UPDATED! Editorial: How the Crypto Crash—and Meta’s Missteps—Are Souring the General Public on the Metaverse

As somebody who writes about social VR and flatscreen virtual worlds on this blog, with a popular Discord server packed with metaverse fanatics and a front-row seat on pretty much everything that has been happening in this space, let me tell you, the past twelve months have been a wild ride. You can even see it in my blog statistics of the number of visitors and views the RyanSchultz.com blog has attracted over the past year:

See that surge from October through March? In October, Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Connect 2021 keynote that Facebook would rebrand as Meta, and would focus on realizing his vision of the metaverse. This also coincided with a crypto speculation boom, where people and companies were frantically bidding for artificially scarce NFT-based plots of land in various blockchain metaverse platforms.

Together, these events sparked a greater awareness among the general public of the metaverse (as indicated by a corresponding increase in traffic to my blog). However, it would appear that the ongoing crypto crash, combined with Meta’s recent woes and missteps, are causing people to sour on the concept. (And by “people”, I mean the general public, not the metaverse fanatics, content creators and world builders whom I tend to hang out with!)

As an illustration of this, I would like to focus on a recent announcement made by Mark Zuckerberg, about the expansion of their flagship consumer social VR platform, Horizon Worlds, from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. into two new countries, France and Spain:

The first thing I think of when I look at this picture is: hoo boy, somebody working in Meta’s PR department is gonna get fired! You’re trying to sell people on Horizon Worlds with this unappealing, uninspiring, and frankly ugly image on Twitter?


The response to this on two different subreddit communities on Reddit, r/technology and r/Buttcoin, proves to be quite illuminating. (By the way, r/Buttcoin is the blockchain, crypto, and NFTs snark community, where we cryptoskeptics and critics love to discuss and dissect the latest shenanigans, antics, and scams in that world!)

Here are some of the better comments on the r/technology post, sparked by Paul Tessi’s biting August 17th, 2022 Fortune article, Does Mark Zuckerberg Not Understand How Bad His Metaverse Looks?

It looks like Mark Zuckerberg watched Ready Player One and thought he would be able to recreate that universe with MS Paint.

“Looking forward to seeing people explore and build immersive worlds!” :: “Work in my content mill, peasants.”

The more money they dump into this dumpster fire, the better chance Facebook finally collapses into the abyss. So keep doing it Zuck.

One much-upvoted comment reads as follows:

No one is building a $1500-2500 PC with [a] dedicated GPU to add a Facebook $600 VR headset to attend work meetings in a virtual space that looks like a kids CGI series from 2004 at a mass adoption level, where the majority of the public would use it daily for 8 hours at work then again for another 4-6 hours “for fun” at home, as the Meta dystopian dream suggests.

Meta has already been subsidizing the costs of their currently meh headset, which they just increased the prices of, as they were losing too much money.

For this to work, the hardware has to be good enough for grandma to be able to buy it on a pension, put it on out of the box and it just works, and it does not make her sick to her stomach in 5-20 minutes due to the low frame rates and quality.

That’s the barrier of entry to the space you need to be able to target… if that old guy at your office struggles with getting their mic to work on MS Teams for a video call every day, as the manager he is not going to order $100,000 worth of gear for your department that is hard to setup and use to meet in the metaverse.

This thing is dead on arrival, but Facebook is also dying/dead in it’s current form, so this Hail Mary [pass] is all they have.

In the August 17th Fortune article which spawned these responses, reporter Paul Tassi writes:

The thing is, this happens all the time with Zuckerberg and his metaverse because Horizon Worlds has looked terrible since its inception and has barely gotten any better over the years, where its avatars still look like Miis from 2012 and they still don’t have legs.

Granted, I understand that showing 2D screenshots of VR is difficult, and that VR generally lags behind traditional console and PC gaming in terms of graphics. And yet that doesn’t change the fact that even within VR, Horizon Worlds is one of the worst-looking offerings I have seen, and that Meta has spent something like $10 billion chasing its Horizon, VR-centric version of the metaverse, even embarrassingly changing their company name to reflect that. And…this is the result.


Meanwhile, here are some of the opinions of the cryptosnarkers over on r/Buttcoin:

If I was a Meta stockholder I would be selling the minute I saw that screenshot.

He (and many others) are hoping that nobody remembers Second Life ever existed, let alone that it still does. It has a dedicated audience of somewhere between half to one million users and that’s kinda it. I suspect the future for “the metaverse” is similar.

