While on vacation last week, in-between swimming, sunbathing and sangria, I took the chance to re-read Neal Stephenson’s futuristic novel Snow Crash – and realized it’s the perfect blueprint for what Facebook needs to do next.
Now that it has passed 500 million users, the question comes more and more to the fore: what can Facebook do next to continue its growth? The answers are all in a book that was first published back in 1992. Today, Facebook is still very 2D and lacks interaction in comparison to Stephenson’s vision of an online world. In Snow Crash, avatars are so realistic that people spend more time jacked into the Metaverse than in meatspace (sound familiar?) and participants scattered around the globe use online bars like The Black Sun as virtual meeting places.
The idea of an online world populated by avatars is hardly new, but the difference between the now ultra-niche Second Life and Facebook is that the latter has the audience that would give an online world much more of a chance of going mainstream. Whereas the chances that all my Facebook friends and I will all download, install and go back into Second Life? Pretty much zero.
Since Second Life enjoyed a brief burst of brilliance, things have moved on – my notebook has a decent built-in camera, bandwidth or connectivity isn’t generally an issue, the first 3D stills cameras are out, and social networking has gone more than mainstream.
In Snow Crash, lead character Hiro Protagonist switches to “flatland” and uses a 2D display only when he’s on the very edge of connectivity. At other times he’s “goggled in” using special 3D glasses complete with stereo speakers in the arms … when Stephenson wrote Snow Crash, all of this was his imagination: today, it’s technology that is easily accessible to the masses – and affordable.
So here’s what Facebook needs to do next: get out of flatland and give the metaverse a fresh try. Yes, it’s time for the birth of planet Zuck, and for users to create exclusive hangouts where they can get together, share photos, comment on each others’ status, find old friends and add new buddies … in fact everything that we’re doing today, on Facebook, in boring 2D.
For a taste of what’s possible, just read Snow Crash, a book that was first published some 18 years ago. Much of it seemed to be pure fantasy when I first read it, years back – today, it makes a lot more sense.
See you in The Black Sun on Facebook?