We’ve Been Here Before: What Mark Zuckerberg’s “Metaverse” Can Learn From Web 1.0

Robert Nash, Founder of 4 Roads, explains what the metaverse can learn from Web 1.0.

The World Wide Web opened up a treasure trove of opportunities for businesses and consumers. Just think of the dot-com boom. It had a huge economic, business, social and cultural impact. Some experts are anticipating similar results from Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse – but it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Tim Berners Lee’s brainchild either. This had me thinking – what can Meta learn from Web 1.0’s success?

Stronger Together

One of the reasons why the internet was so powerful was because it was open source and developed in academia. Web pages (HTML) and web browsers were developed and shared, not for commercial benefit, but in a quest to share knowledge and information.

In 1994, there were only 10,000 web servers of which 2,000 were commercial. This deliberate “shared language” meant more people could utilise and learn from it which in turn fostered innovation and helped it grow. Where the metaverse differs is that it’s driven by commercial intent, with Meta in the driving seat. The problem for Meta is that this commercial intention might be its downfall. 

For a start, it’s unlikely to surrender any control over its design and policy to potential collaborators, partners and “clients” using it. This will obviously hinder creativity and scale, but more importantly, give rise to rivals.

This will result in multiple fragmented versions of the metaverse run by numerous big tech companies and brands – meaning little chance of collective agreement when it comes to the design, language and policies used across them. Its power will therefore be reduced immensely. 

The Exclusive Club

Until the hardware makes it as easy as heading to the checkout (whether in person or online), accessing the metaverse will be tricky for most people other than gamers, who make up a very niche portion of society.

The Oculus Quest may be on sale, but it’s not cheap. Having said that, sales do continue to rise, but not at a rate where we can expect mass ownership across society any time soon. 

The situation was similar with computers and phones in the early days of the internet and to be honest, it still exists today. There’s a reason the government had to bring in a help scheme for providing technology for remote education during the start of the pandemic. 

In fact, there is still a huge inequality gap when it comes to internet access, too, most recently spurred on by the 5G rollout, and the internet’s had three decades in which to iron these out. So, unlike with Facebook, which almost everyone has, I don’t see as many people “joining” the metaverse, so the commercial benefits might be overinflated.  

Not So Private Data Privacy

 There are also numerous challenges for businesses and personal users alike to consider at this early stage around regulation, privacy, sovereign boundaries and more. 

There are still huge problems with the internet in relation to data privacy, and Meta arguably has the worst track record in this regard. So, personally, I’d urge caution over Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the web’s final frontier, owned and controlled entirely by Meta. We certainly can’t expect the metaverse to be a perfectly regulated data privacy utopia, so getting into bed with Meta means relinquishing control to it and its tech stack.

What It All Means

Like I’ve said, the current clamour surrounding the metaverse is justified, but only by its potential rather than in any substance of what we see right now. 

We remain years or even decades away from experiencing its full impact, but that length of time will depend on multiple factors. Commercial collaborations, or lack of, business investments into the concept and political discrepancies are all obstacles that need questions answered to allow the metaverse to truly flourish. Only time will tell when it comes to how smoothly the inevitable metaverse revolution will be handled.

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