One r/Buttcoin member posted the following detailed comment:

This is the part I don’t understand. Any “meta” style environment will be incredibly limited in terms of graphics and gameplay due to the need to have a high number of players at once. So who is the target audience?

• Someone looking to play a game is going to go with something like Grand Theft Auto V (and continue to move on to the next biggest thing when they come out).
• The live concerts! aspect of the website seems equally absurd given the graphical limitations and that this would be less entertaining than watching a concert on TV.
• Your casual Farmville-style person isn’t shelling out hundreds of dollars for a VR headset.
• For their “practical” concepts like virtual stores, it seems to invalidate the concept of buying metaverse land as either the system will allow for fast travel style movement (making “premium” land a joke), or not allow for this travelling and completely turn off their customer base for this.

I just don’t see where the interest comes from.

And I chuckled at this wag’s opinion:

Second Life managed to survive because it fostered a community of weirdo people who fetishized the environment. I think the only person who fetishizes Facebook’s metaverse is Zuckerberg.

Absolutely SAVAGE! I live. Somebody else posted this gem to the r/Buttcoin subreddit:


Even worse, the cryptobros are starting to dunk on the metaverse, notably Shark Tank billionaire investor Mark Cuban. According to an August 8th, 2022 report in Fortune:

Mark Cuban, the billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner and avid crypto enthusiast, is not sold on the metaverse.

“The worst part is that people are buying real estate in these places. That’s just the dumbest shit ever,” he told the crypto-themed YouTube channel Altcoin Daily this past weekend.

I’m quite sure that the various blockchain-based metaverses like Voxels (formerly known as Cryptovoxels), Decentraland, Somnium Space, and The Sandbox, all of whom have seen the value and the trading volume of their NFT-based real estate decline during this crypto winter, were not expecting the ridicule and disdain of crypto influencers themselves! After all, the crypto crowd are main target audience of these platforms, not your average non-crypto user. You know things are getting weird when the cryptobros start to turn on each other!


So, what does all this mean? Well, it looks as though the concept of the metaverse, at least among the general public, is going to sustain some reputational damage, at least in the short term (12 to 24 months). Perhaps it was inevitable that there would be such a swing from irrational metaverse exuberance to equally irrational metaverse distaste, even disgust.

I am reminded of the Gartner technology consulting group’s well-known Hype Cycle, where we appear to be rapidly moving from the peak of inflated expectations, to the trough of disillusionment:

The five steps of the Gartner Hype Cycle (source: Wikipedia)

Also, this “trough of disillusionment” means that it’s going to be harder to sell consumers and businesses on the metaverse. This will apply both to behemoth corporations like Meta, Apple, and Alphabet (the parent company of Google), as well as to much smaller metaverse-building companies. As I have said before, not all platforms currently being worked on will survive this rough period.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that only a handful will achieve dominance in this ever-evolving market, leaving the other firms to fight over the leftover scraps. Of course, some companies will be savvy enough to focus on a profitable niche market, such as the surgical training platform FundamentalVR, which recently received another venture capital infusion of US$20 million.

So, as Bette Davis once memorably said in the movie All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts…it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

UPDATE August 19th, 2022: As further evidence of the antipathy towards Mark Zuckerberg’s latest announcement, Zack Zwiezen wrote this scathing report for Kotaku, titled Mark Zuckerberg’s Soulless Metaverse Avatar Has Me Worried About Our Digital Future:

Earlier this week, the alien-wearing-a-human-skin-suit known to us as Mark Zuckerberg posted a VR selfie from inside his company’s metaverse project, Horizon Worlds. The selfie showed off the Eiffel Tower and was meant to announce that his metaverse is expanding to more countries. Instead, however, people immediately began dunking on the terrible picture, the ugly avatar, and how it all looked like it fell out of a 2005 edutainment game

And that brings us to 2022, where Zuckerberg’s avatar is a legless knock-off of a Nintendo Mii with some really weird buttons and the eyes of a corpse. And this isn’t just how Zuckerberg looks, this is the way all avatars appear in Horizon Worlds. I’ve played enough Horizon Worlds to tell you that the missing legs quickly cease to matter. But the lack of style and the cold, dead aesthetic never goes away.

Sure, part of the reason these avatars and worlds look simple and ugly compared to modern video games comes down to the limited VR hardware in Quest 2 and Facebook’s desire to make VR content that can run on as many devices as possible.

