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The Metaverse is the internet no one wants

Meta's push to put computing into a headset will end in tears

Comment The Metaverse, as the company formerly known as Facebook defines the term in its financial filings, is "an embodied internet where people have immersive experiences beyond two-dimensional screens."

It's more or less another stab at Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML), a standard file format for 3D graphics that dates back to the mid-1990s, and the naive vision of federated spaces operated by competing companies.

The Web3D Consortium, which was formed to advance VRML and currently promotes X3D, a royalty-free open standards file format, recently weighed in on the Metaverse to offer its own definition [PDF].

"In our view, the 'Metaverse' will emerge as a property of the current primarily two-dimensional World Wide Web (WWW) with interconnection and interoperability between online, networked microcosmic 'microverses' created, as is the Web, by individuals, corporations and institutions. Interconnection between microverses will be provided by the Web itself."

Meta's definition is more expansive – the web is a subset of the internet – but let it suffice to say that the Metaverse has been with us for decades and experiencing it with VR goggles and 3D graphics isn't necessarily more compelling than seeing it on a flat display screen.

The Metaverse of connected environments could be realized anytime. It's the web and the internet, after all. We know how to do links. Minecraft users could click on an object and be transferred to some other game with a VR interface like Eve: Valkyrie. If crypto assets can be transferred via buggy blockchain bridges, there's no reason two games, or more, couldn't interoperate.

The fact that this isn't happening isn't because of technical obstacles; it's that companies aren't trying to make this happen. It's just not in their interests to do so.

But if fees can be charged for moving VR outfits and other digital dross from one place to another, Meta may try for a piece of the action. Its Diem debacle showed at least the company's interest in digital currency transactions.

Meta's contribution to the Metaverse to date has been evangelism, billions of dollars of investment, which has produced VR headsets, software, an app distribution platform that takes as much as 47.5 percent of revenue, and now legs – something missing from Horizon Worlds avatars.

Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg, who brought us Facebook, keeps talking about creating an open ecosystem for Metaverse-focused firms, in contrast to the presumably totalitarian vision Apple is expected to deploy once it gets into the head hardware business.

It's a vision born out of the need to sell investors on growth – between Facebook, Instagram, and WhatApp, and competition like TikTok, growth opportunities look scarce – and out of Meta's lack of an operating system (still evidently an aspiration).

Apple, Google, and Microsoft have gatekeeping and distribution power through the products that rely on their software to operate.

Meta, a platform supplicant, instead has a massive audience, through those using its social apps. But the ad biz has seen how Apple's App Tracking Transparency technology on iOS devices has denied its access to ad targeting data and reduced the value of its business.

Until it can set up a functioning Metaverse toll booth, the company is focused on partnerships to bring its embodied internet to life. Partnerships are what tech companies do when they lack the goods themselves, the goods in this case being applications that people will pay to use.

The major news to come out of Meta Connect 2022, the company's developer event this week, was a deal with Microsoft to make Windows 365 – a streamed version of Windows – available on Meta Quest devices, as well as Microsoft 365 apps, and Mesh for Teams.

It's baffling that anyone would want to experience any Microsoft software through a Meta Quest headset. Consider that Meta’s VP of Metaverse, Vishal Shah, recently scolded employees for their disinterest in the company's own Horizon Worlds environment. Managers apparently have been told they will be held accountable if their teams don't use Horizon Worlds.

When your marketing consists of gavage, things aren't going well. ®

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