section and never have the guts to put themselves out there and post on controversial topics. Meaning create their own original content. All we do is sit back and wait to dunk on people who do create original content. So we never have to take the public criticism because we don’t create anything. I don’t agree with everything you write but I truly admire you. The world is such a better place because of human beings like yourself. Educated, kind hearted with an inner toughness where you can stand up for what you believe is right. Amazing and I hope my children end up like you. Intelligent and not afraid to speak their mind.
VR for the office is going to be a tough sell, but so was video conferencing pre-pandemic. If Horizon Workrooms had been available at the start of 2020, it might have taken a modest cut of the Zoom market and elevated VR’s mindshare as a serious technology.
Hey Scott, in this article you mention “the metaverse, a technologist’s dream, is Facebook’s nightmare.” In your view, how do the other big tech companies (and their business models) fare in the metaverse paradigm?
Hi Scott. Meta… verse, indeed! lol. My only concern with your argument is that there are active forces preparing to support the interoperability of virtual worlds, such as the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group (part of W3C). Zuckerberg does indeed want a huge, proprietary slice of this pie, but the pie will likely be too big to monopolize (and he knows it). Also, the dystopian future that this portends will not be Facebook’s fault, but instead a symptom of a larger tend toward human disconnection via algorithmic polarization. That said, the optimist in me gets excited about the potential to reduce online toxicity by making avatars/reputation more permanent and transportable (thanks to blockchain/NFTs) across the many virtual worlds connected in the metaverse. If you’re a troll on reddit, you don’t get an audience on twitter. If you’re a trusted wikipedia contributor, you are granted a wider audience at the virtual town forum. Perhaps this is naive, but we can hope!
Btw, this is Prof Robby Ratan. You were a guest on my podcast (which is still my most popular episode): https://www.spartielab.comartsci.msu.edu/post/podcast-episode-8-scott-galloway-my-parasocial-running-partner
I also wrote a short article defining the metaverse recently, but with way less lols than yours.
Thanks, as always!
Oops. Here that article I wrote. https://theconversation.com/what-is-the-metaverse-2-media-and-information-experts-explain-165731
Consistently digesting Scott’s writing is probably a good prescription for avoidance or, at least delay, of dementia . . . Alzheimer’s.
I often ponder when the world will start taking NFT’s seriously- the narrative right now even within the world of crypto is that they’re shaky and it’s dumb that people are paying $50k for pet rocks. But as you point out, younger generations often don’t make the distinction between “reality” and the metaverse- they are one in the same.
More on crypto on my blog if anyone’s interested:
“I’m especially proud of the last sentence.”
Hmm, that was funny the first time or two. But now that it pops up in just about every post, it’s time to retire it.
Was the first time I read it and I got a kick out of it! 🙂
There is another, important use for the metaverse I heard discussed in a Zoom conference from Defense One. To fight off ransomware hackers, businesses and corporations create digital twins in the metaverse. This give a copy and by applying AI and machine learning they can anticipate hacks.
I re-posted this paragraph. It’s the most relevant part of what I wrote and probably, people don’t read second paragraphs of comments. Especially those concerning Zuke’s vision of the met-averse.
how does having 2 copies of the data make it safer? Just sounds like twice the targets to hack to me.
Every concept image I’ve seen of the metaverse is filled with horrible imagery. I think that’s because guys like Zuke have no artistic instincts or knowledge or sense of aesthetics. If facebook creates it, it will suck. Who wants to spend time in a world of goofy monsters and repulsive artwork?
However, there is another use for the metaverse I heard discussed in a Zoom conference from Defenes One. To fight off ransomeware hackers, businesses and corporations create digital twins in the metaverse. This give a copy and by applying AI and machine learning they can anticipate hacks.
We are living the era of awakening of consciousness, little by little we are no longer navigating in imaginary dreams, you will succeed in your project, the latter will be tremendous, especially for the youth that gets up, knocking on doors and investigating their new ideas and illusions, while They will explain the material Universe, you are already in the fantastic Universe, where freedom is to feel free like the wind, I support you👏👏👏👏🥰
Does anyone know how Prof G is an investor in Fortnite (or rather, Epic)? Was it a direct investment or via an investment in Tencent?
You missed the most salient point about VR: it induces (literal) nausea in a sizable proportion of users, and that’s before you grapple with the existential nausea induced by all things Zuckerberg.
You allow your hate of Zuck and FB to cloud your judgment- takes away from your clever insights and writing.
The same way he allowed Donald Trump to cloud his predictions. Scott is hilarious and very intelligent but would be way smarter if he would just set aside the hate of strategic geniuses like Musk, Trump, and Zuck. I feel like if Scott would set this bias aside, his predictions would be more accurate.
Opinions I agree with = Insights.
Opinions I disagree with = bias.
“ He sounds like the absolute worst person on the planet to roll in Vegas with — a decent proxy for any person’s true character.” 😂
I’m loving chart of the week! I missed your videos, but I understand that the previous iteration may have been too much investment without enough gain.