On the other hand, I can find Nintendo DS and Sony PS Vita games with better, nicer-looking art and models than what we’ve been shown so far in Facebook’s metaverse. I also don’t think you can blame the people making this stuff, as I assume they are more than capable of doing better and more vibrant things. But more and more, it seems that isn’t what Meta and Zucklehead want. Instead, they are focused on making a product that can be consumed by the masses and which lacks any defining characteristics in an attempt to get more people to dive in.

This is the exact opposite approach we see in more community-driven VR metaverses like VR Chat, which looks better and feels warmer and more inviting. In comparison, Horizon Worlds looks like an animated video I’d walk by in some fancy hospital while I look for the bathroom.

And if this bland and ugly metaverse is the future Mark Zuckerberg wants and is investing billions of dollars into, I’m worried that it could end up winning out over other, better alternatives simply because he has the money and resources to squash or buy up competitors. Well, if it does win out, at least I’ll be able to skip it and not buy a new VR headset.

Yee-OUCH!!!

Also, as further evidence of the distress in the entire cryptosphere, Bloomberg reports that ad spending by the crypto firms has absolutely cratered:

Spending by major crypto firms, including the trading platforms Crypto.com, Coinbase Global Inc. and FTX, fell to $36,000 in July in the US, according to ISpot. That’s the lowest monthly total since January 2021 and is down from a high of $84.5 million in February, when the industry flooded the airwaves around the Super Bowl.

Again, Yeee-OUCH!!! And it looks like things are not going to get better anytime soon, as inflation roars and recession looms. People have more important things to worry about (like keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads) than buying virtual real estate on the blockchain!

In December 2021, Republic Realm spent approximately US$4.3 million worth of land in The Sandbox, setting a record for the most expensive land sale in the metaverse (more about Republic Realm here). It would appear to be highly unlikely that Republic Realm, or any of the other investors who bought NFT-based plots of virtual land at the height of the boom market, are going to be able to earn a profit anytime soon.

Has the bottom fallen out of the NFT-based metaverse market? And what does this mean for the concept of the metaverse in general? Stay tuned!

UPDATED! Facebook Horizon Rebrands, Drops Support for Unity-Based Worlds

Today Facebook announced that it was rebranding its still-in-closed-beta social VR platform, from Facebook Horizon to Horizon Worlds. This move makes sense to me; attaching the name “Facebook” to anything the behemoth company wants to promote is probably a smart PR move, given the recent level of notoriety of their brand and the battering of their public image.

And it would appear that Facebook (which earned a staggering US$86 billion in 2020) is willing to put a microscopic fraction of that income towards encouraging content creators on the newly-renamed platform. According to an official announcement:

When we launched Horizon’s invite-only beta last year, we started to build a creator-friendly space in VR with best-in-class social world-building tools. We’ve spent the past year developing those tools and improving them based on creator feedback. These early creators have grown the social experiences on the Horizon platform, and we’ve been amazed by their imagination and creativity on display. We’re excited to do more to support them, so starting today, we’re launching new initiatives to recognize the efforts of Horizon creators and continue to grow the creator and developer community. 

We’re announcing a $10 million Creator Fund to encourage more people to come build with us as we continue rolling out Horizon in beta. And as we grow the social experiences that are part of Horizon, we’re rolling out a new name for this experience: Horizon Worlds. 

The US$10 million will be distributed through community competitions, via its Creator Accelerator Program, and funding for developers, studios or creators who wish to partner with Facebook. Ian Hamilton of UploadVR reports:

Overall, then, two years after its initial launch Facebook is honing Horizon Worlds around its VR-based creative community with the $10 million creator fund to be doled out through community competitions, an accelerator program, and funding for developers who agree to build for Horizon according to Facebook’s suggested theme.

Facebook said it would add more people to the testing release of Horizon Worlds throughout the rest of 2021.

“We fully expect ticketed events, we fully expect people to be asking for gifting of goods, trading of goods, buying digital goods and items, as well as of course experiences themselves, so subscriptions inside of these experiences themselves,” said Sharma. “I having nothing to announce today in terms of exact features that we’re working on, but if you take a look at what the family of apps at Facebook already support, it’s a pretty good line that we already have the capabilities other places that we can tie all of these things together into a nice bow for our creators.”

There’s a couple of interesting things in Ian’s report that I wish to highlight.

