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what people get wrong about the metaverse

Tech Revolution
Issue #1014 • View online
Hello there,
Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms VR meeting software announcement this week got me thinking about something lots of people seem to fundamentally misunderstand about ‘the metaverse’. More on that in the section below…
But first… earlier this year, it seemed like all anyone in tech could talk about was NFTs and Clubhouse. They even talked about NFTs on Clubhouse (confession: I did this. More than once).
While Clubhouse has lost the glow of hype a few months later, NFTs are still going strong. In fact, while they’re not quite as hyped in the media as they were, if feels like the NFT craze is stronger than ever.
Just this week:
  • Visa bought a CryptoPunk NFT in what looks like a bit of a publicity stunt to make the payment processor look forward thinking and down with decentralised finance. Still, it got lots of people excited.
  • Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann announced Supdrive, which sounds like “a video game console that plays classic-style games (in the vein of Pacman or Asteroid), with NFTs acting as a sort of virtual cartridge,” as the Verge put it.
  • A startup called Afterparty launched a platform to help creators launch NFTs and social tokens.
So NFTs are far from dead, even if they’re not quite as hot in the mainstream media as they were. That’s a good thing. Let the enthusiasts figure out ways to make them compelling and accessible to a wider audience first.
But even if they don’t succeed, who cares? Not everything needs to change the world. If some people enjoy them and there’s some fun new tech involved, I say go wild.
Right, opening thoughts done, let’s move onto the rest of this week’s newsletter…
— Martin
PS: Matt and I have TWO live Twitter Spaces tomorrow:
  • Katie Carroll of LinkedIn News: has LinkedIn cracked how social media should handle news? [4pm UK time, 26 August]
  • Stan Chudnovsky: Head of Messenger at Facebook: As the messaging app turns 10 years old, what is its future? [6pm UK time, 26 August]
Check my Twitter profile for a link when we go live. Because Twitter only allows one formally pre-scheduled Space at a time, we’ve only scheduled the Messenger one, and you can get a reminder from Twitter about it here.

