The future of social media in the metaverse

Social media is the archetypal web2 application – the enabler of the “user-generated web”. But that doesn’t mean it will die out with the onset of the metaverse and web3. In the metaverse, functions and features we’ve all grown accustomed to – the “liking”, “sharing” and “for you” page – are no longer limited to social applications. They are there when we play, work, learn or other activities we engage in in connected, virtual worlds.

And just as social media is one of the foundations on which the metaverse will be built, the metaverse will in turn influence the way we think about and use social media. If you’ve tried Meta’s Horizons, you’ll appreciate that many of the core features and functionality of its 2D, blue-and-white predecessor are still part of the platform. Profiles, “like” and “share” buttons, for example, are all still there, just given a new, more immersive, experiential paint job.

So how can we expect social media to evolve over the next five to ten years as the metaverse begins to coalesce and take hold of our lives? Will the term become redundant – not because we stop using the web to be social, but because everything online becomes social, connected and without borders? Or will a backlash against the increasingly ubiquitous liking, sharing and display lead to more isolated internet experiences where we exercise more caution and judgment about what we share and who we share it with?

Immersive social media

One way to think of the metaverse is as an amalgamation of gaming, productivity tools, e-commerce and augmented reality (XR) – which includes both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and, of course, social media.

Games, productivity tools and e-commerce provide us with activities to keep us busy in the metaverse – work, play and shopping. XR features ensure that it is immersive and gives us a heightened sense of “being there.” And elements of social media ensure that the experiences are connected to the real world – because we will be sharing them with real people.

So social media platforms in the age of the metaverse might be more geared toward providing immersive, interactive experiences that stimulate as many of our senses as possible—rather than just connecting us to our friends over 2D web pages.

This means that when we connect for a catch-up, we will meet up in any environment imaginable. Virtual reality can already give us lifelike sights and sounds, and it is increasingly also able to simulate other senses, such as touch and smell. So while texting or a video chat might seem like a great way to keep in touch with a loved one while we’re separated today, in the near future we might be walking hand-in-hand with them across a beautiful meadow, breathing in the scent of flowers as you goes.

Augmented reality

Unlike VR, which involves entering a virtual world, augmented reality overlays computer graphics over the real world we see around us – either via a phone or glasses.

Xone is an example of a web3 social media service – with functionality built around blockchain and NFTs – that leverages AR to allow users to create and share virtual worlds.

Users create and interact in two different types of zones – called xones. Personal Xones fulfill the function of the profile pages we are used to seeing in “traditional” social media, while Community Xones can be used to host events, gatherings, launches or other types of immersive social group activities.

I recently spoke with CEO and co-founder James Shannon, who told me that the idea is for each user to create their own immersive 3D room that they can share with visitors. While hanging out and enjoying the available environments, users can listen to music together and take part in games and entertainment. Many of the features will immediately look familiar to anyone who grew up with web2-style social media. However, Shannon tells me, “When you first open the Xone app, the first thing you think is that this is very similar to the apps I’m familiar with. You have a home feed and the ability to like, comment … the core difference we’re introducing is that instead of clicking on someone’s profile and seeing a 2D grid of photos, clicking on their profile will take you into an immersive 3D world that you can explore in AR…the content you can explore and visit and share is not 2D content , but 3D, immersive worlds you share through the network.”

Advertising and branding

Perhaps above all, the metaverse will be seen by businesses as an extension of their ability to advertise and market their products and services in our lives. Just as new forms of advertising have emerged through web2 social media – think of the influencer explosion that has redefined the marketing industry – web3 will bring new ways to build hype and excitement around brands.

Brands including Nike, Gucci and McDonald’s have already started creating virtual versions of their products that can be sold as NFTs in digital worlds. These can be used to decorate avatars and virtual rooms. Clearly, they hope this will lead to the rise of “influencer avatars” that will guide the purchasing decisions that the rest of us make as we shop in the metaverse. Creative brands will also lead the way in the use of metaverse functionality – VR, virtual worlds, augmented reality, for example – to create new and more immersive customer experiences that build brand awareness and identity with the ultra-switched-on and connected younger generations.

Will social media be safer in the metaverse?

An important issue that needs to be addressed is the potential for harm that can be caused by social media that is more immersive, engaging and possibly more addictive than anything we’ve seen before.

For all the positive benefits it brings to society, such as making it easier to connect with friends and family, traditional social media has also been accused of enabling harmful behavior such as cyberbullying, harassment and the spread of conspiracy theories and fake news.

A new, more immersive social medium—one that’s harder to walk away from simply because it’s so much more captivating and entertaining—clearly has the potential to magnify these threats. This can make the web3 version of social media a dangerous place. Anyone looking to explore there and make their mark needs to make sure they understand these dangers and are familiar with the tools platform providers put in place to limit the danger. For example, Meta was asked to add a “safe zone” feature that allows users to instantly create a barrier around themselves when early users complained of “virtual groping” and other unpleasant behavior.

A whole new world

In many ways, the future of social media is intrinsically linked to the future of the metaverse. One way to think about it is that the metaverse is simply the next evolution of social media – just as it is the next evolution of online gaming, telecommuting and e-commerce. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram already bring together these different facets of our digital lives under one roof. The metaverse simply allows us to enter and experience it all together, immersively, rather than being limited to scrolling through it on a flat screen. Everything we love about social media – as well as everything we hate – will be magnified and intensified because of this, but at the same time it will open us up to a new world of experiences to share with those closest to us. Personally, I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

You can check out my webinar with James Shannon, CEO and co-founder of Xone here, where we dive deep into aspects of how the metaverse will change social media.

The metaverse is definitely an exciting and fast-moving area. To stay updated on the metaverse and broader business and technology trends, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter and check out my book Augmented reality in practicewhich just won the Business Book of the Year 2022 in the Specialist Book category.

You can also follow me on Twitter, LinkedInand YouTube. And don’t forget to check out my website.

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