Full disclosure: I’ve never read Ready Player One, nor have I seen the movie. I hear it’s really good, and I also hear it’s about a place called the Oasis people escape to because their in-person life is crap. Whoever created the Oasis must’ve really been crafty in their messaging to convince so many people to “play.” Otherwise, I assume it would’ve flopped.
That’s basically the situation Facebook has found itself in. Mark Zuckerberg hosted a Connect conference yesterday where he went over his company’s initiatives to build and develop the “metaverse.” In order to do so, he knew he’d have to rename his company to reflect those efforts, so Facebook (the company, not the app) is now Meta.
“Meta” is a strange but obvious new name for the company that has doubled-down on virtual and augmented reality experiences for a few years. Oculus has obviously played a major role in the expansion of VR, and the Facebook app has introduced a handful of AR experiences in recent history. The company has also been working on smart glasses with Ray Bans that will likely expand to include AR-powered experiences in the future.
These experiences are what drive the metaverse for Facebook. The metaverse, as it’s called, is basically what happens when you start living in the world created by your phone. Instead of simple 2D interactions with friends over the internet, you’re completely immersed in a 3D digital environment where you can work, play, and learn.
This is a future Meta believes will come to fruition, albeit in the more distant future rather the next few years. “In the metaverse, you’ll be able to do almost anything you can imagine — get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create — as well as completely new experiences that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today,” Zuckerberg wrote in a founder’s letter introducing Meta.
“In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up. This will open up more opportunity no matter where you live. You’ll be able to spend more time on what matters to you, cut down time in traffic, and reduce your carbon footprint.”
It sounds like a future only ever possible in the movies, but Meta believes it can push the idea into the real world over time. “The metaverse will not be created by one company,” Zuckerberg continued. “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 way Zuckerberg is positioning this change makes it sound like a natural progression of Facebook’s business, and it is. But it’s hard to ignore the timing of this announcement. As was discussed when the news was first leaked, a rebranding of the company who’s facing serious legal trouble over leaked documents highlighting dangerous internal issues, monopoly concerns, and toxicity for young people seems like a cheap trick to distract folks and shut down a concerning news cycle. Putting perfume on a pig doesn’t make it any less a pig, and that’s the impression many people have had online.
Still, Facebook wants you to focus on the metaverse for now, and it’ll make an even bigger splash than just a name change. As a part of the Meta rebranding, Oculus will lose its name and fold directly into the primary Meta company. That means Oculus headsets like the Quest and Rift will now be known as the Meta Quest and Meta Rift. Those changes kick in next year, and I can only imagine more are on their way.
Whether any of this works out for Meta remains unclear. The company formally known as Facebook was first known for creating one of the biggest social networks on the planet. Can it do it again, only this time in a. virtual reality where we interact with colleagues as if we were in the same room as them through a headset and controllers?
That remains unclear, but if there’s one thing that is, it’s that Zuckerberg will not stop the roll out of the metaverse – he’ll only accelerate it. His company is now a metaverse company, and there’s no telling how far it’ll go from this point on.