Metaverse? No, this is Second LifeZuck’s vision of the future is reminiscent of something very old

optech second life

As is often the case in the world of consumer technology, Zuckerberg’s metaverse is nothing new. Instead, the CEO of the most talked-about social network in recent months has borrowed bits and pieces from other projects to create a new one, which will base its assured success on what Facebook is today: a money-making machine. As we understand, Mr Zuck’s metaverse starts with Horizon Home.

This is a 2.0 version of the Oculus Home, the first page shown when we turn on and put on the Oculus Quest 2. Those with a Quest 2 or Quest Pro pair can collaborate on Slack or edit and open Dropbox files using the visors just as they would with any other device connected to the network. On Slack, things are particularly interesting because interacting with the platform in a place other than the ‘physical’ one really takes us into the future. But the real metaverse will come later, probably years away, when (maybe yes, maybe no) all the social square we are used to today will migrate into Horizon Home, a container of apps and games.

From the grandeur of my 40s, I can only refer to everything good that was seen at the Facebook Connect event in 2021 to one name: Second Life. One cannot leave aside the content graphics, both Facebook avatars and background environments. Still, associate Meta’s metaverse project with the virtual world, exclusively online, launched on 23 June 2003 by Linden Lab. With a simple mouse and keyboard, I remember visiting Berlin, as well as the beauties of Naples and meeting a lot of people in shopping malls and streets of Silicon Valley; all reproduced with an accuracy that, at the time, was difficult to surpass. The logic behind Second Life was its winning formula for a long time: an open universe without limits, where one could build anything and even found one’s own companies, a digital declination of the real ones.

All too soon

Arriving more or less in 2017, the bubble of the Linden Dollars, forerunners of Bitcoin, had also burst, not because of cryptography but because of the idea of liquid currency, so much so that it created inflation, on the platform, of 300%. Can we say that sooner or later, Facebook will launch its currency? Very but very likely, the only doubt is about the name, but Metacoin is not bad at all. In the world of technical information technology, the term ‘microservices’ has long been hyped. It means building apps purely for business processes embedded in an ecosystem. Still, it can live independently to be updated, put on standby or permanently shut down without impacting the others that are part of the same ecosystem. The Metaverse will adopt a similar approach.

Let us return to Second Life: at its highest point, a problem with the often overloaded servers could lead to an inability to access any product hosted on the platform. This stressful criticality called into question the whole edifice, founded on a single base, which was almost always solid but continually affected by the quality of the network. Zuckerberg will have looked to Second Life to take a step higher. From the Horizon Home, we will access the various apps from Meta and third-party companies, as one does with a smartphone. Want to play a game? Open the app. Got a meeting with colleagues? Enter the app. What is your favourite team’s game? One second and you are immediately in the virtual living room. If only one of these services crashed, the others would continue to work in the same way Twitter continues to work if Facebook is down.

The idea of uniting the physical and virtual, bringing together VR, AR and 2D experiences, phone, computer or tablet, is winning but still needs to be applied. The Quest Pro (and all that will come after in terms of hardware) will slowly become, like a smartphone, a privileged access point to the metaverse but not the only one. All this to say, applause for Zuckerberg, who will create the metaverse for everyone, mainly for his own pockets, but the credit remains with Second Life. A bit like the credit of Microsoft’s HoloLens goes to Google Glass and that of Ray-Ban Stories to Snap’s Spectacles. Would we have reached this point without Linden Lab’s foresight? Probably not. Does that make the one that came after less critical than its predecessor? Not at all; it enhances him, having recognized the greatness of the muse he inspired.

Antonino Caffo has been involved in journalism, particularly technology, for fifteen years. He is interested in topics related to the world of IT security but also consumer electronics. Antonino writes for the most important Italian generalist and trade publications. You can see him, sometimes, on television explaining how technology works, which is not as trivial for everyone as it seems.