The latest buzzword in tech is "The metaverse", which could reappear Monday when Facebook reports earnings.
It could be the future or it could be Mark Zuckerberg's latest vision. However, it is unlikely that this vision will be widely adopted over the years.
Many are also concerned about the possibility of a new online world linked to a social media giant, which could gain access to more personal information and be accused of failing to prevent harmful content.
This is what the online world is all for:
WHAT IS THE METAVERSE?
It is the internet made real, or at most 3D. Zuckerberg described it as a virtual environment that you can enter, rather than just viewing on a screen. It's basically a virtual world with endless interconnected communities that people can use to meet, play, and work using augmented reality glasses, virtual reality headsets, and other devices.
Victoria Petrock, an analyst who tracks emerging technologies, says that it will also include other aspects of online living such as shopping and social networking.
She said, "It's a new evolution in connectivity where all those things start coming together in a seamless doppelganger universe so you can live your virtual life the way you live your physical life."
However, it is important to remember that "it's difficult to assign a label to something which hasn't already been created", said Tuong Nguyen (an analyst who tracks immersive technology for Gartner).
Facebook stated that it would take between 10 and 15 years to create responsible products for the metaverse. This term was first used by Neal Stephenson in 1992 for his science fiction novel Snow Crash.
WHAT CAN I DO IN THE METAVERSE?
You can go to a virtual concert or take a trip online and shop and try on digital clothes.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the metaverse could also be a game changer for work-from-home. Employees could now see their coworkers virtually, instead of having to call them.
Facebook launched Horizon Workrooms, a meeting software that companies can use with Oculus VR headsets. However, early reviews have been mixed. The headsets are $300 and more, making it difficult for many to access the most innovative experiences in the metaverse.
Users would be able to move between different virtual worlds by using their avatars if they have the financial means.
Zuckerberg states that "a lot of the metaverse experience will be about being able to transport from one experience into another."
It is still up to tech companies to find a way to link their online platforms. Petrock stated that it will take the cooperation of the different technology platforms in order to make it work.
FACEBOOK IS GOING ALL IN ON METAVERSE
Zuckerberg is investing heavily in what he considers the next generation internet. He believes it will be a major part of the digital economy. In the coming years, he expects that people will start to see Facebook as more than just a social media platform.
According to The Verge, Zuckerberg may use Facebook's annual virtual-reality conference this week to announce a corporate change. This would include putting legacy apps such as Instagram and Facebook under one parent company that is metaverse-focused. Facebook has not commented on this report.
Critics question if the pivot could be an attempt to distract from company crises such as antitrust crackdowns and testimony by whistleblowing employees. They also have concerns about the company's handling of misinformation.
Frances Haugen was a former employee of Facebook who claimed that Facebook's platforms had incited political violence and harm children. She plans to testify before a United Kingdom Parliamentary Committee Monday to discuss the possibility of online safety legislation.
IS THE METAVERSE A FACEBOOK PROJECT OR IS IT A COMMON ELEMENT?
No. Zuckerberg acknowledged that "no single company" can build the metaverse.
Nguyen stated that just because Facebook is talking a lot about the metaverse, it doesn't necessarily mean that it or another tech giants will be the dominant player in the space.
He said that there are many startups that could be competitors. "There are many new technologies, trends and applications that we have yet to discover."
Videogame companies are also playing a major role. Epic Games, which is behind Fortnite, has raised $1B from investors to support its long-term plans to build the metaverse. Roblox, a game platform, is another major player. It outlines its vision for the metaverse as a place "where people can come together in millions of 3D experiences that allow them to learn, work and play, create, socialize, and share their ideas."
It's also happening with consumer brands. Italian fashion house Gucci teamed up with Roblox in June to offer a range of digital-only accessories. Clinique and Coca-Cola have sold digital tokens that were meant to be a step into the metaverse.
In some ways, Zuckerberg's embrace for the metaverse is contrary to a core tenet of his biggest supporters. The metaverse is an online culture's liberation form tech platforms like Facebook, which took ownership of accounts, photos, and posts, and then traded what they gained from that data.
Steve Jang, a venture capitalist who focuses on cryptocurrency technology and is a managing partner of Kindred Ventures, stated that while we want to be able move around the internet with ease, we also want to not be tracked or monitored.
Will this be an alternative way to get more of my data?
Facebook seems to want to expand its business model which relies on personal data to target advertising and sell it into the metaverse.
Zuckerberg stated that ads will continue to be an important part in the strategy across all social media components of what we do and that it will likely be a significant part of the metaverse too, during the company's latest earnings call.
Nguyen stated that this raises privacy concerns. It involves "all the issues we have today, plus some we have yet to discover, because we are still figuring out the metaverse's future."
Petrock said that she is concerned about Facebook's attempts to lead the way in a virtual world. This could involve more personal data, greater abuse potential, and misinformation.
She said that she didn't believe they had considered all of the pitfalls. "I worry that they aren't necessarily considering all privacy implications of the metaverse.