“(i.e., iOS, Playstation, Android, Oil Wells, and Alexa)”
I believe you meant Xbox, which is produced by Microsoft, not Sony’s PlayStation.
Metaverse? Zuck? VR? The Butlarian Jihad can’t come soon enough.
Everything revolves around White Guilt. Wired is obsessed with it it seems. Even VR is tainted. Angst amount techies and journalists, but not enough to actually DO anything. That is the ‘governments’ job. You know raise corporate taxes and soak the rich. Not YOUR rich, but other’s rich.
Galloway is especially obsessed with it. Likely due to some existential guilt for his own success, and thinking it to be unearned. Let me assure you his gender and skin color had very little to do with it
Should probably see a therapist instead of just regurgitating some grifters talking points
I’ve read 20 of these pieces in the past week and I feel like I know Prof Galloway.
Maybe this is why:
I found Prof G because last week I learned that a guy who went to my high school works for him. This guy would defend everyone from bullies (me included) at any cost (even to himself). Knives, knuckle busters, machetes or swords wouldn’t move him — completely fearless. And effortlessly a genius. He could de-escalate dangerous scenarios by insulting himself but could dismember people (including bikies) with mere words. But he had a heart the size of Russia.
I was an antisocial bookworm / loser at 15 with no friends that used to get bullied by a skater mob in their 20s. They’d harass me at McDonalds where I worked, waiting outside, taunting me before beating the shit out of me. The last time, they ambushed me when I got home from work and stomped me in my front yard. Then they just disappeared, one even ran away from me. Last week, I learned it was because of this guy — who always saw my loneliness and accompanied it. He was the cool connected kid and I was the loser that pushed him away when he was always being kind. It’s like he knew I was suicidal, which I was. I owe him my life, and I’m not the only one either.
It turns out he redefined alpha for a bunch of us, and we only thought of him last week when a voice message of him shredding “peanut gallery scientists” for not getting vaxxed got shared in a high school group chat. As it turns out, he’s still pretty influential.
Makes sense he’s working for the ultimate alpha in Prof G, the real OG. I can’t stop watching Prof G content now.
Needlessly injecting race/gender, demonizing Zuckerburg/Bezos, and for some reason expecting an easy going morning wake up show to have hard hitting journalism
Why I believe that’s no mercy no malice bingo!
spot on! nailed it
Damn, you’re good! (and funny)
Every time I think of the meta verse, I think “Snow Crash” and I can’t imagine wanting to live in that dystopian hellscape.
Same here, Snow Crash is wicked funny & smart but not intended as any kind of hope for the future. There is also something viscerally disturbing about VR, it just creeps me out, after very little time, not to have awareness of my surroundings. As to the enjoyment of Zuck, fully loathsome and vile archetype sociopathic CEO, shooting ads directly into my eyeballs, hard pass.
Just read my first No Mercy. I am now a fan.
The reason why Zuckerberg cares about the meta-verse is because Facebook is stalling. User engagement is down in North America, a new wave of social media platforms has captured the most important demographic, and they can’t buy competition anymore bc the govt won’t allow them. The slow decline in Facebook has begun.
Was so surprised to see you draw comparisons to WoW here, been playing that game since I was 12. Weirdly enough it’s not quite the immersive meta-esque experience it once was…or I’m just old.
Hilarious post, pls come back from Ibeetha, Pivot not the same.
Jean Christophe Baillie Founder of Novaquark (Dual Universe) lodged a trademark application for ‘The Metaverse Company’ 7 years ago…
Erratum: the trademark application was on 22/11/17 by Novaquark
One smart guy.
Multiple LOLs this time. Keeping zapping Zuck and maybe the bug will disappear!
You should have Raoul Pal on your podcast to discuss the metaverse…or Piers Kicks (Delphi Digital)…or both together (for a multi-generational take)
That was some lol funny shit Scott! Also some pearls of wisdom, irony, and grade A insult humor at Zuckerburg. Thanks!
Until someone miraculously does away with the need to wear the asinine headset, this whole VR craze will remain a geek’s novelty. Remember how 3D cinema was going change movies like talkies did to the silent era? The novelty wore off overnight and 3D cinema is barely more relevant than every other time since the 50’s that it came around. Remember when every flatscreen TV at Best Buy was 3D ready? That effort landed with a bigger thud than 3D in movie theatres. And how many VR startups are there now straining to find a way, ANY way to turn the technology into something useful rather than a dork’s wet dream. Watching the Workroom ad I can only imagine how frustrating, distracting and annoying trying to actually work in such a way must be. All of these technologies share one similarity. They are all technology in search of a meaningful reason for being.
Meta-verse or Meta-worse! This idea that the physical world is not enough may cause more mental health issues for society. Metaverse sounds like the crack of social media. People may get stuck in this high and get addicted. But maybe that’s what ZuckFuck wants.
Metaverse can not replace physical world.
Instead I think metaverse will be the perfect tool to interact with a world that is figuratively “EXPANDING” due to overwhelming amount of content/ information /data. There is a solid reason for Metaverse technology to herald maybe not as the Metaverse idea that FB shared but in its ideal translation, it is the next logical ascent in technology.