It was just a Meta of time
The surprise birth of Meta at Facebook’s annual Connect conference on the 28th October 2021 shocked the world, as the largest social media platform, Facebook, announced their name change to Meta. Zuckerberg’s techno-utopia was explained in a 77 minute video, in which he shows us the possible future of working, learning, gaming and shopping. But for now, the rebranding means that Meta is the name for the umbrella company that occupies all of Facebook’s operations.
From a non-gamer perspective the Metaverse seems very ambitious, however in the sphere of the gaming industry Meta looks feasible, especially when looking at the examples Roblox and Epic Games’ Fortnite. Roblox allows users to move their avatars around different worlds, therefore providing Meta with the technology to allow users to “teleport” across platforms.
The idea of the metaverse sounds amazing; giving the ability to harbour the feeling of being in the same room through more natural and vivid video with the prospect of an embodied internet. The idea stems from Facebook’s fundamental principle of connecting with people, but the Metaverse further elevates this principle, and seeks to appeal to younger generations who are starting to abandon social media.
With working from home here to stay, creating the feeling of presence in the current digital sphere is vital in a post-Covid world. Meta hopes to create a safe and secure workspace that stems from your meta “home” where you can both relax and focus. In the work setting you can attend meetings and presentations with the feeling you are all in the same room, enhanced via eye contact features and gestures.
Other notable benefits of the metaverse include fitness and learning through 3D systems. These functions would be enabled through Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. The prospect of augmented glasses are discussed in Zucerkberg’s video, as the glasses allow access into the Metaverse. The learning function could be particularly important in fields such as science and space, history and geography as you can use the metaverse to virtually travel to different places and time periods – this brings learning to life.
In the Metaverse you are represented as an avatar, which isn’t ground-breaking, as we are currently represented by avatars on other platforms and gaming services. However, the new thinking with the Metaverse is that we can bring physical tangible objects into the metaverse; this is new and innovative, but is an element that will require substantial investment. This function requires Spark AR, but development is in early stages, therefore it is difficult to comment on the integration of AR in Meta. The idea of AR is not capped at body and hand tracking to create more personal and vivid online communication. Meta’s investment will likely uncover innovative uses of AR.
Whilst all the previous points have discussed the benefits of the Metaverse, these benefits cannot outweigh the significant negative press Facebook has received over the past 6 years. Whilst Zuckerberg claims that the rebranding was to diversify their platform, the decision is much more multicausal. Facebook has the cumbersome task of detaching itself from accusations of undermining elections, spreading misinformation, and inciting violence. Historically Facebook have taken a silenced approach to criticism, and only speak out when forced – the Cambridge Analytica scandal forced Facebook to comment on their role in election rigging. On the 17th November 2020 they were grilled by the senate for their involvement in the 2020 American election, however very little was reached by the Senate. Finding an appropriate punishment for Facebook is difficult, particularly as financial fines are not large enough to damage the wealth of the company.
Facebook is at the top of the hierarchal chain within its market, enabling their revenue to reach $85.96 billion in the final quarter of 2020. With a steady growth in revenue since at least 2007, the platform needs to do more to fulfil the Friedman doctrine of increasing shareholder value. However, where do you go once you have already established a monopoly within your market? The answer is expanding into other sectors, but this comes at a hefty price; Meta’s spending this year is expected to surpass $10 billion.
Two very powerful acquisitions the group have made include Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. However, since then, Facebook has struggled to make meaningful acquisitions. The purchase of virtual reality company Oculus in 2014, has not been as successful as anticipated, however the metaverse is here to address this problem, as Meta creates a platform to further utilise Oculus. With the name change from Oculus to Meta Quest, you can see how the branding of Meta is starting to take shape.
Facebook has also faced battles of its own – the main battle being against Apple. The App Store is a service that operates with its own terms and conditions which have been particularly harsh to Facebook. Nevertheless, it is necessary for Facebook and other app providers to fulfil Apple’s requirements. Because of this, Facebook wants to create their own app hosting marketplace – hence Meta. But there are fundamental blocks standing in the way. Facebook “believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet”, however Facebook must consider the entry levels into the sector. If the hardware is priced too high it will only attract a small niche group – it is reasonable to assume that the cost of hardware such as augmented glasses, powerful computers and hologram tech required for the metaverse will be financially burdensome to the consumer. Therefore the pricing of the technology is integral to the success of Meta.
The next couple of years through the early stages of Meta will be interesting to watch, to see how the company overcomes the inevitable hurdles, and to see if the vision of the metaverse can be fulfilled. Whilst it is unlikely that the vision in Zuckerberg’s video will be fulfilled, it is possible for some elements of the metaverse to work in practice. However, at such a huge financial cost to Meta, will the risk pay off?
Header Image Credit: Editoy