Metsploitation: Companies Abusing and Misusing the Word “Metaverse” Will Render the Term Meaningless

When historians look back at the current metaverse mania (and you can bet they will!), they will note that Facebook’s October 2021 announcement that it was rebranding as Meta and repivoting to become a “metaverse” company as the point at which the silly season truly began.

As somebody who has been writing “news and views about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse” (as the tagline of the blog states) for almost five years now, I routinely roll my eyes as some of the abuses and misuses of the term metaverse I come across lately. For example, the CES 2022 press release for a cutting-edge contact lens regularly namedrops the term “Metaverse” (with a capital M) for a product that clearly currently doesn’t have anything to do with the metaverse—and is unlikely to do so anytime in the near future.

Everybody is suddenly jumping on the metaverse bandwagon (especially in the blockchain, crypto, and NFT space), and I fear that the many corporations breezily throwing the term about (and, in many cases, stretching, misusing, and abusing it) will eventually render the term meaningless.

A Jan. 3rd, 2022 CNN Business article written by Kerry Flynn featured an interview with Gideon Lichfield, the global editorial director of Wired:

The word “metaverse” is popping up everywhere. Facebook recently changed its name to Meta Platforms. Nike bought a virtual shoe company to help it expand to the metaverse. And other brands like Gucci and Ralph Lauren have been considering the future of fashion with digital personas.

With all the attention, it can be difficult for general news consumers to parse through what is a marketing gimmick versus what really matters. It requires journalists to approach the tech industry’s new favorite buzzword with an open mind and with nuance, something that the media hasn’t always been consistent with in years past, according to Gideon Lichfield, global editorial director of Wired.

“Every time the industry goes after a new name for something and tries to pivot, something new inevitably comes out of it. It’s just not clear yet what it will be,” Lichfield said. “I think one has to be really critical of this tendency and call out what is just marketing and hype, which is a large part of it, whilst remaining open-minded to the fact that something new does emerge.”

I recommend you go over and read the entire interview, which covers many topics in addition to the current metaverse craze.

I will leave the final word to Brian Heater, who wrote yesterday in a TechCrunch article about the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show:

This year, the halls of CES may have been fairly devoid of human life, but from the looks of things, one couldn’t walk a few feet without tripping over the metaverse. Just over two months after Facebook rebranded to Meta, a little metsploitation is to be expected at a show like CES, where companies are every bit as invested in a good hook as good product. In a show like this, it’s understandable — if you’re not a company like, say, Samsung or Hyundai, it’s difficult standing out. Of course, both of those giant brands never met a that they didn’t want to verse.

I’ll spare you the specifics on the smaller companies. This thread is a pretty well versed in the aforementioned meta. Frankly, I don’t want to blow up any startups for hoping they glean a little bit of that shine (though, if I’m being honest, “Goart Metaverse” is a phrase that is going to wedge itself into my psyche until my body releases the DMT into my brain in my final moments on Earth).

What I will say, for sure, is that if you didn’t know what a metaverse was prior to the start of CES, the show didn’t do a particularly good job clarifying — beyond the fact that it probably definitely includes some goofy looking Memojis and probably some VR equipment. And, actually, now that I’m typing that, I recognize that it’s probably as good a description of metaverse as any…

It must be a confusing time to be among the most bullish on the metaverse. Everyone from beauty brands to wearables. It’s at once hopeful to see such excitement around the concept, but also frustrating to witness what may be an emerging metaverse of shit. That is to say, will the metaverse lose all meaning before there’s a metaverse to metaverse in? Your metaverse is as good as mine (metaverse).

Be sure to check out all the pictures in Nima Zeighami’s Twitter thread mentioned in Brian’s article as a further support for my arguments here. And Brian’s portmanteau metsploitation is officially my favourite new word of the day!

P.S. Starting with this blogpost, I have given in to the inevitable, and created a new category on the blog, called Metaverse (General), as a sort of catch-all for posts which discuss the metaverse and don’t neatly fit into another category.

I will in due time go back and add this tag to my blogposts about the metaverse written in the past 4-1/2 years to make them easier to pull up, but (as you can imagine) this will take me some time.

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