First, that Facebook would continue its “testing release of Horizon Worlds throughout the rest of 2021”. In other words, don’t expect the platform to open up to the general public before 2022. You may speculate for the reasons for that delay. My sources who have visited the social VR platform in person tell me the same two things, over and over again:

  • Horizon Worlds has fantastic in-world building tools (similar in many ways to the prim-building tools in Second Life, where many metaverse content creators got their start); and
  • Horizon Worlds is having difficulty building, maintaining, and moderating its community. Many tell me the platform is deserted, which might be an indication of how few people they have let into the closed beta-testing phase. However, it might also be because people visit, wander around, get bored, and leave (call it “Sansar syndrome”).

Second, please note carefully that the funding is for developers “who agree to build for Horizon according to Facebook’s suggested theme”. Hear that? It’s the sound of potential developers running for the exits. Facebook wants firm control over what kind of worlds you build, and they are willing to dictate themes. From the official announcement:

If you’re a developer, studio or creator and you’re interested in partnering with us for funded opportunities to create experiences for Horizon in a particular theme, you can sign up to learn more about the next set of themes.

Yes, that’s right…Facebook won’t even tell you about the themes unless you sign up. As someone who, on moral principles, refuses to have anything to do with Facebook products and services from now on, I’m not even going to bother. Those of you who have chosen to have their personal data strip-mined for profit by signing off on Facebook’s data and privacy policies can inform me as to what the corporate-approved themes are, mmmkay? Thanks 😉

So, while Facebook might slap a fresh coat of paint on its flagship social VR platform, and throw some of the spare change from Mark Zuckerberg’s couch cushions at content creators, there is, as Vivek Sharma (Vice President of Horizon at Facebook Reality Labs) states in the UploadVR article, “nothing to announce today in terms of exact features that we’re working on”.

Ian Hamilton also reported on Facebook dropping support for Unity:

When the social service was first showcased for Oculus Quest in late 2019 it supported worlds made in Unity which were noticeably more complex and engaging than those made in VR using Facebook’s tools. Unity is the most popular game engine among developers and, alongside Roblox, Rec Room and Epic Games, the companies are on a short list of efforts to build powerful yet easy-to-use tools for interactive 3D virtual world creation. Facebook tried to acquire Unity in the past and the acquisition would’ve given the advertising giant a key toolset that would push many creators to work with the social media company. Instead of selling, though, Unity went public on the stock market in late 2020.

“We don’t have any plans [for] direct Unity-level development on top of Worlds, but absolutely as a VR developer you can build on top of Unity and bring that experience, whether its a game or something else, over to Oculus through the Oculus app store,” said Vivek Sharma, VP of Horizon at Facebook Reality Labs.

As always, I will continue to monitor the situation over at Facebook, and report on developments. You can find all my blogposts about Facebook Horizon, now called Horizon Worlds, here. (I will update the tag later today.)

UPDATE 2:33 p.m.: Right after I published this post, DreamDance, a member of the RyanSchultz.com Discord community, told me:

Ok, so I contacted many friends just now; according to them there was never Unity world-building in Horizon…I don’t like Horizon, but I think he [Ian Hamilton] got stuff mixed up.

(I did obtain DreamDance’s permission to attribute the quote to him/her.)

UPDATE 3:17 p.m.: Ian Hamilton has responded to my inquiry, saying:

Here’s Tested reporting the same thing I did in 2019 — that we were shown by Facebook a world in Horizon made in Unity.

Also, I apologize for saying that Ian Hamilton worked for VRScout in my original blogpost…this error has been corrected. (Sorry, Ian!)

UPDATED! Facebook Launches Horizon Workrooms, a Remote Workteams VR App for the Oculus Quest 2

Yesterday, Facebook announced their entry into what I collectively term the YARTVRA (Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App) marketplace, a product called Horizon Workrooms. Here’s the promotional video for this new social VR platform for the workplace:

What is interesting is that Facebook is confident enough in this platform to launch it in open beta, as opposed to Facebook Horizon, which is still in closed, invitation-only beta. And while Horizon Workrooms is, according to the official announcement, “available for free on Oculus Quest 2 in all countries where Quest 2 is supported“, that list of nations notably omits Germany, where the country’s Bundeskartellamt or Federal Cartel Office (FCO) is investigating the company’s decision to forcibly yoke Oculus VR hardware owners to accounts on the Facebook social network.

As to that decision, Facebook states:

When you choose to collaborate with your coworkers in Workrooms, you should feel in control of your experience, and we built Workrooms with privacy and safety in mind.

