News last year that Facebook was rebranding as Meta was greeted with much derision, and to be fair, Mark Zuckerberg’s promotional materials did not do a lot of justice for the metaverse concept.

Now that Meta’s stock has recorded its biggest-ever daily loss (26.4%), accompanied by the first-ever drop in Facebook's daily active users, some of those same detractors are allowing themselves a sense of vindication: see, no-one wants a metaverse.

This conclusion, though, might be a partial misreading of the situation, both around Facebook itself and around the idea of a metaverse more generally.

Starting with Facebook, there are multiple reasons why it isn’t performing healthily. Compare the platform now with what it was when it first appeared, and there is a gulf between the two.

Facebook now comes across as an aging and bloated entity, that is not enjoyable to navigate, and which has become laden down with worn-out politics, and unsolicited, basic-level sloganeering. It seems unlikely that a younger demographic will be attracted anytime soon, and at the same time, are many of its current users likely to be thrilled at Zuck’s metaversal pivot?

Zuckerberg’s instincts, presumably he foresees a web3 future built on blockchains, are surely correct, but the organization of which he is at the helm comes across as unsuited for a metaversal transformation. In several ways, Facebook has come to exhibit core characteristics that are antithetical to the make-up of a true metaverse.

Censorship

Without wanting to engage in culture wars or squelch into the bottomless, political bog of who is being censored, and to what ends, it is safe to say that the big tech companies have, over recent years, veered far away from the old values of Silicon Valley and its tech pioneers.

There was a time when tech’s culture was libertarian, and it was taken for granted that free speech was an unassailable value, but it turns out that free speech could, actually, be assailed.

In fact, free speech has been clobbered, as companies including Facebook have taken it upon themselves to heavily moderate the content posted on their platforms, in ways that often appear patronizing, crude and ideologically motivated.

A metaverse in which an unaccountable central authority operates in this way, exercising total control without adequate explanation or channels for appeal, is not an appealing one, and, more simply, just doesn’t fit with anything crypto-based (such as web3).

Centralization

Decentralization is a pillar within crypto. You may be familiar with the blockchain trilemma, as first articulated by Vitalik Buterin, which states that blockchain developers must find a way to satisfy three demands: decentralization, security and scalability.

As is well documented, Ethereum, with its network congestion and sky-high gas fees, is struggling with scalability, while Solana, for example, is fast and cheap, but is criticized for not being sufficiently decentralized.

A worthwhile, blockchain-based metaverse would have to be open to all, permissionless and trustless, and constructed so there is not simply no central controller, but in a way that there is no capacity for a central controller to exist.

To say that Facebook doesn’t exemplify these characteristics is an understatement. It’s a traditional, centralized entity, in which users are subordinate to those who command power within the company structure. Essentially, if Facebook were morphed into a virtual territory and became the metaverse, then the metaverse would be under the dictatorial control of Chairman Zuck and his generals.

Ownership

Along with issues of decentralization, ownership is another critical factor in web3 environments. As we move towards an increasingly digital and online lifestyle, true ownership of virtual assets is inevitable, and it is through blockchain technology that such ownership is viable. Already, despite being in a nascent phase, NFT sales are through the roof, as digital collectibles change hands for occasionally mind-blowing sums.

Without ownership, of land, art, and whatever other assets come to emerge, a metaverse is still not much more than a conventional video game. And, ownership of these assets must be detachable, transportable and tradable. Property or tokens of holding are not locked into a particular platform, they are in your wallet, and they belong to you.

If Facebook’s metaverse resembled Facebook’s social media platform, then it would be a walled garden in which users did not even have the capacity to own anything. In fact, it could be worse than that, as on Facebook the platform owns everything about you, to the point of farming your data and leveraging it for profit. Transfer this model to a Facebook metaverse, and it will be a surveillance society in which ownership rights are reserved exclusively for the all-seeing state.

A Different Ethos

When it comes down to it, there is little point in formulating a new version of the web if it carries over, and perhaps even further embeds, the worst parts of the web in its current form. And as it goes, Facebook embodies, promotes and has profited enormously from those negative traits. The traits, that is, that we would be better off leaving behind.

If Facebook is to become a metaverse builder, and a true proponent of the improvements that web3 can enable, then it will first have to rid itself of its current ethos, and in the process, perhaps, move away from some of the users for whom that ethos clicks.

