Last week, we spoke about social media and what is happening in the space, the innovations over the last 15+ years and the changes in the business model. Today we look at the future of social media, or at least of some social media.
In October 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the parent company of Facebook would rebrand into Meta. Facebook had been exploring Virtual Reality since 2014, when it completed the acquisition of Oculus VR, a California based VR company that had been working on the first VR headset prototypes. Oculus was valued at USD 2bn in the transaction, despite having delivered only a prototype headset by then. Within Facebook, Oculus became a division of Facebook Technologies first and of Reality Labs later, a new unit focused solely on Virtual and Augmented Reality.
The current offering of Meta on the Metaverse through its Quest Pro headset is varied, and it includes gaming, fitness, social, entertainment, and productivity. Funnily enough, the social offering includes more games to play together, rather than VR social meeting places.
Meta is not the only player in this space: Microsoft acquired the VR company AltspaceVR in 2017 and has since implemented virtual avatars and meetings held in virtual reality into Microsoft Teams. The Open Metaverse Foundation is a consortium of companies, which aims to create a set of standardized technologies enabling users and firms to create their own metaverse products and services without being constrained or controlled by a single company.
We are still at the beginning of this new technology, and its introduction and diffusion comes with new risks. The metaverse is a space where new products and services can be offered but there are still open questions on how the intellectual property will be protected: when internet connections became easily accessible, an exchange for counterfeited digital products flourished and the issue has not yet been fully resolved; we can imagine a similar pattern with the metaverse. Another risk is about the privacy of metaverse users: although this virtual world is populated by avatars, the technology controlling them is capable of collecting a great deal of sensitive biometric data, and a safe handling of such data is crucial. Lastly, the metaverse promises that we will be able to do everything from the comfort of our homes. However, this promise comes with all the risks that a sedentary lifestyle can have on our physical and psychological wellbeing.
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