When tech founder Phil Libin donned his Oculus VR headset to try out Meta’s first metaverse product, he was hoping it wouldn’t be terrible.
“I had a very, very strong feeling that it would suck, but I went into it with as much hope as possible that I would be pleasantly surprised,” Libin said in an interview with Insider.
He and his employees at videoconference company Mmhmm, where he is CEO, were trying out Meta’s Horizon Workrooms product. Horizon Workrooms lets people use VR headsets for virtual work meetings in the so-called metaverse.
Libin said his gut instinct turned out to be correct. “It was only tolerable for a few minutes,” he said.
He believes that using VR for meetings is less enticing than familiar technologies such as Zoom , where people can still do real-world things like drink a cup of coffee. “Can’t do that with a giant plastic thing on my face without spilling hot coffee all over myself,” Libin said.
The word “metaverse” is borrowed from science fiction and refers to a future version of the internet accessed through immersive technologies such as virtual-reality and augmented-reality headsets. It has been pushed in particular by Mark Zuckerberg, who rebranded Facebook as Meta in October.
In its fourth-quarter earnings report Wednesday, Meta said its new metaverse business lost $10 billion and its user base shrank for the first time in its history. Meta stock plummeted 26.4% Thursday, erasing nearly $240 billion from the company’s valuation in the largest one-day wipeout in US corporate history.
Libin has previously been critical of the hype surrounding the metaverse. In a podcast interview last month, he compared the hype with communist propaganda he received as a child living in the former Soviet Union.
And he remains unconvinced.
He says the vision of the metaverse presented by Meta — one of an “interconnected 3D world that we experience for many hours a day, both for fun and for work primarily through VR” — “that package of things is godawful.”
“It’s an old idea,” Libin told Insider. “It’s uncreative, it’s been tried many, many times over the past four decades and it’s never worked.”
Proponents of the metaverse believe we’ll have to wait to see its full potential, Libin said, but he doesn’t think that’s how great technology works.
“I think great technology starts out being primitive, but it starts out being great immediately,” he said. Over time, he said, great technology gets “more polished and more mature and more sophisticated.”
He gave the example of early video-game consoles and his first-ever purchase from Amazon in the mid-1990s.
“It was my very first ever e-commerce transaction — went to the Amazon website, and Amazon in the mid-’90 was super primitive. It was like a text-based site, all you could do is buy books from it. And it didn’t have one-click checkout; it was very, very basic. But I bought a couple of books and I remember understanding at that point, this is amazing.”
As for Horizon Workrooms, Libin said: “It’s not gonna get better because it started bad. It started stupid. It can get more sophisticated, but it’ll just be more sophisticated — but still bad.”