News last year that Facebook was rebranding as Meta was greeted with much derision, and to be fair, Mark Zuckerberg’s promotional materials did not do a lot of justice for the metaverse concept.

Now that Meta’s stock has recorded its biggest-ever daily loss (26.4%), accompanied by the first-ever drop in Facebook's daily active users, some of those same detractors are allowing themselves a sense of vindication: see, no-one wants a metaverse.

This conclusion, though, might be a partial misreading of the situation, both around Facebook itself and around the idea of a metaverse more generally.

Starting with Facebook, there are multiple reasons why it isn’t performing healthily. Compare the platform now with what it was when it first appeared, and there is a gulf between the two.

Facebook now comes across as an aging and bloated entity, that is not enjoyable to navigate, and which has become laden down with worn-out politics, and unsolicited, basic-level sloganeering. It seems unlikely that a younger demographic will be attracted anytime soon, and at the same time, are many of its current users likely to be thrilled at Zuck’s metaversal pivot?

Zuckerberg’s instincts, presumably he foresees a web3 future built on blockchains, are surely correct, but the organization of which he is at the helm comes across as unsuited for a metaversal transformation. In several ways, Facebook has come to exhibit core characteristics that are antithetical to the make-up of a true metaverse.

Censorship

Without wanting to engage in culture wars or squelch into the bottomless, political bog of who is being censored, and to what ends, it is safe to say that the big tech companies have, over recent years, veered far away from the old values of Silicon Valley and its tech pioneers.

There was a time when tech’s culture was libertarian, and it was taken for granted that free speech was an unassailable value, but it turns out that free speech could, actually, be assailed.

In fact, free speech has been clobbered, as companies including Facebook have taken it upon themselves to heavily moderate the content posted on their platforms, in ways that often appear patronizing, crude and ideologically motivated.

A metaverse in which an unaccountable central authority operates in this way, exercising total control without adequate explanation or channels for appeal, is not an appealing one, and, more simply, just doesn’t fit with anything crypto-based (such as web3).

Centralization

Decentralization is a pillar within crypto. You may be familiar with the blockchain trilemma, as first articulated by Vitalik Buterin, which states that blockchain developers must find a way to satisfy three demands: decentralization, security and scalability.

As is well documented, Ethereum, with its network congestion and sky-high gas fees, is struggling with scalability, while Solana, for example, is fast and cheap, but is criticized for not being sufficiently decentralized.

A worthwhile, blockchain-based metaverse would have to be open to all, permissionless and trustless, and constructed so there is not simply no central controller, but in a way that there is no capacity for a central controller to exist.

To say that Facebook doesn’t exemplify these characteristics is an understatement. It’s a traditional, centralized entity, in which users are subordinate to those who command power within the company structure. Essentially, if Facebook were morphed into a virtual territory and became the metaverse, then the metaverse would be under the dictatorial control of Chairman Zuck and his generals.

Ownership

Along with issues of decentralization, ownership is another critical factor in web3 environments. As we move towards an increasingly digital and online lifestyle, true ownership of virtual assets is inevitable, and it is through blockchain technology that such ownership is viable. Already, despite being in a nascent phase, NFT sales are through the roof, as digital collectibles change hands for occasionally mind-blowing sums.

Without ownership, of land, art, and whatever other assets come to emerge, a metaverse is still not much more than a conventional video game. And, ownership of these assets must be detachable, transportable and tradable. Property or tokens of holding are not locked into a particular platform, they are in your wallet, and they belong to you.

If Facebook’s metaverse resembled Facebook’s social media platform, then it would be a walled garden in which users did not even have the capacity to own anything. In fact, it could be worse than that, as on Facebook the platform owns everything about you, to the point of farming your data and leveraging it for profit. Transfer this model to a Facebook metaverse, and it will be a surveillance society in which ownership rights are reserved exclusively for the all-seeing state.

A Different Ethos

When it comes down to it, there is little point in formulating a new version of the web if it carries over, and perhaps even further embeds, the worst parts of the web in its current form. And as it goes, Facebook embodies, promotes and has profited enormously from those negative traits. The traits, that is, that we would be better off leaving behind.

If Facebook is to become a metaverse builder, and a true proponent of the improvements that web3 can enable, then it will first have to rid itself of its current ethos, and in the process, perhaps, move away from some of the users for whom that ethos clicks.