Workrooms will not use your work conversations and materials to inform ads on Facebook. The audio contents of your meeting are processed on Facebook servers but not stored, unless someone records and sends us a clip as part of a report. In this case, we’ll use the information to take appropriate action and then delete the recordings. Finally, Passthrough processes images and videos of your physical environment from the device sensors locally. Facebook and third-party apps do not access, view, or use these images or videos to target ads. Other people are not able to see your computer screen in Workrooms unless you choose to share it, and the permissions you grant for the Oculus Remote Desktop app are only used for the purposes of allowing streaming from your computer to your headset.

In addition to keeping your information secure, we want everyone to feel safe while collaborating in Workrooms. That’s why anyone who signs up for Workrooms must agree to follow our Facebook Community Standards and Conduct in VR Policy. If other members or content in the workroom violate these policies, you can always contact the team admin who can take action such as removing someone from the Workrooms team. You can also report an entire Workrooms team if you think it’s not following our policies. And If you’re in VR with people who are bothering you, you can report them using the Oculus reporting tool and include evidence for us to review.

Using Workrooms requires a Workrooms account, which is separate from your Oculus or Facebook accounts, although your Oculus username may be visible to other users in some cases—for example if someone reports you for violating our policies and your username appears in the tool. And to experience Workrooms in VR, you’ll need to access the app on Quest 2, which requires a Facebook login. That being said, your use of Workrooms will not make any updates to your Facebook profile or timeline unless you choose to do so.

While offering a free collaborative VR platform on a low-cost, wireless VR headset will certainly be tempting to businesses (and it may sound a death knell to some YARTVRA competitors out there), the requirement to set up a personal account on the Facebook social network to use Horizon Workrooms is going to continue to be a stumbling block for many of the companies that Facebook is targeting with this product (and the bigger the company, the more likely that their legal department is going to have objections).

Still, there are several notable features in Horizon Workrooms. Instead of using an awkward workaround to tap at a virtual keyboard, you can bring your physical desk and a compatible tracked keyboard, where you can see them sitting on the virtual meeting table in front of you. Road to VR reports:

The app includes a fully functional virtual desktop, which leverages a companion app installed on your PC or Mac to stream your computer’s desktop to a virtual screen in front of you. This means you can continue to access your computer even while you’re inside the headset, and you can even share your screen with others in the room.

To make it easier to use your real keyboard that’s on the desk in front of you, Horizon Workrooms supports keyboard tracking which allows it to detect a handful of specific keyboards, and create a virtual representation of them so that you can see and type on without being ‘blinded’ by the headset.

Right now Horizon Workrooms only supports Macbook keyboards, the Apple Magic keyboard, and the Logitech K830, though the company says they’re working to support more in the future.

If you don’t happen to have one of these keyboards luckily there’s a backup option. You can enable a ‘desk passthrough’ view which cuts out a portion of the virtual desk in front of you to show your actual hands on your actual keyboard. I was surprised how well it worked. While the passthrough video quality isn’t good enough to easily make out the letters on individual keys, for proficient typists it at least makes it easy to keep your hands properly aligned and prevents blindly reaching around for your keyboard. Now if only they could support coffee mug tracking too….

While it’s nice to have your usual desktop right in front of you—and all of the productivity capabilities that confers—it’s far from a perfect replacement for your actual PC. Latency between the PC and headset is surprisingly high, making mouse movements and keyboard input much more sluggish than you’re used to (especially if you have a high refresh rate monitor). Hopefully this is something they can improve going forward.

A look at how you can integrate your real-life keyboard into Horizon Workrooms (image source)

Anybody who has tried to use what Philip Rosedale has pejoratively called a “marimba keyboard” (i.e. where you use a mallet-like device to awkwardly type on a virtual keyboard in VR), can immediately see the benefits of this!

Horizon Workrooms also features spatial audio (is this the same as High Fidelity’s product, I wonder?), as well as “new and improved” Oculus Avatars, which are still upper-body only. Other features include whiteboards, where you can flip your Oculus Touch hand controller around and use it as a whiteboard marker. In fact, once you enable hand tracking in the Quest 2, you probably won’t need to use the hand controllers as much, anyway. According to the official announcement:

Workrooms is one of our first experiences that was designed from the start to use your hands, and not controllers, as your primary input. This helps to create a more natural and expressive social experience and lets you switch more easily between physical tools like your keyboard and controllers when needed. (To ensure the best experience, you’ll need to enable hand tracking to use Workrooms.)

