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.