Herman Narula didn’t hold back in his criticism of Mark Zuckerberg’s metauniverse ambitions at last week’s Sifted Summit.
The CEO and co-founder of gaming company Improbable had a spring in his step when he took the stage, having just started promoting a $100 million round at a $3 billion valuation earlier in the week. And when asked if his company — which builds technology to create large-scale, simulated virtual worlds — benefited from Facebook’s name change to Meta and the subsequent surge in interest in the metaverse, he took the opportunity to throw shade at Zuck.
“It was not so much the renaming of the company that was helpful. It was a completely disastrous strategy that followed,” Narula said. “Every company and enterprise that wants to build services related to the metaverse has a deep fear [about Facebook owning the metaverse].”
Those companies are worried, he said, because they think Meta will do to the metaverse what it did to our current version of the Internet: monopolize user data and social media revenue.
“Companies that have massive communities — whether in sports, fashion or music — are seen as underutilizing, under-monetizing and under-engaging those communities,” Narula said. “They understand how they were removed from them [social media] communities online and they want to change that.”
The dawn of the metaverse could change their fate.
Narula said Improbable is now seeing huge interest from companies looking to build experiences in the metaverse. He said they see his company’s metaverse platform — M² — as a more democratic and decentralized metaverse system than Meta’s.
This democratization and decentralization, he argues, will be ensured by the fact that Improbable will be owned by its users.
The M² metauniverse will have its own currency to pay for the exchange of virtual goods and services on the platform. Narula said Improbable will own no more than 10% of that currency. He claims that this will mean that Improbable will not be the master of its own metauniverse and the community that uses the network will have a greater say in how it is run.
Metaverse optimists hope that this decentralization of power in Web3 will mean that creators who publish content online will be able to earn a larger share of revenue than those using, say, YouTube or Instagram in the Web2 world. That’s because less money will go to powerful platforms like Google and Meta that act as ad gatekeepers.
Narula also said that Meta is not fit to run a responsible metaverse where issues like abuse and harassment are taken seriously.
Meets account by a Londoner named Nina Jane Patel — who said she was sexually harassed “within 60 seconds of joining” the Meta’s Venues platform — Narula called the story “horrifying.”
He said that Meta could have prevented such an incident from happening “in 100 different ways that I’m sure the audience could list as well” and said that Improbable’s metauniverse would “impose rules” on how users operate .
Narula added that Facebook cannot be trusted when it comes to responsibly moderating online communities, saying its track record in controlling misinformation speaks for itself.
“Facebook has consistently claimed they cannot provide data to police disinformation,” he said. “Then you look at something like Wikipedia – it has a fraction of the funding and manpower of Facebook and yet, consistently, we use it every day to find facts and we can be confident in their accuracy.”
Narula said hiring moderators to police behavior in the metaverse will be vital to its success, adding that Facebook’s reputation is already having a negative impact on public perception of this new phase of the online world.
“We’re in this strange world where the disaster that is Facebook’s influence on our culture is seen by many as a vision of the metaverse,” he said. “I think what we’re learning is that Facebook probably shouldn’t be building the metaverse.”
Sifted reached out to Meta for a response to Narula’s points.
Tim Smith is Sifted’s Iberia correspondent. He tweets from @timmpsmith