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New Essay: I Tell VentureBeat What Went Wrong with "The Metaverse"


Metaverse explained Wagner James Au

What went wrong with ‘the Metaverse’? An insider’s postmortem is a new guest essay I wrote for VentureBeat, and I hope you consider reading and sharing on social media! The quotes around "the Metaverse" are intentional, because I'm talking about the straw man version most people in tech have been toying with recently, not the actual execution. Opener:

It’s now two years since Facebook changed its name to Meta, ushering in a brief but blazing enthusiasm over “the Metaverse”, a concept from science fiction that suddenly seemed to be the next inevitable leap in technology. For most people in tech, however, the term has since lost its luster, seemingly supplanted by any product with “artificial intelligence” attached to its description. 

But the true story of the Metaverse’s rise and fall in public awareness is much more complicated and interesting than simply being the short life cycle of a buzzword — it also reflects a collective failure of both imagination and understanding.  

One point I haven't discussed in awhile goes to what I believe is a gender bias that's cost the industry — and Meta in particular — tens of billions of dollars:


Grievous of all, Zuckerberg and his CTO Andrew Bosworth promoted a conception of the Metaverse in which the Quest headset was central. To do so, they had to overlook compelling evidence — raised by senior Microsoft researcher danah boyd at the time of the company acquiring Oculus in 2014 — that females have a high propensity to get nauseous using VR.

Contacted in late 2022 while writing Making a Metaverse That Matters, danah told me no one at Oculus or Meta followed up with her about the research questions she raised. Over the years, I have asked several senior Meta staffers (past and present) about this and have yet to receive an adequate reply. Unsurprisingly, Meta’s Quest 2 VR headset has an estimated install base of only about 20 million units, significantly smaller than the customer count of leading video game consoles. A product that tends to make half the population puke is not exactly destined for the mass market — let alone a reliable base for building the Metaverse. 

Obviously it draws quite a bit from Making a Metaverse That Matters, but my hope is the wider tech industry gets the basic gist and how the concept has been so rampantly misunderstood. Have a good weekend!


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