Furthermore, Facebook wants to make Horizon Workrooms features available for other Oculus Quest developers to use:

We hope that developers are excited to use many of the same features seen in Workrooms in their own apps, and we’re working hard to bring them to our platform as well. You can already start by using our hand tracking and spatial audio features in your own apps today. And we’re working to bring avatarsPassthrough, mixed-reality desk, and tracked keyboard capabilities to the platform too. We’re excited to continue growing the VR for work ecosystem, and we hope that Workrooms serves as inspiration for how these features can work together.

We think VR will fundamentally transform the way we work as a new computing platform, defying distance to help people collaborate better from anywhere. Horizon Workrooms is a big first step towards this vision, and we look forward to hearing your feedback.

I note with interest that Horizon Workrooms does not appear to be available for the Oculus Rift tethered VR headset, which Facebook has already discontinued in favour of the Oculus Quest 2. I wonder why; no doubt there are still plenty of Oculus Rifts in use. Perhaps Facebook judged that it was not worth the extra work to make it happen, deciding instead to go all-in on the Oculus Quest ecosystem. (Also, the percentage of businesses using Rifts is probably pretty small.)

Horizon Workrooms looks to be a very useful and fully-featured product, which businesses and other organizations can use for free. However, we all already know, after numerous past Facebook privacy controversies, if it’s “free”, you are the product (even with Facebook’s assurances that it won’t use that data it collects to target advertising to you). I will continue to watch and report from the sidelines.

For further information about Horizon Workrooms, please read the official announcement, or visit their brand new website (and I do hope whoever was sitting on the domain name “workrooms.com” was handsomely compensated when Facebook bought it!). I have duly added Horizon Workrooms to my ever-expanding comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds.

A look at the new and improved avatars in Horizon Workrooms (image source)

UPDATE Sept. 6th, 2021: Apparently, Horizon Workrooms is not (repeat, NOT) available to Oculus for Business users…say what?!??

We wanted to try it, so we reached out to Oculus since we only have Oculus for Business headsets, and they said it wasn’t available for OfB, which seems to kind of defeat the purpose of this.

Editorial: Facebook Wants to Be Your Metaverse Company

Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

As longtime readers of my blog know well by now, Auntie Ryan has OPINIONS. And she ain’t afraid to share them! 😉

One such opinion is that everybody and their dog is suddenly wanting to jump on the metaverse bandwagon. I’ve never seen the term thrown around as much as lately.

Another firmly-held opinion: Facebook Inc. has too much influence on virtual reality and the metaverse already. Facebook is a juggernaut, hoping to leverage their existing massive stranglehold on social media (and all its attendant societal ills), not to mention its strip-mining of all the personal data it collects on you (sometimes even without your knowledge or consent; see: the Flo period tracker app), in order to become the dominant player in any market it targets. Witness its recent foray into social audio for just one recent example. Sometimes, it feels like Facebook is just extending itself into every single possible category of product.

Some will respond that Google, Apple, Amazon, and many other firms commit the same level of personal data vacuuming that Facebook does, which is true. However, I actually have more faith that those companies will at least not weaponize their data against me. Few companies have seen the level of public distrust rise as high as Facebook (and frankly, the company’s recent fight with Apple over the latter wanting to make transparent how much data Facebook collects on you, is SO not a good look for Mark Z.).

Time and time again over the years, Facebook has shown that it cannot be trusted (see: the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the incitement of violence in Myanmar, to give just two relatively recent examples of egregious behaviour happening on the platform). Combine that lack of trust with its overweening ambitions, and you have a potentially serious problem.

For me, the absolute final straw came last October, when Facebook announced that owners of Oculus VR headsets had a two-year window to obtain accounts on the Facebook social network for their devices, or potentially lose functionality. (By the way, Facebook has responded to Germany, the only nation I know of so far that has sounded the alarm about forcibly yoking Oculus hardware users to Facebook accounts, by suspending all Oculus sales in that country. As far as I am aware, this is still the case. German consumers can still buy Oculus headsets online from other countries such as France, however.)

I responded by voting with my feet and my wallet, deleting my Facebook and Oculus accounts, and vowing to never again purchase or participate in any Facebook/Oculus hardware and software, a decision which I explain here, and one which I continue to stand by in good conscience. I full well realize that I might be missing out, but I consider the price of admission to be too high (and frankly, too opaque). God knows how my personal data is being used, and Facebook’s track record frankly sucks.

