Social media is the archetypal web2 application – the enabler of the “user-generated web”. But that doesn’t mean it will die out with the onset of the metaverse and web3. In the metaverse, features and functionalities we’ve all become accustomed to – “liking,” “sharing,” and the “for you” page – are no longer confined to social applications. They are there when we are gaming, working, learning, or whatever other activities we are getting up to within connected, virtual worlds.
And just as social media is one of the foundations the metaverse will be built on, the metaverse, in return, will impact the way we think about and use social media. If you’ve tried Meta’s Horizons, you will appreciate that many of the core features and functionalities of its 2D, blue-and-white predecessor are still very much a part of the platform. Profiles, “like” and “share” buttons, for example, are all still there, only they’ve been given a new, more immersive, experiential lick of paint.
So how can we expect social media to evolve over the next five to ten years as the metaverse begins to coalesce and take hold of our lives? Will the term become redundant – not because we stop using the web to be social, but because everything on the web will become social, connected, and without borders? Or will a backlash against the increasingly ubiquitous liking, sharing, and showing-off lead to more insular internet experiences where we exert more caution and discretion over what we share and who we share it with?
Immersive Social Media
One way to think about the metaverse is as an amalgamation of gaming, productivity tools, e-commerce, and extended reality (XR) – which includes both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (ARAR +0.6%) and, of course, social media.
Gaming, productivity tools, and e-commerce provide us with activities to keep us busy in the metaverse – working, playing, and shopping. XR features ensure it is immersive and provides us with a heightened sense of "being there." And elements of social media ensure that the experiences are connected to the real world – because we will be sharing them with real people.
So social media platforms in the era of the metaverse may be more geared towards providing immersive, interactive experiences that stimulate as many of our senses as possible – rather than just connecting us to our friends over 2D web pages.
This means that when we connect for a catch-up, we will meet up in any environment that can be imagined. Virtual reality can already provide us with lifelike sights and sounds, and it’s increasingly able to simulate other senses, too, such as touch and smell. So while texting or a video chat might seem like a nice way to keep in touch with a loved one while we are separated today, in the near future, we may be able to walk hand-in-hand with them across a beautiful meadow, breathing in the scent of flowers as you go.
Unlike VR, which involves stepping inside a virtual world, augmented reality overlays computer graphics on the real world we see around us – either via a phone or glasses.
Xone is an example of a web3 social media service – with functionality built around blockchain and NFTs – that leverages AR to allow users to create and share virtual worlds.
Users create and interact in two different types of zones – called xones. Personal Xones fill the function of the profile pages we are used to seeing in “traditional” social media, whereas Community Xones can be used to host events, gatherings, launches, or any other type of immersive social group activities.
I recently spoke to CEO and co-founder James Shannon, who told me that the idea is for every user to create their own immersive, 3D space that they can share with visitors. While hanging out and enjoying the environments available, users can listen to music together and take part in games and entertainment. Many of the features will immediately look familiar to anyone who has grown up with web2-style social media. However, Shannon tells me, "When you first open the Xone app, the first thing you think is that this looks a lot like the apps I'm familiar with. You have a home feed and the ability to Like, Comment … the core difference we introduce is that rather than clicking someone's profile and seeing a two-dimensional grid of pictures, clicking their profile enters you into an immersive three-dimensional world that you can explore in AR … the content you can explore and visit and share is not 2D content but 3D, immersive worlds you’re sharing through the network.”
Advertising and Branding
Perhaps above all, the metaverse will be seen by businesses as an extension of their ability to advertise and promote their products and services in our lives. Just as new forms of advertising have emerged through web2 social media – think of the influencer explosion that has redefined the marketing industry – web3 will bring new ways for building hype and excitement around brands.
Brands including NikeNKE -0.4%, Gucci, and McDonald'sMCD -0.8% have already begun creating virtual versions of their products that can be sold as NFTs within digital worlds. These can be used to decorate avatars and virtual spaces. Clearly, they are hoping this will lead to the emergence of "influencer avatars" who will lead the buying decisions that the rest of us make as we shop in the metaverse. Creative brands will also lead the way in using metaverse functionality – VR, virtual worlds, augmented reality, for example – to create new and more immersive customer experiences that build brand awareness and identity with the ultra switched-on and connected younger generations.
Will social media be safer in the metaverse?
An important issue that will have to be addressed is the potential for harm that may be caused by social media that's more immersive, engaging, and quite possibly more addictive than anything we have seen before.
For all the positive benefits it brings to society, such as making it easier to connect with friends and family, traditional social media has also been accused of enabling harmful behavior such as cyber-bullying, harassment, and the spreading of conspiracy theories and fake news.
A new, more immersive social media – one that’s harder to walk away from simply because it’s so much more engrossing and entertaining – clearly has the potential to magnify these threats. This could make the web3 version of social media a dangerous place. Anyone wanting to explore there and make their mark will need to take care that they understand these hazards and are familiar with the tools that platform providers put in place to limit the danger. Meta, for example, was prompted to add a “safe zone” feature that allows users to instantly create a barrier around themselves when early adopters complained of “virtual groping” and other unpleasant behavior.
A Whole New World
In many ways, the future of social media is intrinsically linked with the future of the metaverse. One way of thinking about it is that the metaverse simply is the next evolution of social media – just as it is the next evolution of online gaming, remote working, and e-commerce. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram are already pulling these different facets of our digital lives together under one roof. The metaverse simply allows us to step inside and experience it all together, immersively, rather than being limited to scrolling through it on a flat screen. Everything we love about social media – as well as everything we hate – will be magnified and intensified because of this, but at the same time it will open us up to a new world of experiences to share with our nearest and dearest. Personally, I can’t wait to see what is in store!
You can check out my webinar with James Shannon, CEO and co-founder of Xone, here, where we deep dive into aspects of how the metaverse will change social media.