The Metaverse Explained – Spotlight #427

Good Monday Morning

It’s July 11. The new shorter national suicide prevention hotline number launches Saturday. All carriers are required to route calls made to 988 to that service run by HHS. The helpline receives more than 5,000 calls daily. 

Today’s Spotlight is 1,136 words — about 4 minutes to read.

News To Know Now

Quoted:“Right now, one of the most common forms of governance in virtual worlds is a reactive and punitive form of moderation based on reporting users who may then be warned, suspended, or banned. Given the sheer size of virtual communities, these processes are often automated.”

— Ethicist Lucy Sparrow writing in Wired about how companies providing metaverse products can guard against hate speech,  race and gender bias, and other community problems.

Driving the news: European regulators took American tech giants to task last week. Here are the the news stories you need to know.

a) Italy warned websites operating there that Google Analytics 4 requires additional modification to comply with GDPR privacy regulations. Among that country’s concerns: “US-based governmental and intelligence agencies may access the personal data being [collected].”

b) Canceling Amazon Prime in Europe will now require only two mouse clicks after the company settled complaints brought by EU regulators. The Norwegian Consumer Council’s report on difficulty canceling Prime services said that the cancelation process included “complicated navigation menus, skewed wording, confusing choices, and repeated nudging… that seems designed to be obscure and manipulative, in order to keep consumers bound to the paid service.”

c) U.S. legislators and watchdog agencies are alleging that Google allowed a Russian advertising agency to buy ads and receive data about consumers in multiple countries, including Ukraine.  A Pro Publica expose alleges that Google was continuing to supply data to the company as late as June 23 despite it appearing on a sanctions list on April 6.

Trends & Spends

Spotlight Explainer — The Metaverse Explained

Remember when you finally grokked that “The Cloud” was simply a bunch of computing resources owned by a company and accessible online?


The Metaverse is simply a different way to interact online. Instead of email and spreadsheets, you’ll see a visual representation of the information. You might access that via a virtual reality headset where your point-of-view becomes what is projected in the headset instead of your physical surroundings.

I hear you muttering now. Surely there’s more. And there is, sort of, but also sort of not.

Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg got a lot of publicity last week for introducing designer clothing for the cartoon-like figures that represent real people in many metaverse projects. The Meta Avatar store will charge users real money for different looks to represent themselves. Here’s the graphic his company published last week.

Meta's avatar store for the metaverse

The internet and media promptly scoffed at the idea that anyone would pay money for designer duds to represent a cartoon version of themselves. But I know that they’re wrong because my wife (okay, then-future wife) and I worked on a national project for this more than thirty years ago featuring big names like George Lucas and Steve Case.

The metaverse was first realized in 1985, two years after the final movie in the original Star Wars trilogy debuted. The state of the art then was either a Commodore 64 or Macintosh. Both had rudimentary color monitors that could handle a cartoon world. The speeds were glacially slow, essentially measured in hundreds of characters transmitted per second. At those rates, it would take several days to download a song.

Lucasfilm and Quantum Link (which later became AOL) developed a way to do all the cartoon-like metaverse designs locally on the user’s disk drive. The program lasted several years under different names: Habitat, Club Caribe, and Worlds Away, and on different platforms including CompuServe and Fujitsu. Here’s a look at that 35 year old world.

Those users paid for the service by spending 6-8 cents per minute for access time. The goals for content creators and moderators like us were to build user minutes and increase retention. It wasn’t unusual to see users spend an hour or more per day in that universe at around five dollars an hour.

Metaverse spending is expected to reach $5 trillion by 2030 according to McKinsey. They project that the metaverse will be a dominant player in gaming, remote learning, socializing, and ecommerce. Games like Roblox and Fortnite are already making real money there and every significant consumer brand  you can think of from McDonalds to Mercedes is already advertising or investing.

Our take: be aware of it, understand conceptually how you’ll interact for customer service and in other ways, but don’t launch your own initiatives yet unless you’re in R&D, in which case you’re already late.

Did That Really Happen? — Rep. Greene Posts Doctored Photos

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) posted photos of alleged Highland Park murderer Robert Crimo III that purportedly showed him in “jail, rehab, or a psychiatric center,” according to the congresswoman.

The photos were obviously doctored, say experts. Poynter has details.

Following Up — GM Vehicles Causing SF Traffic Jams

They’re really allowed to go driverless. GM Cruise’s automated vehicle division has lost contact with as many as 60 driverless vehicles at the same time, according to Wired. The cars stop in traffic when that occurs, including crosswalks and intersections.

Protip — Amazon Prime Day Discounts

You’re going to hear a lot about Prime Day for the next couple of days. To get you ready to spend, Lifehacker’s Stephen Johnson compiled a list of offers that can give you store credit at the big sale.

Screening Room — Ally Bank

Ally touts its decision to provide equal investments in sports media for each gender. It’s a creative way to reinforce the brand and practice social good.

Science Fiction World — EU Preps Self-Driving Cars Legislation

Maybe they believe that San Francisco’s hilly roadways are too much for driverless cars, but Politico reports that the EU is about to approve the sale and registration of up to 1,500 automated vehicles per carmaker per year.  The laudable goal: eliminate road deaths. Up to 95% of vehicle accidents are caused by human error.

Coffee Break — Fireworks vs. Family

If you haven’t yet seen it, here is an Independence Day gathering gone horribly wrong. First, a group of several families scatters when fireworks zoom towards them. Then the devices head straight for the cars, and it’s not a pleasant scene for anyone there.

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