Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had grand visions for the Metaverse – the much heralded 3-D Virtual Reality (VR) platform.

Its supporters saw it as a paradigm changer in the worlds of technology, computing, gaming, and everyday living. The big vision was that it could help ‘build the future of human connection.’ A classic lofty phrase that only Silicon Valley could generate.

The big idea is that your VR headset will become as ubiquitous and important as your smart-phone – whisking you to a gleaming new digital world where you can interact with richer versions of your favourite apps, play dazzling immersive games, have a chin wag with friends and family, catch a film, do a bit of retail therapy. Or whatever.

But hold on.

Can’t we already do many of these things on our trusted old tech friend the 2-D world wide web? Do we really need to purchase crazily priced head-sets to wander around a cheesy cartoon-like Metaverse to watch a movie or have a chat? If the idea of the metaverse is to collect all the key parts of our lives into one digital place, the world wide web has already done that. Is the fancy fluff of avatars, immersion and odd graphics really necessary? The jury’s out.

So after a reported 100 Billion dollars has already been spent by Meta on R&D progressing the platform – it’s safe to say that the idea hasn’t exactly set the world alight.

The graphics seem oddly dated and gauche and the early avatars didn’t seem to have legs either. Strange. To many it seemed to be a rehashing of virtual reality attempts of the past.

Both investors and the public have been left scratching their heads as to what it’s for and where it’s going – Meta’s stock price is tumbling and there have been significant staff lay-offs. Zuckerberg seems like a hapless Emporer showing off his ‘new clothes’ – with growing questions and concern coming from across the globe.

So what’s gone wrong with this visionary project?

We don’t get it!

Many of us – and that includes communicators, developers, techies and potential investors – can’t get our head round the most fundamental questions about the Metaverse: Why does it exist? And what are we supposed to do on there?

Technology platforms can live or die by the quality and usefulness of their apps and developers are seemingly not that clear on what they should be creating for the Metaverse.

Not enough developers creating & testing what works

For some, Meta’s initial ‘command and control’ approach could be stifling the critical mass of developers needed to create content that will really work.
Meta has bought up some of the most successful virtual-reality development studios and many products are only being tested on Meta’s platform. Arguably this has all restricted the number of smaller start-ups and developers having ‘a go.’ Remember the era of ‘there’s an app for that’ and the app/content development boom in the earlier days of the i-Phone? It’s that sort of energetic mass competition and entrepreneurial environment that’s sorely needed here.

Lack of consumer choice?

Currently promoting products in the Metaverse requires a big skills-set and an even bigger bank balance.

It’s much more cost effective to use existing tech to promote your products – Instagram and a web presence for example. This means you won’t be seeing your local mega-chippy stalking the Metaverse anytime soon – but reports indicate McDonalds has been very busy looking at how their golden arches and brand may work in the new world.

This will level out in the future I’m sure – but in the short to medium term the Metaverse is likely to be a big brand haven lacking real choice and diversity.

Well-being concerns

Maybe our darkest fear, often expressed most starkly in chat rooms across the globe, is a dystopia where the Metaverse helps accelerate a more atomised and less connected society – where face to face human connection is further marginalised.

Human beings are generally wired to be relatively ‘social’ beings – with studies showing we gain huge physical and mental health benefits from being connected to real human beings in the real world.

There is real concern that potential addiction to the Metaverse could cause or exacerbate isolation and mental health issues like attention deficit disorders as well as create issues with sleep and diet, which could lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Only time will tell on this, but genuine human interaction is a critical element to living a healthy life whether we have a Metaverse or not. And any negative or unintended effects in this area need to be tracked and studied closely especially if the Metaverse becomes more engrained in our everyday lives.

Give it time?

So it’s been a slow, faltering, cash-gobbling start for the Metaverse with very little meaningful output.

But I suppose scoping and creating the infrastructure for a new world takes time. Maybe it will take a decade or more to create a Metaverse that looks good, feels good and houses stuff we actually want to do there.

There is no doubt that it could bring many societal benefits in key areas such as medicine and education. But these are very specific applications – and whether the whole ‘global’ idea eventually takes off will depend on a number of factors including; continued major funding for infrastructure/R&D work (crucial but not guaranteed), a much better business model to encourage a wider pool of developers to create and test cool stuff, and a better price point for both consumers and producers.

But most importantly the Metaverse needs less futuristic utopian blurb and a far more concrete vision and plan for what we will all do on there!

My headset won’t be on order for a few years yet.