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🤔 Big questions
From this week’s news…
🤝 Are Facebook's VR meetings a vision of the metaverse?
Mark Zuckerberg proudly unveiled Facebook’s latest VR project late last week. Horizon Workrooms is either the future of meetings or a one-way trip to nausea city (because of the VR, you understand - meetings already make plenty of people nauseous for other reasons).
But I’m prepared to wait and see on how successful this latest attempt to make VR about more than gaming turns out to be. There will be lots of attempts to rethink work in the coming years and not all of them will be successful, but Facebook—as the owner of leading VR brand Oculus—is best placed to try some of them out.
I’m more interested in what this announcement says about Facebook’s plan to become a ‘metaverse company’. From some of the reactions I’ve seen to Horizon Workrooms, it seems some people think it is Facebook’s metaverse.
But thinking about the metaverse as one single thing, or even one company’s individual projects as part of one connected metaverse, is missing the point.
The metaverse is a concept, not a real thing. There won’t be just one. It’s just like the web; there are many millions of very different websites out there in the world, but they’re largely completely unrelated experiences.
But while websites are part of the World Wide Web, the metaverse won’t take place on one common platform or set of protocols. It will just be a bunch of virtual worlds and augmented reality experiences run by different companies, built on different platforms, that we dip in and out of when we feel like it or need to use them.
I don’t imagine myself slipping my digital self into a VR meeting, and then taking that same digital self over to a video game’s pervasive virtual world, and then taking a walk down the street in the physical world and seeing a ‘virtual world’ connected to that meeting I was in and the game I player reflected in the digital overlay of information I see in my AR glasses. I might do all of those things, but they don’t have to share any data or sense of identity or common ‘world’.
That’s why I find people arguing for an ‘open metaverse’ to have a baffling argument. There will not be one single, connected metaverse no matter how much some sci-fi authors may be attracted to the idea.
That’s true because we get to build this ‘metaverse’ however we choose, unlike the physical universe we inhabit without choice.
So Horizon Workrooms isn’t part of any substantial ‘metaverse’. It’s conceptually part of something we might vaguely refer to as ‘the metaverse’, but really it’s just some VR meeting software, and that’s perfectly fine.
🤖 What was that Tesla robot all about?
Elon Musk is pretty good at making cars, but he’s better at making headlines. The star turn at Tesla’s A.I. event last week wasn’t some smart new tech… it was a person in a robot costume.
As Wired reported:
After first appearing stiff-armed and arthritic, the robot broke into dance. The fan fiction came to a fast end. Only a real live human could do the Charleston with such fluidity…
“The robot will be real,” Musk told the AI Day audience, in between his trademark titters. “We’ll probably have a prototype sometime next year that basically looks like this.” The demo was bad—transparently so. Musk was trolling us. The not-yet-a-robot was a stunt, a way to get people who normally wouldn’t pay attention to Tesla AI Day talking about Tesla AI Day. 
I know a piece of tech news has broken into the mainstream conversation when my hairdresser asks me about it, and on Monday he asked me about the Tesla Bot. Musk’s supposed mission was successful.
But the real audience was likely not my hairdresser, unless Olivier is planning on retraining as an A.I. engineer. Yes, Tesla is just one player in a highly competitive market for A.I. experts. And if you want to build the future of autonomous driving, let alone a smart humanoid robot, you’re going to need plenty of A.I. experts to think of you as an exciting, interesting company to work at.
I’m going out on a limb and saying that the Tesla Bot designed to perform “boring, repetitive, and dangerous” tasks will miss its prototype target of next year. And then it’ll just become another thing that Musk promises is coming soon until we all stop asking. It’s far more important for Tesla to get to ‘full self-driving’ capability than it is to launch a distraction-bot.
I say ‘go out on a limb’, but I more mean ‘base my prediction on Musk’s past performance’. Where are those one million robotaxis he promised by the end of 2020, for example? It’s okay to miss targets with innovative projects, but Musk shouldn’t keep over promising and under-delivering.
❌ What does the OnlyFans ban u-turn mean for the adult industry?
As I put the finishing touches to this newsletter, OnlyFans u-turned on a plan to ban the adult content that made it a huge success.
“Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard. We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.”
After days confusion over the reason for the proposed ban, the company’s CEO spoke to the the Financial Times yesterday to explain that banks kept withholding payments meant for creators, leading to a situation where it was unsustainable for them to be able to serve the adult industry.
As Tim Stokely explained to the FT: “Stokely claimed OnlyFans had been unfairly targeted by media reports into ‘incidents of illegal content’”. These reports failed to mention, Stokely said, that most social platforms have similar problems, no matter what kind of content they focus on. “Banks read the same media as everyone else,” he said.
OnlyFans’ reversal (complete with the “assurances” it needed) was literally all it could do other than murder itself while trying to become a ‘clean’ platform when ‘clean’ creators have plenty of other places to go.
More than anything, this whole episode highlights how unsupported the perfectly legal and highly valuable adult industry is by the financial world. Any hint of anything not completely wholesome and they err on the side of prudishness.
It seems any talk for a creator-led co-operative powered by bitcoin payments can wait for another day, although ultimately it might be better for the creators concerned if they weren’t at the mercy of indecisive platform operators and prudish financial institutions.
And I’m sure many of those creators have an eye on the word ‘suspended’ in OnlyFans’ statement today. Will the ban be reinstated at a later date?
Other news you should know about:
  • Google’s not ‘keeping MUM’ about its new A.I.-powered search tech. MUM could become a digital assistant that intelligently compiles information from around the internet to answer your questions, rather than relying on a single source at a time. [Google blog]
  • The Pentagon is reportedly poised to declassify information about a mysterious US ‘space weapon’, perhaps to show that America can keep up with Russian and Chinese advances. [Breaking Defense]
  • Facebook keeps picking PR gloss over real change. It’s been called out for supressing a report that showed vaccine misinformation and right-wing propaganda were popular on the platform. It instead published a much glossier report that sugar-coated the situation. [The Register]
  • Chinese Uber rival Didi continues to suffer at the hands of Beijing’s crackdown on tech companies. After having had its apps suspended from Chinese app stores recently, it’s now dropped plans to expand into the UK and other parts of Europe. [The Guardian]
  • Cryptocurrency trading continues into the mainstream: PayPal has expanded its cryptocurrency service to UK customers, letting users buy and sell currencies like Bitcoin via its mobile app. [CNBC]
  • Meanwhile, it seems Facebook’s digital wallet is almost ready for launch after a level of scrutiny and criticism the company’s payments chief David Marcus described as “un-American” 🤔. [Financial Times $$$]
🏭 Future of work
California’s Proposition 22 stated that gig workers for app-based platforms like Uber and DoorDash could not be classed as employees, even if those in similar roles working for companies without an app got employment status. But a judge in the state has ruled that the exception is unconstitutional.
This is great news for many gig workers who crave more job security, but with an appeal expected, it could ultimately be up to the US Supreme Court to decide what happens to gig workers in the longer term.
As TechCrunch explains in the article above, in the meantime, individual US states will likely make their own rules. This means real headaches for the leaders of gig economy companies as their business model gets chopped up into pieces and economies of scale start to look more like a burden of size.
We’re still a long way from figuring out the definitive way forward for gig workers’ status in the US, and it’s no more certain that companies like Uber will be viable in the long term, especially as the self-driving cars they long hoped would remove the need for drivers seems not much nearer than it did a few years ago.
More future of work…
Robots don't smoke, says Alibaba, and that's why they deliver parcels so fast
You should get a week off to help with burnout
Google Calendar will let you record where you’re working to help organize office meetings
📰 Big reads
Social Media Algorithms Are Controlling How I Grieve
On Roblox, Kids Learn It’s Hard to Earn Money Making Games
How Social Media Helped ‘Taliban 2.0’ Take Control of Afghanistan
More big reads:
🐣 Tweet of the week
An interesting short thread about how ticket sales for this year’s Web Summit seem to have been affected by the pandemic. Click through to read the rest. 👇
Paddy Cosgrave 🏴‍☠️
Three observations on how conferences may be changing versus pre-pandemic based on data we're seeing

1. Very large group bookings (50+) are way up

The driving reason is remote teams/companies want a reason to meet up IRL

Certain conferences will likely benefit from this
That's all for now...
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And there we go… all done! I’ll be back next week with lots more for you.
— Martin.
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