You can’t argue about the impact Vitalik Buterin has had on the world. As a key member of the team that created Ethereum, he already has his own place in history, but that doesn’t mean he’s infallible. Many crypto enthusiasts put Vitalik on a God-like pedestal, but his recent comments on the Metaverse and, in particular, Meta’s approach to the Metaverse, are interesting in that they show he might be missing some key aspects of Meta’s strategy for the Metaverse. Let’s take a look at what Vitalik said about Meta and then analyze why he might be wrong in his own analysis.
Vitalik Thinks Meta’s Metaverse Will “Misfire”
In a recent conversation on Twitter , Vitalik Buterin commented on the efforts by Meta (Facebook) to build the Metaverse. In his critique, he had this to say:
The point I believe he is trying to make is that there’s a large chance that Meta may be misguided in their approach to the Metaverse and the experiences they’ll build due to the relatively small sample size relating to consumer interest in the Metaverse. That is to say, if we don’t know what people want to DO in the Metaverse, or how they might prefer to interact with it, then you’re basically forced to guess and could easily be wrong with the direction of your products, leading to what Vitalik labels a “Misfire.”
The problem is, I don’t think Meta cares if their initial software ventures into the Metaverse misfire, and I don’t believe that’s their motivation. If we want to understand their approach, I think we need to analyze their past experience with social media to get some real insight into their strategy.
MySpace and the Rise of Social Media
The internet started out really, really boring. Websites were still simple HTML, music was 8-bit MIDI tunes, and it took a long time to download that bikini photo of Kathy Ireland. That is, until MySpace hit the scene. MySpace changed the way people used the internet by showing them a new way to connect with friends and express themselves online. MySpace was hugely popular, and under no circumstances should it be considered a failure, despite their inability to keep up with the rapid changes in the industry.
It’s important to remember, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are the ones who came along to dethrone MySpace, something most people thought wasn’t possible. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from that experience, and I can assure you, Mark learned all of them. The truth is, as an initial pioneer of the Metaverse, Meta can do several things that will be critical to their long-term success. Much like MySpace did for the internet, Meta can help usher in a new era of the internet that shows people a new way to connect online through the Metaverse.
With products like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, Meta is perfectly positioned to introduce users to the Metaverse. They have hundreds of millions of users already in their ecosystem and can easily garner their attention. Someone has to take the first steps into the Metaverse, and as a household name, Meta and Zuckerberg have a unique ability to be that company. In fact, I don’t think their goal is for their first product, or even maybe second or third to be the Facebook of the Metaverse. I think they’re perfectly fine at this point being the pioneer of the Metaverse, much like MySpace was for Social Media.
The difference here is that Meta isn’t just going to sit on their laurels and allow others to leapfrog them once the industry starts to adapt. They’re a huge multi-billion dollar corporation and can rapidly build new and better experiences on their framework as they learn more about what users enjoy. The major key for Meta is gaining access to that critical insight. That’s their goal with Horizon Worlds. Meta is the king of data, and you can bet your ass they’re going to have a metric ton at their disposal to inform their 2nd and 3rd iterations. This gives them a major leg up on the competition due to their resources and ability to rapidly pivot their products. Not only that, but Meta has the capital to acquire competitors along the way for an added boost.
Which brings us to the next and probably the most important point—it’s not just about software. When Meta acquired Oculus, they positioned themselves to be the gatekeeper of the Metaverse.
Being the Apple of the Metaverse
Meta isn’t just building the software that allows you to experience the Metaverse—they’re building the doorway that lets you in. With their acquisition of Oculus, Meta has positioned themselves as the leader in VR hardware with the most affordable and accessible VR Headset on the market. What is the Metaverse all about? You guessed it, VR. Zuckerberg has taken the lessons learned from competing with the likes of Google and Apple and seeing the dominance their Android and iOS platforms have given them over mobile, and he wants to apply those principles to VR. By controlling the hardware and the operating system of the Metaverse, you control the attention and the ability to get in front of the users. Not only that, but it gives you access to a treasure trove of data points to inform your future development efforts.
The key to Meta’s success isn’t necessarily in Horizon Worlds or whether or not it “misfires.” The key is getting users into the Metaverse and locked into their infrastructure. This gives them access to the data and the attention and ultimately allows them to adapt quickly to user feedback and their own analysis of trends. On top of that, as we have seen with iOS and Apple (or even Amazon) owning the means of distribution of digital and/or physical goods can make you a lot of cold, hard cash. By owning the hardware and operating system of the Metaverse, Meta would own the means of distribution of experiences, allowing them to take a cut off the top from virtual marketplaces.
Meta doesn’t need Horizon Worlds to be the Metaverse, they just need it to drive hardware sales and get people through the door. It’s what comes after that will determine their future.
Is Vitalik Wrong?
Vitalik isn’t wrong in that Horizon Worlds may not be the future vision of the Metaverse. Where he doesn’t quite get it right is assuming that it’s Meta’s ultimate goal. It’s clear that Meta’s ambitions are much larger than just Horizon Worlds, and Zuckerberg has staked the entire reputation of the company on the Metaverse being the future. If his past performance is any indication, I think it’s clear that he will do whatever it takes to ensure that they end up at the top.
With billions at their disposal, unparalleled access to data to drive innovation, and the #1 selling hardware on the market, Meta is right where they want to be, whether others are able to see it or not. While the future of the Metaverse might not be Horizon Worlds, I’d bet good money that a large portion of it will belong to Meta…