Metaverse-related tokens took off shortly after Facebook FB +2.1% announced Thursday it would rebrand itself as Meta in a bid to reorient itself around augmented and virtual reality-charged future. The category’s market cap shot up by 262.9% in the past 18 hours and now stands at $13.4 billion, according to cryptocurrency data aggregator CoinGecko.
Half a dozen coins, including some of the largest like MANA, Ethereum token powering the Decentraland virtual reality platform, and STARL, a native asset of the namesake decentralized virtual space project, are up by more than 50% on the day. The largest gainer of the day is ETHV (Ethverse), token of a virtual universe built using the Minecraft gaming engine and Ethereum blockchain, with a 112.8% increase.
Token of popular NFT-based online video game Axie Infinity, which has generated more than $7.5 billion in sales, has risen 11%. Facebook’s stock closed with a modest 1.5% increase after the social media giant announced it would change its name to Meta, reflecting its bet on the next iteration of the internet centered around virtual experiences. The rebranding comes amid a barrage of reports related to the company’s lack of control over the spread of misinformation and inflammatory content on its platform.
In the day leading up to the announcement, Facebook said it would spend at least $10 billion this year to develop its metaverse division and hire 10,000 people in the European Union over the next five years to help scale the effort. The company will begin trading under the ticker MVRS on December 1.
What has happened?
After plenty of speculation, Facebook, the company that owns platforms including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, rebranded as Meta on 28 October. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told attendees at the company’s annual Connect conference: “Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything that we’re doing today, let alone in the future. Over time, I hope that we are seen as a metaverse company, and I want to anchor our work and identity on what we’re building toward.”
It is important to note that Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram will all be keeping their names. But the company that produces and maintains them will now be called Meta – similar to Google’s 2015 corporate restructuring into a parent company called Alphabet. Facebook (the company) even changed the logo outside its building on 28 October.
Sorry, what is a metaverse?
The name was chosen to echo the key product that Zuckerberg hopes Facebook – now Meta – will be represented by: the metaverse, the name for a shared online 3D virtual space that a number of companies are interested in creating as a sort of future version of the internet.
“In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up,” Zuckerberg wrote in a letter announcing Facebook’s rebranding as Meta.
But it is in the future. Not now. The metaverse unveiled by the company in August looks like The Sims or another, older immersive world: the 2003 video game Second Life.
Why is Zuckerberg doing this?
For one thing, Meta doesn’t want to be known solely as a social media platform. “My suspicion is that this is about owning the operating system of the future, and Facebook’s experience of being an app on other people’s – rivals’ – operating systems,” says Anupam Chander at Georgetown University Law Centre in Washington, DC. “They don’t want to be prisoner on other people’s platform. They want others to be prisoner on their platform.”
Meta did make oblique references to Apple in its announcement, saying it wanted to avoid a single company restricting what you can do and charging high fees, but Max Van Kleek at the University of Oxford is sceptical that Meta itself will wield control over its metaverse.
“Is Meta going to simply provide the tools rather than be the gatekeeper? I doubt that they would relinquish anything that might compromise their position as the definitive advertisement provider of the metaverse, for instance,” says Van Kleek.
One issue with Meta trying to be the sole company underpinning the metaverse is the pivotal role it would play in our lives if its vision of the future becomes a reality. The company has struggled with outages on its key apps that removed the ability to communicate for large parts of the world in recent months – and if such a thing were to happen in an all-pervasive VR universe like the metaverse, the consequences could be huge.
“The whole presentation of the metaverse is so utopian and naive,” says Bucher. “It makes a lot of sweeping assumptions about how people live their lives. I’m sure not everybody would be so thrilled about [having it in] the home space.”
“This is yet another world that they want to conquer,” says Chander. “Having conquered the Earth, they now want to conquer the virtual metaverse.”
I report on cryptocurrencies and other applications of blockchain. A Russia native, I am a graduate of NYU Abu Dhabi and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
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