I even went so far as to ask Facebook to delete all the data it had on me, but I also know that the Facebook social network probably has some sort of “shadow account” on me, based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family who are still on Facebook. I am going to assume that Facebook has indeed done what I have asked and removed my data from their social network. Frankly, there is no way for me to actually verify this, as consumers in Canada and the U.S. have zero rights over the data companies like Facebook collects about them, as was vividly brought to life by Dr. David Carroll, whose dogged search for answers to how his personal data was misused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a focal role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (which, by the way, I very strongly recommend you watch).

So, you might be wondering, what do I think of the flurry of recent news stories regarding Facebook’s repositioning to become your next metaverse company, as evidenced by this interview Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave to The Verge?

Glad you asked… 😉 Let me tell you…

Facebook earned roughly 86 billion dollars in profit last year, mostly from its data-harvesting/advertising business. It therefore has ample deep pockets to fund an army of public relations staff to curry favour with the news media in order to revise its less-than-rosy corporate history. And no, some people are NOT having it, and pushing back:

(Thank God for the salty counterpoint of Twitter. And yes, I know, Twitter has its problems, too. But at least Twitter gives you better control over what you see in your timeline, including blocking any promoted tweets that happen to irk you.)

So, I therefore take anything that Facebook says with a grain of salt. The news that Facebook has decided to take on the metaverse has already resulted in videos such as this one, by Thrillseeker:

“Biggest VR Announcement of the Decade”? Really? I would beg to differ. (That particular section starts at the 5:13 time mark in the video. There are quite a few other interesting news items which Thrillseeker covers in this video, by the way.)

Here’s a quote from that video:

What’s more shocking is that Facebook says they don’t want to own [the metaverse], they want to help build it, which immediately raises a red flag to me. Facebook has been pretty open about wanting to practically own VR. They’re not just a player in the industry at the moment, they’re essentially an entire team that owns the referee and the field you play on, having more than 60% market share in PCVR and nearly 100% market share in standalone VR.

As I said up top, Facebook’s past corporate history shows that it tends to dominate rather than participate in those markets it enters. Combine that with Facebook’s horrible track record with respect to user privacy and algorithm-driven psychological manipulation, which has contributed to a more divisive society rife with conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation, and I share Thrillseeker’s feelings of worry and skepticism at the idea of a Facebook-imprinted metaverse. I don’t trust Facebook.

And in The Verge interview with Mark Zuckerberg, this point was also raised:


Casey Newton: Because I know some people are going to hear this vision for the metaverse and just reflexively wish that you wouldn’t build it. They’ll say, Facebook wasn’t governed effectively when it was in two dimensions, and trying to build it in three dimensions is pure hubris. And people feel that way for different reasons. But one that has come up a lot over the past couple of weeks is misinformation. President Biden has since walked this back, but on Friday he was talking about misinformation related to COVID vaccines. And he said, “Facebook is killing people.” How do you respond to the idea that Facebook has played a role in making people hesitant about getting vaccinated?

Mark Zuckerberg: Well, I think that our basic role here — and I appreciate you mentioning the fullness of the context there, because I do think that the president offered more context on that after his original comment. There’s multiple prongs here. One part of it is we need to basically help push out authoritative information. We do that. We’ve helped, I think it’s more than 2 billion people around the world, access authoritative information about COVID over the course of the pandemic by putting it at the top of Facebook and Instagram. We’ve helped millions of people, including here in the US, basically go use our vaccine finder tool to actually go get their vaccine. So I’m quite confident, just looking at the analytics and the net impact, that we’ve been a positive force here…

And for the metaverse, I think that there are different types of integrity questions. One of the big issues that I think people need to think through is right now there’s a pretty meaningful gender skew, at least in virtual reality, where there’s a lot more men than women. And in some cases that leads to harassment. And I think one of the things that we’ve been able to do better in some of our experiences than some of the other games and things out there is give people easier tools to block people, just be able to have a sense of when there might be harassment going on, to keep it a safe space that can be inclusive for everyone, that everyone wants to be a part of.

Because ultimately, you’re not going to have a healthy and vibrant community if it skews so much towards one gender or the other, or a whole part of the population just doesn’t feel safe. So this stuff is going to be critical. It’s not just critical for having a good social impact, it’s critical for building good products. And it’s something that we’re focused on from the beginning here.


Essentially, Mark resorted to corporate bafflegab in responding to Casey’s question, sidestepping what was at the heart of the question: trust in what Facebook does.

