Mozilla acquires Active Replica to build on its metaverse vision

Slack’s automatic status updater wasn’t the only thing Mozilla got this week. On Wednesday, the company announced that it had hijacked Active Replica, a Vancouver-based startup developing a “web metaverse.”

According to Mozilla SVP Imo Udom, Active Replica will support Mozilla’s ongoing work with Hubs, the latter’s VR chatroom service and open source project. Specifically, he sees the Active Replica team working on customized subscription levels, improving the onboarding experience and introducing new interaction capabilities in Hubs.

“Together, we see this as a major opportunity to bring more innovation and creativity to Hubs than we could on our own,” Yodom said in a blog post. “We will leverage their unique expertise and ability to create amazing experiences that help organizations use virtual spaces to make an impact. They will leverage our scale, talent, and ability to help bring their innovations to market faster.”

Active Replica was founded in 2020 by Jacob Ervin and Valerian Denis. Ervin is a software engineer by trade and has held positions at AR/VR startups Metaio, Limal AR, and Occipital. Dennis has a history of managing projects – he’s worked for VR companies including BackLight, which specializes in location-based, photorealistic VR experiences for brands.

With Active Replica, Ervin and Denis sought to create a platform for virtual events and meetings built on top of the Mozilla Hubs project. Active Replica sold virtual event packages that included venue design, event planning, live entertainment, and technical support.

Prior to the acquisition, Active Replica had not publicly announced external funding. Ervin and Denis have held new roles at Mozilla for the past several weeks, and now serve as Senior Engineering Manager and Product Lead, respectively.

“Mozilla has long championed a healthier Internet and inspired us in its dedication and contributions to the open web. By joining forces with the Mozilla Hubs team, we can expand our mission even further and inspire a new generation of creators, connectors, and builders,” Ervin and Dennis said in a statement. “Active Replica will continue to work with our existing customers, partners and the community.”

Mozilla launched Hubs in 2018, which it pitched at the time as an “experiment” in “immersive social experiences.” Hubs provide the necessary development tools and infrastructure to allow users to visit the portal via any browser and collaborate with others in a VR environment. Sticking to web standards, Hubs support all the usual headsets and glasses (such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive) while remaining open to those without specialized VR hardware on desktops and smartphones.

Hubs recently expanded with the launch of a $20-per-month service that ditched the previously free service, but introduced account management tools and privacy and security features. According to Mozilla, the plan is to roll out additional layers and reintroduce a free version in the future, along with groups for creating custom spaces, avatar and identity options, and integration with existing collaboration tools.

Mozilla’s forays into the metaverse have been met with mixed results. While Hubs is alive and well as evidenced by the acquisition of Active Replica, Meta Firefox Reality shut down its attempt to build a full-featured browser for AR and VR headsets, in February 2022. In explaining why it decided to close Firefox Reality, Mozilla said that while it helps develop new technologies , such as WebVR and WebAR, it does not always continue to host and embrace these technologies in the long term.