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Metaverse: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Picture a world where billions of individuals not only work but learn, create, shop, and socialize in vibrant detail without ever leaving their homes in the physical world. Metaverse is a vision of what many believe is the next iteration of the internet, an internet built in an immersive 3D environment.

This technology promises to power new depths of creativity, foster inclusivity, and drive prosperity. However, the metaverse remains largely unbuilt and challenging to define since its inception. Working definitions describe the metaverse as a technological evolution that will seamlessly blend digital life and real life, expected to merge multiple virtual spaces, providing access to a diverse range of entertainment and projects utilizing extended reality (augmented reality-AR and virtual reality-VR), semi-immersive, and fully-immersive simulations.

The metaverse is designed to function as a single shared, immersive, persistent, and 3D virtual space. The technology converges with real and virtual worlds, unlocking new gaming, social, commerce, and education opportunities, as well as providing safe environments for applied science testing. The metaverse is set to be accessible through a blend of 3D technologies via ARM-powered (Advanced RISC Machine) ‘gateway’ devices such as VR headsets or smart glasses.

To participate, users are required to create avatars – called digital twins– that allow them to enter and interact in virtual spaces. An avatar represents the user's digital identity, which can be static or animated. In the metaverse, users can have different types of avatars, including 3D, VR, Leg-less, and Full-body, each with varying features such as lip sync, hand gestures, and lower- and upper-body movement capabilities.

The internet has evolved significantly since its launch in 1983 as it moved from Web1 to Web3. User-generated content (UGC), which encompasses a broad spectrum of creative mediums, was the driving force behind the transition from Web 2 to Web 3. Additionally, UGC has significantly contributed to the success of early metaverse projects such as Somnium Space, The Sandbox, Roblox, and Second Life. UGC in Web3 introduces improved monitorization and a new level of ownership that drives scale and supports the creator economy in the metaverse. Decentralized metaverse models establish ecosystems in which monetization and control over user-generated data are granted to the users as opposed to entities.

The metaverse's fundamental characteristics are interoperability, interconnectivity, and user agency. The metaverse has the potential to ignite revolution with the help of Web3-enabled technologies like blockchain, and smart contacts. Web3 protocols may present a new level of identity verification known as self-sovereign ID (SSI), which facilitates the challenges of building trust in the metaverse. It will likely embrace decentralized finance technologies such as digital currencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to streamline commerce across platforms toward a virtual economy.

Gartner evaluated the trajectory of the metaverse as a destructive technology, including the predecessor technologies that built up to the idea and the still developing technologies that will expand and improve it. In 2022, Gartner placed the Metaverse on the hype cycle about halfway through the first phase with an expected timeline of being a productive technology in more than 10 years.

Mark Zuckerberg announced his company’s rebranded name, Meta, in October 2021 during the Annual Facebook Connect Event with the new focus on bringing the metaverse to life. Many believed the move of the now-Meta CEO significantly contributed to the Metaverse’s movement toward the peak of inflated expectations, phase two of the hype cycle. Big tech and zealous consultants were swept away by the Metaverse hype. During the 2021 Ignite Conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella publicly exclaimed that the Metaverse was a breakthrough for his company. In the 2022 Value Creation in Metaverse Report, the CEO of the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co predicted that the Metaverse market has the potential to generate $5 trillion in value by 2030. For example, the report suggested that large corporations, venture capitals, and private equity had already invested more than $120 billion in the metaverse in the first five months of 2022, more than double the $57 billion invested in all of 2021.

While the potential for this technology is immense, the hype cycle that started with a large, premature wave of excitement seems to be losing steam. Meta ended 2022 with three-straight quarters of revenue decline. Consequently, Meta announced an initial round of 11,000 layoffs in November 2022 and added 10,000 more in the first quarter of 2023. According to The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft and Disney followed suit and made a series of cuts to their metaverse-related projects. The Metaverse enthusiasm is gradually declining as generative AI moves to center stage and the Metaverse appears to crest its peak. A recent article by Business Insider headlined “RIP Metaverse” suggested that the Meta business proposition failed to address a clear use case, a target audience, or the willingness of customers to adopt the product.

Given the misalignment between reality and the exaggerated expectations set up by the hype, Metaverse seems to be on the downhill path of disillusionment. In the next phase, the slope of enlightenment, the focus is expected to shift toward sustained development, investment, and long-term vision, finding real cases and becoming mainstream.

The emergence of the metaverse remains an inevitability. Innovators and creators continue discussions about the metaverse’s impact at the societal level and with a multidisciplinary approach. A recent study by the International Journal of Information Management revealed that continuing academic analyses of the numerous ethical, behavioral, and other detrimental repercussions of the metaverse remain critical. Now that we know where the metaverse is, is it a good thing? A bad one? Ugly? Let’s find out through the next installments of this blog series.

Busra Nur Arapoglu

Master of Science in Cyber Security

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