Mark Zuckerberg will announce at Facebook Connect that Facebook will become a “metaverse” company. That could be Facebook:
- Changing its name to Metaverse
- Creating a corporate holding company called Metaverse.
- Creating a virtual world to replace the Internet called Metaverse.
Metaverse, however, wasn’t a new idea. Neal Stephenson coined the word for his science fiction novel, “Snow Crash,” in 1992. I started my tech career as an QA intern at Fujitsu’s WorldsAway in 1997. One of many “metaverse” worlds during the dial-up days of the early modern Internet.
I’ll explain what the 1990s Metaverse was and what the Facebook Metaverse could be.
Coining The Metaverse
“Snow Crash” defined the Metaverse as a virtual world of a future Internet. Users logged in as 3D avatars that interact with each other and the virtual world. Big business and organized crime controlled different aspects of the virtual world. A new drug called “Snow Crash” cause users to crash in the virtual world and in real life. A group of hackers try to stop the new drug while confronting the powers to be.
Three influential movies in the past 25 years defined what the Metaverse could be in the future.
“Ghost in The Shell” was the 1995 Japanese anime movie that blazed the path for virtual worlds on the big screen.
“The Matrix” gave us the choice between the blue pill and red pill.
“Ready Player One” is what “Snow Crash” should have been on the big screen.
“Snow Crash” became the Holy Grail of the 1990s Metaverse scene.
1990s Metaverse Scene
WorldsAway was a 2.5D virtual world that started on CompuServe in 1995. A user’s avatar could move up, down, left right, or flip around to change directions. Going left or right, or clicking on a door or teleporter, would take the avatar to a different room.
The highlight of my internship was the Avatars 97 conference in San Francisco. My role was to set up the demo PCs, provide technical support, and record video of the WorldsAway demos. Recording video meant lugging around a heavy Panasonic VHS camera on my shoulder.
Bruce Damer, the conference host, came out with his new book that year, “Avatars! Exploring and Building Virtual Worlds on the Internet.” I got the book on October 24, 1997, 24 years ago. Many of the virtual worlds mentioned in this book no longer exists today.
Video games became the new frontier for virtual world since then. As hardware grew in power, it became easier to create immersive 3D environments. Multiplayer games like FortNite took off in popularity in recent years.
After my internship, I worked in the video game industry for six years and went into corporate IT support.
What is the Facebook Metaverse? From the various reports I’ve read, there are three possibilities of what it could be.
Facebook could change its name to become known for something else besides social media. Most people know Facebook for its bankrupt reputation of spreading misinformation about politics and vaccines online. Philip Morris, the tobacco company, changed its name to the Altria Group in 2003. Allowing its other brands like Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing to flourish.
Facebook could create a holding corporation for holding Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Preempting a congressional proposal to split Facebook into smaller companies. If Facebook separates Instagram and WhatsApp under a holding company, Congress has nothing to do. Never mind that Zuckerberg would still be in control.
Facebook could create a virtual world that goes beyond anything available today. A virtual world that could be a future version of the Internet. From what I’ve seen far, I doubt that it will happen any time soon.
If there is any company that aspires to be the evil corporate owner of a virtual world, it would Facebook.