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Lessons from 19 Years in the Metaverse

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Lessons from 19 Years in the Metaverse

A conversation with one of the few people who have real historical perspective on digital communities

The Atlantic,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

If you think Facebook’s rebrand as Meta is ushering in an exciting new world, you’ve forgotten about Second Life.


Editorial Rating

10

Qualities

  • Overview
  • Visionary
  • Engaging

Recommendation

Whenever the idea of virtual worlds comes up, there’s often a lot of hand-wringing about an imagined future in which young people will sequester themselves to small dark rooms, interacting only with strangers online. But perhaps instead, a more legitimate concern is that virtual reality will look much like our current reality, complete with subprime mortgages, shady financial instruments and feckless speculators driving up prices. In this interview, Wagner James Au describes his concerns about the future of the metaverse.

Summary

Virtual worlds have been around for more than two decades – most notably Second Life, established in 2003, which still has 600,000 active monthly users.

The hype over Facebook’s rebrand and the metaverse is eerily reminiscent of the 2008 hype surrounding Linden Lab’s Second Life, a platform where people could build virtual lives online. In 2008, brands made million-dollar investments in Second Life. Pundits talked about how virtual realities would change everything. Ultimately, though, the tech wasn’t quite ready and the user base was too small. Second Life didn’t turn out to be the world changer news pundits suggested it might be, but nearly 20 years later, it still has 600,000 active monthly users. 

Now, Facebook’s recent rebrand as Meta has inspired a great deal of publicity, but will Meta have what it takes to push the digital world to the next level? It’s not clear. Journalist and 20-year Second Life expert Wagner James Au says he already sees ...

About the Author

Charlie Warzel has written about culture and technology for The New York Times and BuzzFeed News. Wagner James Au is the author of The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World and the blog New World Notes. He also works as a game-development consultant.


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