Zuck didn't invent the metaverse, but he's started a fight to control it

Begun, the Metaverse Wars have. And the metaverse will fight Facebook's attempts at domination

Column The further we get from the sudden and spectacular pivot-and-rename of Facebook, the more it looks like the most spectacularly ill-conceived business decision of the 21st century.

Facebook was already not only a radioactive brand but also teetering on the edge. The former because regulators are closing in, the latter because Apple had found one neat trick to undermine the social network's business model of advertising-via-continuous-surveillance. Plus, Facebook admitted that young people heading into their high-spending and advertiser-attracting years don't much care for its products.

With profits down and the future looking like a slow, painful decline into 'has-been' status, the CEO and controlling shareholder (who already drove the decisions that had transformed his trillion-dollar enterprise into a social media Chernobyl) announced he and his thousands of employees and billions of users would sidestep all that karma by disappearing into another universe.

Err, metaverse.

It's a nice trick, if you can manage it. But as soon as you cross that threshold, you confront a truth that metaverse pioneers discovered decades ago: the only things in the metaverse are what we bring with us. Our passions and predilections, all of our crazy baggage and misperceptions. Wherever you go in the metaverse, there you are.

Stumbling in and acting like you own the joint will produce an immune response that sees the foreign body ejected.

If, for example, a megalomaniacal control freak found their way into the metaverse, their first instinct might be to try to make the metaverse their metaverse – pointedly ignoring the many years of work by others or, where that proves too difficult, by 'embracing and extending' those works. All of this has happened before, and all of it is happening again.

But, because the metaverse has been around far longer than … *checks notes* … Meta, it has a life of its own. It has plans. And it has powers. It looks as though the metaverse isn't going to take colonisation by Facebook, or anyone, lying down. Within a few days, the first of the metaverse wars had begun.

Microsoft has been working on the metaverse for a number of years – its Hololens is among the oldest and most mature 'mixed' reality products. But more than anything else, Microsoft provides the software that operates the modern enterprise. When the Meta-CEO talked up the potentials of the metaverse as the future of business meetings, conferencing and collaboration, Microsoft responded within days by announcing Mesh for Teams – a blending of its Slack-strangling collaboration tool and its years of work in mixed reality. Meta's move to own the enterprise space in the metaverse was – in the space of a modest Microsoft product announcement – cut down to a tickbox feature.

Microsoft is not about to let another monopolist anywhere near its monopoly. Nor will Cisco go quietly - a couple of weeks ago it announced a holographic interface for WebEx.

And what of everything else we might need in the metaverse? Would Meta try to control all of the commerce portals – undermining Amazon, eBay and Shopify, and every other company with a storefront? And would it expect that to go uncontested? The world has that Facebook is a terrible host - ask any app provider or publisher whose business was damaged by whimsical changes to the News Feed if they'd bet on Facebook again.

What about the payments providers? Would Meta try to step in front of PayPal, or VISA, or American Express?

For over two years, the artist formerly known as Facebook has been pushing its own digital currency – formerly Libra, now Diem – as a global currency for payments both here in the real world and, it's safe to assume, in its metaverse. The world's central bankers have done everything in their power to slow-walk that attempt to route around their own powers as economic gatekeepers, while they prepare their own digital currencies.

But would fiat currency even be usable in the metaverse, or would it need to be exchanged for company scrip as you crossed the threshold – spendable only in the company store, at a price the company sets?

Hiring tens of thousands of metaverse engineers does not address any of these issues. These questions centre on who has enough power to get to say what is real in the metaverse. Stumbling in and acting like you own the joint will only produce an immune response that sees the foreign body surrounded, isolated and ejected.

I imagine we're in for a lot of that sort of thing over the next few years, as a wide range of businesses come to realise they're already metaverse businesses, and move to defend their turf from the invaders.

After redpilling him, Morpheus asks Neo, "What is the Matrix?" He then answers his own question: "Control." Here's hoping we can keep this warning front of mind, while reminding ourselves that things rarely go well for the colonised. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021