In The Metaverse, Facebook is Moving Far Ahead of its Rival Social Media Networks
It’s been said far and wide that the metaverse will be the next evolution of our digital lives. If so, it seems certain that the social media networks we know and love today are sure to play a big part in the future of the metaverse.
How exactly social media will merge itself with the metaverse remains to be seen. The difficulty is that for all of the talk around the metaverse and what it is, it doesn’t actually yet exist. Okay so there are some metaverse platforms, like Decentraland and The Sandbox, but ask anyone who has an opinion and they’ll tell you the metaverse will, ultimately, be something much bigger than just those blocky, cartoonish virtual worlds.
That said, we can at least tell from some of the early moves of social media giants a kind of framework for how the two concepts might come together. That’s most certainly true in the case of Facebook, now to be known as Meta of course. Its owner and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been pretty vocal about what he thinks the metaverse will eventually become, and he has plans in place to ensure Facebook – sorry, Meta – will play a central role in it.
The best concept we have so far comes from this video, Zuckerberg’s personal preview of the metaverse, which was shared during last October’s Facebook Connect conference:
Hundreds of column inches have been written about Meta’s metaverse plans too. Cryptocurrency exchange AAX, explains in a blog post how Meta’s primary focus is on virtual reality and its Horizon platforms Home and Worlds, which aim to facilitate a fully immersive digital experience for visitors to the metaverse. That makes sense, as Meta has been working on VR technology for some years already, having acquired the VR headset maker Oculus in 2014. It seems that it’s this work that will serve as the foundation of Meta’s metaverse plans.
Meta’s work on Horizon Worlds has progressed well too. As AAX explains, Horizon Worlds is a collaborative VR platform where people can come to play, hang out, join meditation sessions, attend concerts, and more. The key to Horizon Worlds, like Facebook itself, is that it’s based on a thriving community of creators that it plans to incentivize via a “Creator’s Fund.”
Meta has since begun testing tools to help creators monetize their work within the metaverse, including such things as a Commerce tab and a “gizmo” available in the Create mode that allows users to purchase items ranging from in-game accessories to metaverse experiences.
Meta has also shown a lot of interest in NFTs, which AAX says is a plan that could help drive more growth within the emerging metaverse. Several sources say Meta ultimately aims to open an NFT marketplace, and that teams at Facebook and Instagram are working on features that will allow users to create and sell non-fungible tokens through their profiles.
NFTs Make Their Mark On Instagram & Twitter
For now, Meta has confirmed nothing more than to say it’s actively working on the NFT space, but on the other hand, we do know that the Meta-owned Instagram has recently announced its own plans to start testing NFTs.
Those plans were announced by Instagram head Adam Mosseri earlier this month, who said the platform will start testing NFTs with select creators in the U.S. The executive said there will be no fees for sharing or posting NFTs on Instagram, and that at launch it will support tokens based on the Ethereum and Polygon blockchains, with support for additional chains such as Flow and Solana coming soon. At the same time, Instagram users will be able to choose from third-party wallets including Rainbow, MetaMask, and Trust Wallet, with support for Coinbase, Dapper and Phantom coming later.
With that announcement, it’s now possible for creators on Instagram to share NFTs they have purchased, either on their main Instagram feed, in Stories or in direct messages. Mosseri said only a limited number of creators and influencers can participate at the moment, with plans for a wider rollout of the functionality expected in the future wants it gets feedback from early adopters.
Instagram’s NFT test follows Twitter’s decision to enable NFT profile pictures for premium users, a feature that went live earlier this year. NFT profile pics are available to Twitter Blue subscribers – a new feature that’s currently restricted to users in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand only, so the NFTs are not yet a global thing. That said, thousands of Twitter users have already embraced the idea and started using their tokens as their display pics, including high-profile users and NFT collectors such as Eminem and Snoop Dogg, to name just a couple.
To set an NFT as your Twitter profile pic, simply go to your profile settings and click on change profile pic as you normally would. For Twitter Blue subscribers, they’ll be presented with a new option to select an NFT instead of a photo file. If they opt to do so, they’ll then have to connect their crypto wallet to their Twitter profile.
For the rest of us, there is a nifty benefit. When we come across an NFT profile pic we can click on the photo to learn more about the art, the collection it comes from, its provenance, and so on. For example, you’ll be able to see if the project or collaboration is verified by OpenSea or another NFT marketplace.
TikTok Bets On VR
Other social media rivals are doing their own thing in the metaverse. TikTok hasn’t said diddly squat about NFTs, but it made headlines last year when its parent company ByteDance splashed out an undisclosed amount of money to acquire the Chinese VR headset maker Pico.
Pico makes both VR headsets and also VR software applications and accessories such as tracking kits that can be attached to different parts of someone’s body to track their movements more accurately and represent them in a 3D virtual world.
The company’s gear has proven surprisingly popular. In May 2021 it launched the latest generation Pico Neo 3 VR headset, with sales reportedly exceeding more than 10 million RMB (around $1.5 million) in the first 24 hours of going on sale. The device reportedly supports freedom of movement in three positions – up and down, left and right, and forwards and backward. Further, Pico’s device is equipped with a four-camera tracking system that keeps track of the user’s head, lips, eyeballs, and hands in real-time with a high degree of accuracy. So actions such as the user squatting, and their facial expressions can be tracked perfectly to the virtual world.
While ByteDance hasn’t announced any metaverse ambitions for TikTok, Pico’s VR device seems perfectly suited to its generation of younger influencers who win over millions of fans by lip-syncing and dancing to various hit songs in their short video creations. Maybe, just maybe, TikTok aims to bring its short videos to a more immersive, 3D world where fans will be able to “watch” influencers in a more realistic, close-to-life manner?
It would be interesting to see TikTok try to disrupt Zuckerberg’s ambitions for metaverse domination but the company likely still has a long way to go to make that happen. For now, Meta is the only social media giant to have seriously outlined its ambitions and view of what the metaverse will become.
Indeed, Meta’s plans extend beyond just VR and NFTs to cover cryptocurrency too. While its plans to launch its own digital currency, Diem, were ultimately thwarted, Zuckerberg reportedly hasn’t given up. As AAX explains, Meta has gone back to the drawing board and its latest plan is to create a kind of virtual token that can only be used within the Facebook platform itself. The idea, reportedly, is to create something similar to the in-game currencies used in video games like Fortnite or Roblox. Meta hasn’t confirmed this but has said before that virtual tokens are part of its near-term plans, along with NFTs.
The very fact Facebook has rebranded itself as Meta shows that the company is far, far ahead of any of its rivals. With plans to spend as much as $60 million over the next few years to build out its metaverse vision, it’s hard to see any social media company getting there before Zuckerberg does.