Also, it’s very hard to form an opinion about the Facebook metaverse, based on what little concrete information is publicly available. All we know for now is that Facebook has been doing some internal reorganization, creating a new Metaverse product group:

Facebook Reality Labs is “standing up a Metaverse product group”, but it isn’t clear what this actually means…

The group will be led by former Instagram VP of Product Vishal Shah, and will report directly to [Facebook Reality Labs Vice-President Andrew Bosworth…

But there’s an important question the announcement didn’t answer: what exactly is this “metaverse” group building?

At first glance you might assume the answer is Facebook Horizon. But Horizon is only a part of this group. As the announcement notes, Horizon’s lead will report to Metaverse lead Vishal Shah.

Horizon was marketed alongside Quest 2 and was originally supposed to launch in 2020, but is currently still in a closed beta. Facebook no longer actively markets Horizon, and hasn’t given any specific updates on its progress.

Many observers have been puzzled by the lack of updates on the progress of Facebook Horizon, its much-vaunted third (or fourth, depending on how you count) attempt to launch a social VR platform. It has been much delayed, and people are wondering why. Metaverse blogger Wagner James Au cites an insider in reporting that the project has been beset by staff turnover and a lack of prioritization.

A Reddit thread on the Facebook metaverse announcement included the following pithy comment (a reference to the well-known Ernest Cline novel and Steven Spielberg film Ready Player One):

It’s gonna be the Oasis, but if IOI had owned it from the beginning.

Tim De Chant, writing for the Ars Technica website in a July 28th, 2021 article titled Facebook’s Metaverse Gambit is a Distraction from its Deep-Seated Problems, said:

It’s clear that Zuckerberg has been thinking about this metaverse idea for a while. But the timing of Facebook’s announcement is interesting, to say the least. Facebook has “a history of doing these kinds of technical projects that look like they might be revolutionary at times when they’re being criticized for their lack of social responsibility,” Jen Goldbeck, a computer scientist and professor at the University of Maryland, told Ars.

Facebook has faced its share of scrutiny in recent months. Lawmakers have been floating antitrust and Section 230 bills that would hit the company hard. It was caught earlier this year autogenerating pages for white supremacist groups. And yesterday, hearings began in the House of Representatives into the insurrection that breached the US Capitol in January, which was partially organized using Facebook apps and sites.

It’s probably an overstatement to say that the metaverse news was released to serve as an intentional distraction from the company’s current problems. But the thought undoubtedly crossed someone’s mind at the company. There’s a “70 percent” chance that Facebook’s metaverse project is a “distraction from all the bad things that are going on,” Goldbeck said. “The last thing they want is more discussion of their algorithms and Q-Anon and extremist groups.”

Meanwhile, Paul Tassi of Forbes weighed in as follows, in article published yesterday titled Mark Zuckerberg Is Building the Wrong Metaverse:

…I think it’s easy, and wise, to be skeptical of Zuckerberg and Facebook being the ones to pioneer the Metaverse, given the company’s history. Oculus has already run afoul of its users by experimenting with in-game, in-headset ads (literally the thing the villain of Ready Player One was trying to engineer), but past that, the entire point of the Metaverse runs contrary to what Zuckerberg seems like he’s trying to build. Facebook products, whether Facebook itself or Instagram, are about a digital presence for your real self, or at least a happier, filtered version of yourself. A main ideal of the Metaverse is about not being who you really are, and the ability to be anyone at all. Facebook won’t even let you use a fake name, and is busy harvesting all your personal data that it shares far and wide with advertisers all over the planet. A core tenet of the Metaverse is the ability to hide your true identity and retain all the privacy you could ask for. It’s the exact opposite of the entire history of Facebook.

Zuckerberg talks about sitting on his friend’s couch as a hologram like that’s some sort of pinnacle Metaverse experience. It’s cool tech, it is not the Metaverse, and I think he’s missing the point of the entire concept, along with why people actually want this thing built in the first place. I do not want to sit on my friend’s couch as a hologram. I want to attend a virtual Ariana Grande concert as Batman.  

I myself wrote an editorial in January 2020 about many of the same concerns as Paul regarding personal identity here: Will Facebook Horizon Succeed If You Can’t Be Anybody But Yourself?

As the ancient Chinese curse says, may you live in interesting times. And what Facebook is doing is…interesting.

I will continue to wait and watch (and editorialize!) from the sidelines.