The last time virtual worlds were all the hype Reuters decided to launch an ill-fated in-game ‘bureau’ on Second Life. The venture, initially led by ‘Adam Reuters’, lasted around two years, with Eric Krangel describing the beat as "about as fun as watching paint dry”.
Launched by Linden Labs, Second Life reached a peak around 2007 when virtual user-generated property and avatar-induced seedy behaviour suddenly became fashionable.
Now, with the rise of NFTs and mass multiplayer, cross-platform games like Fortnite, talk of a new metaverse has taken off. Mark Zuckerberg, who has increasingly pointed Facebook towards AR and VR, has fully embraced the idea, describing his business as a “metaverse company”.
Fortnite maker Epic Games is also openly pursuing the idea of a persistent and inter-connected virtual world, while South Korea’s top telcos have created their own metaverse coalition. There is no unified vision of what the metaverse should or could look like, despite the numerous references to novel-turned-film Ready Player One or The Matrix.
But there are a few features that most metaverse builders and advocates agree on, namely that it will be present and convergent in the digital and physical worlds (it’s not a simulation, it’s a third space), be persistent and be characterised by its interoperability (the most popular multiplayer games are increasingly allowing players to buy IP from other companies, typically as skins for their avatars).
As it stands, memorabilia and collectables are likely to feature in the metaverse, as will a range of currencies. It is unclear, however, how information and news will be valued, if at all. You can currently buy NFTs of articles, as shown by The New York Times, but engagements with the digital metaverse are currently focused on entertainment.
Virtual universes, including Decentraland, Sandbox, Somnium, Cryptovoxels, have also been launched using blockchain technology. But users face friction – a chief nemesis of the metaverse ideal – when using them, whether that’s from logging into the simulations or using VR when exploring. Brain-computer interfaces, as being explored by Valve, bring the promise of a frictionless experience.
Then there are the other problems of replication – will the metaverse just copy the Web 2.0 and elements of the offline world? In which case news outlets and journalists can easily adapt without any real innovation. Likewise, how centralised will the metaverse be? Could the likes of Facebook or Epic ban independent journalists/bloggers if they don’t like their content?
We do at least have a few examples of virtual world or MMORPG journalism, including the Second Life Herald (later called the Alphaville Herald) and the exposé videos on YouTube around Runescape’s grey economy. In contravention of the game’s rules, organised groups in the likes of Pakistan and Venezuela mine Runescape’s core currency (gold) and then sell it for real-world fiat currency.
If these examples are anything to go by, the economic and societal impacts, including issues around surveillance and fraud, of the metaverse could prove to be rich-pickings for both in-world and offline journalists.
💼 Other business
Tech writer Casey Newton has offered up a warts and all audit on his one-year anniversary of joining Substack. Among other noteworthy takeaways, the Platformer editor urged independent journalists to launch their own Discord channels, describing it as a “superpower that journalists can give themselves”.
The Washington Post has started a big hiring spree, with the search for 41 additional editing roles. The Jeff Bezos-owned outlet is hoping to accelerate its transformation into a fully 24/7 news operation – something that its chief rival The New York Times has been able to achieve with its international bureaus.
It’s becoming increasingly harder to track the demise of print news as The Guardian is the latest outlet to effectively put its publication figures behind a third-party paywall.
Andrew Neil is out as Chairman and top presenter at GB News. He’s still staying on as a regular guest commentator, however. The development will no doubt please News Corp executives, who have announced the creation of talkTV. The channel will launch in 2022 with Piers Morgan as the current star attraction. The former Good Morning Britain and CNN host will broadcast across News Corp media properties in the US, UK and Australia.
The BBC has had its own quiet reshuffle as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson shook-up his own top team, including the appointment of Nadine Dorries as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Ex-HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Jess Brammar has been appointed as executive news editor, News channels. Paul Danahar has been appointed as executive news editor, World story team.
The New Statesman has had an art deco redesign, making the outlet look like a cross between The New Yorker magazine and Canada’s National Post.
🎙️ Podcast world
Michael Wolff talks to Andrew Sullivan about the media and Trump.
Instagram boss Adam Mosseri talks to Peter Kafka.
Men In Blazers’ Roger Bennett was on Longform.
Hot Pod got acquired by Vox Media.
Facebook has attacked The Wall Street Journal after its mental health cxposé.
TikTok is taking further measures around mental health issues.
Snap has hired its first global head of platform safety.
Wikimedia has rolled out a $4m ‘equity fund’.
Jacob Wolf on e-sports reporting.
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