The metaverse does not exist yet. Examples of what it could be do exist, but they are not an interoperable cohesive whole which is what the metaverse requires in order to exist. It requires a process of monopolistic platform development beyond simple open collaboration of developers. This is why the idea is attractive to the likes of (the entity formerly known as Facebook) Meta, as the size of these companies would allow them to indulge in the scale of monopolistic development required to build the metaverse. Therefore it will not land tomorrow, and a single small company cannot deliver it in isolation.
Antonio Petra, GE Strategy & Marketing Technology FCB and Hellocomputer Joburg
Virtual chat rooms, virtual online environments, virtual galleries or concerts, massive online multiplayer games are all examples of what the metaverse could be, but until they are seamlessly integrated allowing a user to move between worlds, carrying with them their identity, history, currency and the likes, they are not a metaverse.
Things labelling themselves as metaverse right now are simply cynical attempts to cash in, they are little more than modernised hacks of things like SecondLife. Incorporating buzz concepts like their own crypto coin or NFT’s doesn’t miracle the metaverse into existence on their small corner of the internet. Much like a wildly named space race rollercoaster at a cheap carnival that delivers no space or race beyond the name.
A metaverse will exist one day, both an interesting and terrifying prospect, depending on your present feelings about social media. For the foreseeable future though, keep on Googling “Does the metaverse exist?” or scanning TheRegister for non-sarcastic articles that use the word Metaverse, before jumping on the bandwagon that is sure to depart many times over the coming months and years. If you’re still keen on trying out something like a metaverse, perhaps rather just consider investing your hard earned money in virtual items from Nikeland or Gucci Garden in Roblox, it’ll probably give you the same 'feels' and tangible value.
More disturbing than people trying to cash in on the metaverse early is the idea that businesses are willing to dive headlong into even a cheap approximation of a metaverse, without fully internalising the consequences of rushing into the social media era without corporate or social governance checks in place. We didn’t really know any better then, but we should now. If you think an echo chamber of right wingers on 8chan or Facebook is bad, wait until it’s a fully virtualised immersive experience where everyone gets to choose their tyrant avatar, and kids can get to live in Tucker Carlson world – complete with a retelling of history and a chance to beat up their least favourite minority group. Whether or not you subscribe to the Vulnerable World hypothesis as applied to tech, you do have to recognise the potential danger of plunging headlong into unchecked democratised immersive technologies, based on our very recent (and ongoing) history with social media.
Companies, and marketers in particular, should wise up. They need to stop the shiny marble chase, and spend a bit more time thinking about how they can help in supporting better online governance standards, or figure out how to stop pouring their current media spend into sponsoring existing dumpster fires. If we can’t even figure out how to reliably ensure that an eight-year-old doesn’t see an alcohol ad when logged into an age limited YouTube account, or really hold a company accountable for knowingly fuelling mental health issues in young girls, then do you think we are really ready to manage their experience in a virtual environment built by advertising revenue?
No doubt, one day a version of the metaverse will arrive. If we want to avoid a more immersive rerun of the societal disaster that is social media right now, it’s going to require gargantuan focus, and well thought through effort, to build it into a beneficial technology.