Here’s the thing: Zuck is betting on the future of his half-trillion-dollar company Meta on a vision of a future in which we all spend more time in a virtual space known as the metaverse, represented by digital alter egos. created in our image and likeness.
The problem is that everything we’ve seen in this future so far looks lame as hell.
This entire episode illustrates the difficulties that Meta, positioning itself as a leader in the virtual reality industry, will face in selling its futuristic vision.
Biggest problem: It just doesn’t look cool. And Zuk doesn’t seem cool. And Facebook hasn’t been cool since 2009. And this is a really big problem.
My simplistic but unwavering theory is that people won’t buy something if it doesn’t make them better. But if you can make them believe it looks cool, people will do anything. Just ask the tobacco industry. Smoking is objectively terrible, but put a few sexy people in magazine cigarette ads and you have a money-making machine.
The cool factor is clearly missing from VR right now. And it’s not just the avatars.
First of all, to get into the metaverse, you first need to put on a bulky headset like the $400 Meta Quest device. Which is pretty slick on its own, but at the end of the day, it’s still a big computer on your dome that your friends and loved ones in real life will rightly tease you about.
Meta is not alone. As Rachel explains, Rec Room and Microsoft AltSpaceVR, among other things, have been working for years to improve the look and feel of their avatars and the ability to customize them.
Technical limitations also spoil the atmosphere of the metaverse.
Virtual avatars also need to respond in real time to how we move our faces and bodies, which requires powerful computing and graphics processing. What we really need to make this look convincing is additional sensors attached all over the body, which, again, is incredibly uncool.
(That’s why avatars on some social apps, like Meta’s Horizon Worlds and Rec Room, don’t have legs, just hummocks and heads.)
According to Timm Tyke, CEO of avatar platform Ready Player Me, the headsets currently on the market can only display the number of triangles that are used to create 3D images in virtual reality.
Researchers have found that in a virtual reality setting, most people want/expect to create an avatar that looks like themselves. And that is a monumentally difficult task.
Even if the technology existed for this, you would have an “uncanny valley” to worry about.
The more realistic an avatar’s face looks, the more we get scared looking at it. (Remember the 2004 film The Polar Express? Or have you not seen it either, because the characters’ faces were rendered too realistically, but no real expressions were shown, leading to Tom Hanks’ most terrifying role to date?)
Meta spends billions of dollars on a vision that is incomplete at best and useless at worst. And the person who advertised this vision is, uh, Mark Zuckerberg.
The merciless mockery of Zuk’s ill-advised posting of Zuk’s avatar highlights the real problem of attracting consumers. This should be a red flag for investors as well.
NUMBER OF THE DAY: $40,290
When you receive a delivery from FedEx Ground, you may not realize that these drivers dressed in FedEx uniforms are actually working for one of the thousands of independent contractors the company trusts to deliver.
Here’s the thing: FedEx Ground depends on a network of over 6,000 independent delivery companies, each with dozens of drivers. But Deutsche Bank estimates that more than 30% of these contractors are losing money due to higher fuel, truck and driver wages. Many contractors are now asking FedEx to improve the terms of the compensation packages they receive.
“My business is losing money every day,” said Spencer Patton, one of the largest contractors and the most outspoken critic of FedEx Ground’s relationship with its partner network. “And my business won’t be able to continue operating after November 25th.”
Patton says the wages he has to pay to keep drivers have risen 37% over the past year. Truck prices rose by 30%. And diesel fuel increased by 52% compared to last year.
His Nashville-based Patton Logistics delivered about 6.5 million FedEx packages last year.
Meanwhile, FedEx said its FedEx Ground division’s revenue increased $2.7 billion, or 9%, to $33.2 billion in the fiscal year ended May, compared to the prior year.
However, FedEx Ground refuses to offer the financial assistance Patton and others are seeking for their contractors.
“We recognize that current economic conditions create new challenges,” FedEx Ground said in a statement. “We remain committed to working with service providers on a case-by-case basis to address issues specific to their situation. Our goal is to ensure success for both FedEx Ground and service providers.”
FedEx Ground also declined to comment directly on the threat of some contractors closing just before the holiday shopping season.
This holiday season, you need to weigh a few complicating factors: USPS parcel rates are temporarily on the rise, FedEx may be running out of drivers, and of course, supply chains are still out of whack due to pandemic and war-era lockdowns in Ukraine. .
In other words, this could be a good year for all of us to buy local gifts and have them delivered by hand. Or do what I do every time I forget someone’s birthday and use the always helpful e-gift card.