Thursday, January 26, 2023

Metaverse will Fail

Trying HoloLens
at LinkedIn Sydney
I am not a believer in the Metaverse, and doubt I ever will be. The same claims were made for previous generations of VR, and Iwas proven right to doubt them. Metaverse is too much like Second Life, Google Glass, and real life, so will fail.

The hype over Metaverse sounds all too familiar, and the reality far short of what is claimed for the technology. It is not that I am particularly skeptical of this form of VR, but when there have been so many waves of hype, making the same claims, and producing the same disappointment, it is hard not to have skepticism as your default position.

I recall eight years ago when we were all going to be wearing Google Glass. I sat in one presentation where I was the only one not wearing some sort of gadget. Google Glass went the way of the Apple Newton: the subject of ridicule.

There is a role for VT (or more likely AR) in education, and particuarly training. This especially applies to hands-on training. It also has potential in language learning. However, VR may not be needed for this. Dr Jinghong Zhang pointed to grass roots use of TikTok for language learning in her seminar at ANU yesterday.

Building an online campus has advantages. But that has been done for decades, very successfully, without VR. Attempts to add VR have failed, not due to a lack of the technology, but because it was missing the point. Virtual campuses work not by emulating physical ones, but by getting rid of the physical limitations.

For the last ten years people have been showing me demonstrations of how Second Life, Mozilla Hubs and other assorted VR could emulate a university campus. Apart from being clunky implementations these all seemed to be missing the point. Virtual universities work by not emulating the features of a real campus. The silliest implementation I saw was of a library in a virtual university, complete with a virtual card catalog (real libraries no longer have card catalogs). A virtual lecture theatre showing rows of avatars perhaps makes an out of date lecturer feel good, but is emulating a poor learning experience.

This is not to say some form of VR/AR will not work, just as the Apple iPhone succeeded where the Newton failed. But it will take some inspired design to make the Meta-verse more than just another clunky old VR application. As an example, I found Microsoft HoloLens much better than Google Glass, despite having a much bulkier headset.

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