Facebook to Meta: The Metaverse contours go beyond just rebranding
Facebook will now be known as Meta as it is betting big on the metaverse project that it sees as the future of the internet. “From now on, we’re going to be the metaverse first. Not Facebook first,” said Mark Zuckerberg, now the CEO of Meta, in a statement.
Facebook is investing in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to build a more immersive internet. VR is a critical building block for the internet Meta now envisions.
There is also talk of Project Cambria, expected to be next-generation hardware, launch sometime next year. It will not be a replacement for the Quest 2 headset, and neither will it be the logical successor, the Quest 3 - that will happen in parallel, at some point. This headset, when it launches, will include an improved social presence, colour Passthrough and pancake optics.
Should you really care about the metaverse?
It is hard to explain something that does not exist yet. Metaverse does not have a globally accepted definition or structure so far. Nor has there been any movement on regulations. Everything is being spoken about in glorious terminology in the world of tech - virtual worlds, interactivity, immersive experiences, and so on.
The idea of a metaverse is not new. It has been broached before, as an immersive version of the internet where a user will rely on technology such as AR to step in and look at the internet in a three-dimensional way, rather than apps or via the web browser as today.
There is the potential for immersive social virtual shopping experiences, concerts, gaming, and virtual classrooms taking a huge step forward. “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,” said Zuckerberg.
Meta admits that there is not much to say on the metaverse as it stands today, but has set about building an ecosystem around it. It insists that the metaverse will not be created by one company, but where creators and developers will have to create the experiences which will define it.
Zuckerberg is pushing the case for Meta leading the privacy aspect of the metaverse development. “Privacy and safety need to be built into the metaverse from day one. So do open standards and interoperability. This will require not just novel technical work - like supporting crypto and NFT projects in the community - but also new forms of governance.”
How that pans out, considering Facebook’s continued problems with privacy issues, remains to be seen. For most viewers, this may not imbibe much confidence. At least not yet. Facebook has always been proud of the fact that it does not build services to make money. It makes money to build services.
Horizon Home: A vision for the future?
This is Meta’s big pitch for the metaverse universe. Horizon Home is what users see when they wear a Quest VR headset. Meta has announced the new Horizon Home, which it calls another social platform. The idea being you and your friends with similar VR headsets can interact in a virtual world. This is an expansion of a platform that includes Horizon Worlds, which was launched as invite-only last year, Horizon Workrooms for remote working and virtual offices as well as Venues, the gateway to virtual concerts, parties, etc.
The VR taste to apps and tasks
Facebook has also said that the Messenger app for VR headsets will now include audio calls as well in VR, sometime later this year. Meta will soon begin testing a Quest for Business suite that uses the Quest 2 headset to allow remote workers to access their official accounts and collaborate with co-workers as well as access productivity apps including Horizon Workrooms.
“Today, we announced a new $150 million initiative to train the next generation of creators building immersive educational content. And we’re working with game engine developer Unity to help people gain the skills they need to create incredible AR and VR content,” said Facebook. It will also partner with institutions and organisations including VictoryXR and Byjus FutureSchool.
A new beginning or whitewashing the past?
This is the most aggressive push by Facebook to break away from being seen as just a social media company. Facebook, as a social network, will continue to remain as it is. Just that it is now not defining the entire brand that also has products including WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus, Portal smart devices, and extensive investment in Artificial Intelligence.
The rebranding comes when the social network giant is struggling with an increasingly poor reputation globally for the approach towards user data privacy and persistent allegations of sneaky tracking of users’ web browsing habits to serve them advertising.
Facebook is also under the scrutiny of regulators and lawmakers after former employee Frances Haugen showed documentation that pointed at issues around the company’s handling of hate speech, ignoring internal research highlighting Instagram’s toxicity for young users and a higher interest categorisation of some countries regarding interest around elections.
Facebook’s restructuring to Meta is very similar to how Google restructured to have a company called Alphabet lead the businesses of Google, Nest, Google Fiber, DeepMind.
Yet, Facebook insists the corporate structure would not change, and that Meta would now be reporting results for the current family of apps (including Facebook and Instagram) and the Reality Labs.