One of Facebook’s earliest investors has labelled the social media giant’s plans for a metaverse as “dystopian”.
Meta, as Facebook is now known, is investing billions in the project.
01. Why did Facebook change its name to Meta?
Facebook has been quite actively working in bringing VR and AR closer to the Internet for quite some time. The company initially showcased its interest in bringing immersive experiences back in 2014 — when it acquired VR headset manufacturer Oculus VR. However, the move to go deeper into the virtual ‘metaverse’ and adopt Meta as the company’s new name is something that Facebook plans to use for a major shift in its overall business.
“From now on, we will be metaverse-first, not Facebook-first. That means that over time you won’t need a Facebook account to use our other services,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook showed us a glimpse of what exactly we could see with its metaverse move while announcing its Horizon Workrooms VR Remote Work app in August. It also started investing millions of dollars to build metaverse using its existing and new resources.
02. What will happen to data privacy?
The timing of the job announcement has come under the limelight and questioned by the experts. Even though the company has not shared much details about data privacy and how data will be used and protected in the metaverse, serious concerns related to Facebook’s handling of user data in the past remain to cast a shadow over the whole project, which ultimately leads to the qualitatively different approaches the company would have to take this time.
However, this whole idea of metaverse is centred around Europe as of now, where the European Union has put in place some of the world’s strictest data privacy and processing rules as part of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which is viewed as a part of a strategy to stay in step with regulators while creating the new tech.
03. Facebook could become an even bigger part of our lives
If the metaverse as Facebook envisions it succeeds, it would mean that the company will become even more powerful than it is today. Right now, the two tech giants that effectively control entry to the mobile internet, Apple and Google, set some parameters around Facebook’s business.
Facebook designs its mobile app software to run on Apple’s and Google’s operating systems. In turn, Apple and Google take a 30 percent cut of any financial transactions that take place in Facebook’s iPhone app (a policy Facebook has long denounced). Apple also can pressure Facebook about its content policies, like in 2019, when tensions flared between the two companies after Apple threatened to kick Facebook out of the App Store if it didn’t do a better job preventing people from using its platform to traffic domestic workers in the Middle East.
The metaverse presents a potential future where Facebook won’t have these constraints anymore. If Facebook succeeds at being a pioneering founder of the metaverse, then it would be the company building and selling virtual reality headsets used to access that metaverse, and it could control a major app store distributing metaverse apps. This would all give Facebook a level of control and influence over the future internet that it doesn’t have today on the mobile web.
4. The dream was to feel present with the people we care about.
Zuckerberg told a story about how, while he was in middle school, his dream was to build products that help people “feel present with the people we care about.” This is telling for two reasons. The first is that “being present” isn’t the same as “feeling present.” I think the former is far more important to building real connections with the people you care about.
The second is that Facebook and Instagram are entirely built around the premise of disconnecting people from actual relationships in favor of virtual ones. People sit across from each other at the dinner table, scrolling through their Facebook News Feed instead of having conversations. If we’ve learned anything from the Facebook Papers, it’s that the company will do almost anything to keep people engaged and spending more time on Facebook.
“We’re a company that focuses on connecting people,” Zuckerberg said. “While most other tech companies focus on how people interact with technology, we focus on building technology so people can interact with each other.”
5. A future where, with just a pair of glasses….?
In the Connect keynote, Zuckerberg described a future where you can have those immersive experiences “with just a pair of glasses.” Zuckerberg expanded on the idea in an interview with Ben Thompson of Stratechery:
It was striking that Zuckerberg’s “killer use case” of how people might interact with the metaverse involves sending text messages to someone while having a face-to-face conversation with someone else. So, basically, the metaverse is the same as the regular internet, except it’s less obvious that you aren’t paying attention to the person in front of you. I’m just not sure that’s the future we’ve all been promised.
06. Many physical things might soon become holograms
In his letter, Zuckerberg detailed that creating a space where possibilities are endless would mean that some objects no longer need to be physical.
“Think about how many physical things you have today that could just be holograms in the future,” he said. “Your TV, your perfect work setup with multiple monitors, your board games and more — instead of physical things assembled in factories, they’ll be holograms designed by creators around the world.”
Interacting with these virtual items requires new technical infrastructure, like augmented reality glasses, virtual reality experiences or other types of screens, which is part of Facebook’s development strategy. “This isn’t about spending more time on screens; it’s about making the time we already spend better.”
In addition, Facebook said it plans to sell its devices “at cost or subsidized” to make them available to more people.
“Our hope is that within the next decade, the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers,” he said.
The metaverse will not be created by one company. It will be built by creators and developers making new experiences and digital items that are interoperable and unlock a massively larger creative economy than the one constrained by today’s platforms and their policies.
Our role in this journey is to accelerate the development of the fundamental technologies, social platforms and creative tools to bring the metaverse to life, and to weave these technologies through our social media apps. We believe the metaverse can enable better social experiences than anything that exists today, and we will dedicate our energy to helping achieve its potential.
As I wrote in our original founder’s letter: “we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.” The last five years have been humbling for me and our company in many ways. One of the main lessons I’ve learned is that building products people love isn’t enough.
I’ve gained more appreciation that the internet’s story isn’t straightforward. Every chapter brings new voices and new ideas, but also new challenges, risks, and disruption of established interests. We’ll need to work together, from the beginning, to bring the best possible version of this future to life.