Facebook’s metamorphosis – will it work?

The corporation formerly known as Facebook has a new name Meta.

There will still be a Facebook, and an Instagram and all the familiar platforms, as this is simply a renaming of the parent company alone.

The new name also invites people to participate on its “next chapter” – a 3D journey into the metaverse, which it sees as the future of the internet.

But some analysts wonder if the public will trust the firm enough to take part in Mark Zuckerberg’s new vision.

The new name produced millions of online searches for the specific query Meta in the UK and US combined, analysts say.

Does Facebook meta matter?

Popular questions included:

  • What is Meta?
  • What does Meta mean?
  • What does Meta stand for?

Dive into the Oxford English Dictionary and various definitions of meta are available – as a prefix it “denotes change, transformation, permutation, or substitution”, or “beyond, above, at a higher level”.

The company says it favours “beyond”, but it is also seeking a metamorphosis of sorts.

A chance perhaps too to welcome a new brand untainted by leaks and negative press, though an analyst with Forrester noted “a name change doesn’t suddenly erase the systemic issues plaguing the company”.

Officially though it’s about the future.

“Our new company brand captures where our company is going and the future we want to help build,” Meta said.

That destination is the metaverse.

What on earth is the metaverse?

The company believes the metaverse will be the next evolution in the way we use the internet.

“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.” chief executive Mr Zuckerberg wrote.

A scene from the Facebook meta - TFSBS - Tradify Business Solution

Some of that may seem familiar to those who have spent the pandemic in video conference calls, but the vision for the metaverse will remind others of earlier virtual worlds, such as Second Life.

However, Facebook meta stresses this is not a virtual world, but a new three-dimensional space to be used and accessed in various ways, saying: “Augmented reality glasses to stay present in the physical world, virtual reality to be fully immersed, and phones and computers to jump in from existing platforms.”

The company says it is: “A social, 3D virtual space where you can share immersive experiences with other people, even when you can’t be together in person – and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world.”

Azeem Azhar, author of Exponential, says: “It’s not going to be something that will be contained in a VR headset that sits in the corner of the living room. It will be a set of things that will show up across our different applications and across our devices, as those devices get better and better.”

Will it work?

Writing in The Times, technology analyst Benedict Evans characterised Facebook’s motivation this way: “If there is something after smartphones, Facebook wants to be landlord, not a tenant.”

But is the metaverse the right real estate?

Mr Azhar says the “crunch point” is answering the question for the general consumer: “What is the thing that we will actually need to do with this?”

He says at the moment: “We’re still looking for that absolute killer application of these virtual reality and augmented reality technologies.”

And if it does succeed, rather than replacing existing tech, the metaverse will sit alongside it. “It may be 20-odd years since text messaging became popular and people still send text messages, even though there are so many other richer ways we can communicate with each other.”

Great, when will it happen?

Facebook meta already owns virtual reality headset maker Oculus.

And the firm launched experimental versions of two metaverse projects last year – Horizon World, which lets friends meet virtually, and Horizon Workrooms, which enables virtual work meetings.

At the Facebook Connect event where Mr Zuckerberg spoke about the metaverse he also teased a new high-end headset dubbed Project Cambria.

But the metaverse is a work in progress, and the company says fully realising the idea will take another 10 to 15 years.

Meta will spend billions of dollars to bring it to life. The company recently announced it is hiring 10,000 people in the European Union to work on the project.

Mr Zuckerberg also said the metaverse would be the work of more than one company, and that “open standards and interoperability” will need to be part of it.

How safe and private is the metaverse?

After all the leaks, and accusations levelled at Facebook of late, will people trust the world that Mr Zuckerberg built to keep them safe, and their data private?

The Guardian suggested that advertisers might target ads based on “your body language, your physiological responses, knowing who you are interacting with and how”.

Mike Proulx, research director at research company Forrester, said: “Without trust, Facebook meta metaverse plans are already at risk.”

Mr Zuckerberg and Meta colleague Nick Clegg, Britain’s former deputy prime minister, have sought to address concerns.

Mr Clegg noted there were years to get regulation and technology right, while Mr Zuckerberg said: “Privacy and safety need to be built into the metaverse from day one.”

Whistleblower Frances Haugen told the BBC that “over and over again, we see Facebook prioritising expansion and growth”. She felt the resources could be better used on improving the safety of Facebook.

Facebook responded that it has no commercial or moral incentive to do anything other than give the maximum number of people as much of a positive experience as possible.

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