The land of too many metaverses
Image: Andrejs Kirma/The Noun Project

The land of too many metaverses

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Good morning! This Monday, we're drowning in metaverses, Elon Musk said he'd sell 10% of his shares, and millions of people think Facebook is a problem.

Metaverses for everybody!

Most tech terms eventually become so popular as to be utterly meaningless. Remember when "X as a service" wasn't a phrase you heard 45,000 times a day? Or life before everything was decentralized, on the chain and totally rad because something something Web3?

Metaverse may have gone meaningless faster than any other buzzword. As the term has wound its way through the tech industry, we now have Meta building the metaverse while Microsoft builds the enterprise metaverse and Roblox and Fortnite shift from being video games to … metaverses.

Suddenly it seems everything, everywhere, is the metaverse. Or a metaverse. Or metaverse-y in some way.

  • Companies are trying to build a fashion metaverse, an industrial metaverse, an entertainment metaverse, a gaming metaverse, a shark metaverse and so so many others. Everybody's also trying to brand their own metaverse, which sounds a bit like trying to slap your trademark on the internet.
  • Autodesk, Fastly, Nvidia and other companies are suddenly being thought of as metaverse companies. One list even included Amazon as a "metaverse stock to buy," which, sure.
  • The gaming industry is the worst: Satya Nadella argued recently that games like Halo, Minecraft and Flight Simulator are already metaverses, while Unity and Epic have both begun promoting their tech as metaverse-building engines.

So far, "metaverse" operates roughly like a synonym for "multiplayer." A digital space where more than one person can work or play or hang out at the same time? Congratulations, it's a metaverse!

But that can't be the whole story. Virtual meetings with fancy avatars are not the metaverse. Neither are battle royale games on your TV screen. What the industry needs to do right now is try to actually define the term — what it means, what it ought to look like and what it'll take to get there — or else we're going to end up with a thousand virtually identical platforms that don't work together and don't work for users.

  • Most people's vision of the metaverse is as a single digital world, a la The Oasis in "Ready Player One" or The Street in Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash." That also seems to be what Meta, and some others, imagine.
  • But the metaverse could easily end up more like the world of mobile apps, which evolved into a massive library of things that work on the same devices but ultimately have little to do with each other. So many developers are working now on ways to make those apps and platforms more interoperable and open while going down the same wrong roads with the next generation.
  • And there's the question of where the real world ends and the metaverse begins. Everyone seems to agree VR is part of the experience, but can using an app on your laptop be the metaverse? What about augmented reality?
  • Even Stephenson himself thinks the metaverse has gone off the rails. "We seem to see a lot of people interested in virtual meetings or virtual conversations in a fixed space," he told GeekWire, "which seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to want. But it's not quite the same thing as the metaverse in 'Snow Crash.'"

There are so many interesting, important conversations left to be had about the metaverse. In many cases, they're the very conversations — about business models, about privacy, about data controls and online identity — that we should have had when the internet was created decades ago.

This is the moment to have those conversations. But if we can't even agree on what we're talking about, it's never going to happen. So call me when we know what the metaverse is; until then, I'll be in the shark metaverse, whatever that is.

— David Pierce (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM 4-H

73% of suburban, urban and rural teens agreed that digital skills are critical for getting the best jobs for their generation. Most Gen Z youth are more tech savvy than previous generations, but still millions of them do not have the reliable broadband or technical skills to thrive in an increasingly complex world.

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People are talking

Elon Musk asked Twitter if he should sell 10% of his Tesla stock, and most people said yes:

  • "I will abide by the results of this poll, whichever way it goes."
  • This is pretty clearly a Musk-y way of dealing with the $15 billion tax bill coming his way, but it's a fun game nonetheless.

Speaking of taxes: Play-to-earn games can be fun, but NFTBank.ai's Jen Kim said users rarely think about the tax implications:

  • "Taxes may come as more of an afterthought for a lot of the investors."

Lots of ex-Facebook employees are nervous to speak up about the company, but Samidh Chakrabarti hopes more do:

  • "I hope more find the courage to do so with the aim of elevating the overall dialogue for all."

Bumble's focus on preventing harm against women goes beyond the dating app, Lisa Roman said:

  • "This is not just core to our business. This is core to Facebook's business. This is core to Twitter's business."

Coming this week

The EU parliament is holding a hearing on whistleblowers today. Frances Haugen is scheduled to speak.

Black Hat Europe begins today. The four-day event will be held both virtually and in person in London.

OCP Global Summit starts tomorrow. The engineering conference will take place at the San Jose Convention Center.

Augmented World Expo starts tomorrow, too. Execs from Niantic and Roblox are scheduled to speak at the three-day event.

In other news

A judge temporarily blocked Joe Biden's vaccine requirements for large companies. A U.S. federal appeals court ruled that there may be some "statutory and constitutional" problems with the order, which was supposed to go into effect just after the new year.

Millions of users think Facebook is problematic, The Wall Street Journal reported. Researchers focused on well-being on the platform found that many users face trouble sleeping, parenting and more, in part because of using the app.

1:1 meetings are taking up the workweek, according to a report by Reclaim.ai. Before the pandemic, employees averaged about three meetings per day, but at this point, they're tuning in to calls for more than half of the work week.

CJ Moore is heading to Apple from Tesla to work on the company's self-driving car team, sources told Bloomberg. Moore told DMV officials that he thought that Elon Musk had exaggerated Autopilot's capabilities.

Meta is thinking about opening a retail store, sources told The New York Times. The store will sell VR headsets and smart glasses, and "Facebook Store" is supposedly the company's top pick for a name.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar is taking aim at Big Tech acquisitions. She introduced a bill that would give competition regulators more authority to block deals when they'd allow companies to grow even more powerful.

McAfee is talking about going private, sources told The Financial Times. The antivirus software firm is discussing a deal worth over $14 billion, and if it goes through it would mark one of the biggest buyouts to date this year.

How does live shopping work?

YouTube is using live shopping to gear up for holiday shopping, and TikTok adopted its own variation. One of the latest platforms to jump into live shopping is Pinterest.

The platform is launching Pinterest TV today: Creators will star in an episode and cover any given topic, from food to fashion. You'll be able to learn about products in real time and interact with the creators. It's sort of like listening to an ad over the radio, but you can actually talk to the promoters, too.

A MESSAGE FROM 4-H

"This year alone, 4-H teens will educate more than 50,000 adults across 18 states. By introducing these skills early, we are helping to build the pipeline of young people who will be ready for today's jobs." - Jennifer Sirangelo, National 4-H Council

Learn more

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