Facebook Inc. apologized to its enormous user community on Friday, October 8, 2021, when its products – Instagram, Messenger and Workplace experienced issues and became inaccessible for nearly two hours that day. The reason of the disruption, cited by the company, was a faulty configuration change. This isn’t the first time that Facebook found itself having a global product outage in October. In fact, right on Monday of the same week, Facebook and its family of apps including Instagram and WhatsApp had a service blackout for a prolonged six hours due to the same root cause while millions of people and businesses were impacted. According to Reuters, this marked the longest Facebook powered service outage since 2008.
Technical issues are just one of Facebook’s mounting problems. Facebook has been having a tougher time since Federal Trade Commission sued it in late 2020, “alleging that the company is illegally maintaining its personal social networking monopoly through a years-long course of anticompetitive conduct. Following a lengthy investigation in cooperation with a coalition of attorneys general of 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, the complaint alleges that Facebook has engaged in a systematic strategy—including its 2012 acquisition of up-and-coming rival Instagram, its 2014 acquisition of the mobile messaging app WhatsApp, and the imposition of anticompetitive conditions on software developers—to eliminate threats to its monopoly. This course of conduct harms competition, leaves consumers with few choices for personal social networking, and deprives advertisers of the benefits of competition.”
Then in August 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s press release, FTC filed “an amended complaint against Facebook” detailing “details how the monopolist survived existential threats by illegally acquiring innovative competitors and burying successful app developers”. Holly Vedova, FTC Bureau of Competition Acting Director, also stated in the press release, that “The FTC’s action today seeks to put an end to this illegal activity and restore competition for the benefit of Americans and honest businesses alike.”
Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist and the principal and cofounder of the New York-based venture capital firm Union Square Ventures (USV), has been very vocal on the Facebook issues. “There have been many calls to break up the large internet monopolies; Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.”, commented in an article he wrote, “Breaking up Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and other big internet companies is an antiquated take on regulating large monopolies.” Instead of breaking up the giants, Fred believes that policy makers should “push them to move from platforms into protocols”, where “high quality clients can participate and innovate in these networks. “
According to Techcrunch.com, USV was founded in 2003 by Fred Wilson and Brad Burnham and has supported high-flying companies including Twitter, Tumblr, Etsy, Carta and cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase. USV’s last raise was $429M across two funds.
Amid the allegations of being a monopoly and intense scrutiny on issues, Facebook has been rushed in its investment to build a “metaverse”. Recently on September 27, 2021, it announced a $50 million investment in global research and program partners to ensure the products for “metaverse” are developed responsibly.
According to theconversation.com, since June 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been telling analysts and journalists that he wants the company to lead the way to a completely different internet. He said: “In the coming years, I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a metaverse company … In many ways the metaverse is the ultimate expression of social technology.”
It seems Facebook isn’t the only Big Tech who’s betting on the future of the “metaverse”. According to Morningstar, Microsoft recently revealed its intentions to “become a dominant player in the professional metaverse”. Its chief executive Satya Nadella shared the company’s vision for “an enterprise metaverse” at a speech at Microsoft Inspire earlier this year. During the IAAPA Expo held in December 2020, Tilak Mandadi, CTO and head of Digital at DisneyParks, stated that “As we look to the future, connected park experiences that transcend the physical and digital barrier and unlock new layers of storytelling are a very exciting focus of ours. I call this concept the “theme park metaverse”.
Epic Games announced a $1 billion funding round in April to support its metaverse ambitions, pushing the Fortnite maker’s valuation to nearly $30 billion. And in June, venture capitalist Matthew Ball helped launch an exchange traded fund so people can invest in the metaverse space, including companies like graphics chipmaker Nvidia and gaming platform Roblox. With the Silicon Valley piling into the metaverse race, it has become the hottest trend in tech.
So what is a “metaverse”? According to Wikipedia, the word was invented by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where “humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional virtual space that uses the metaphor of the real world”. In its news published on September 27, 2021, Facebook describes “metaverse” as “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create and more. It’s not necessarily about spending more time online — it’s about making the time you do spend online more meaningful.”
Pedro Palandrani, Research Analyst from Global X, a New York based provider of global ETF, stated that “a successful metaverse in the future is expected to feature a decentralized, open architecture platform accessed by virtual reality headsets and powered by blockchain technology.”
In his interview with The Vergecast, Zuckerberg described metaverse as “an embodied internet”, where instead of purely viewing the content, people “feel present with other people as if you were in other places”. He envisioned metaverse is “going to be accessible across all of different computing platforms; VR and AR, PC, mobile devices and game consoles.”
So why is Facebook, the tech giant who was sued by FTC over for illegal monopolization, has been more than eager to rush into the metaverse racetrack? Well, the initiatives of working towards building a metaverse could reflect the intention to “build a more maximalist version of Facebook, spanning social presence, office work, and entertainment.”, as Zuckerberg said to the Vergecast. In addition, according to theconversation.com, it could potentially make it harder for the regulators to break the company up in future, as the realization of a metaverse can create a strong barrier for its competitors, making it “extremely expensive to create rival systems”. Mentioned in an article published on Washingtonpost, Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University said that “The campaign seems designed to disarm regulators and get ahead of potential problems with up-and-coming technologies”. According to this article on Washington post, Kevin McAlister, Facebook spokesman, said in an statement that “the company bet big on virtual reality years ago. We are focused on helping build the metaverse because it’s the successor to the mobile internet. It’s not reputational, it’s foundational. We’re talking with policymakers, academics, partners, and other experts now because we want to do it responsibly.”
Regardless of their intentions, Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has identified a trend and are keen on working towards catching the trend, rather than falling behind.
Skepticism has been raised by experts and researchers among building a metaverse. For example, AR and VR experts Avi Bar-Zeev, who is a former employee at Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, had expressed concerns that we may not be ready and emotionally evolved enough to move beyond the safe division of typing words on screens to a more person to person level.
Despite those, others are passionately embracing the hot trend, holding the belief that “this is going to be the successor to the mobile internet,” as said by Mark Zuckerberg during Facebook’s Q2 2021 Earnings Call.
AOFEX, a global leading service platform of digital assets, has already listed multiple metaverse projects such as MANA、SAND、ILV ahead of many of its peers. Though AOFEX has always placed security as its top priority while strives for constant improvements of its platform’s user experience, it has also been focusing on expanding the digital assets it offers on its platform. “Supporting projects that are running at the forefront of the metaverse brings its users a simple, safe and secure marketplace to buy and store these digital assets”, commented AOFEX representative.
Similar to AOFEX, Gemini is another example of the exchanges that embraced metaverse long ago. Its founders, the Winklevoss twins, went from famous for losing Facebook to Mark Zuckerberg to known as the new crypto billionaires. Their family office, Winklevoss Capital, had invested multiple projects that the brothers and others hope will be the front runners in the metaverse. When asked by Forbes about Facebook back in April 2021, Tyler Winklevoss had famously said that “the idea of a centralized social network is just not going to exist five or 10 years in the future.”