On Oct. 28, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that The Facebook Company, the corporate entity that owns and operates Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, will be renamed to Meta. This change represents the company’s new focus, which a company blog post described as “to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.”
The metaverse is described as a three-dimensional virtual world where users can create avatars, interact with others, attend events, play games and anything else. It sounds like science fiction because until very recently, it literally was science fiction, these are the concepts that novels and films have been based on for decades.
The concept of a real metaverse has been entering the conversation in the last couple of years as technology has evolved to a point where it is seemingly becoming more feasible. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions into online working and zoom meetings, the conversation was only accelerated. Video games like “Fortnite” have drawn comparisons to the metaverse as they have promoted social elements, including concerts by names like Ariana Grande held in-game and attended by millions of people.
Meta’s metaverse will begin with virtual reality conference rooms. A service called Horizon Workrooms will allow people using Meta’s own Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset to meet in a three-dimensional digital space. Users create avatars to express themselves in the space, picking their clothing, hair and facial features. Users can move around the space, as floating torsos because the avatars do not have legs, can write on whiteboards or notepads around the room, and even type on their own computer, with the screen represented in the digital world.
The Horizon Workrooms app will be free, and is already available in a beta form, though it does require the Oculus Quest 2, which runs for $300 at the time of writing. It’s easy to imagine microtransactions in the app for more clothing or hair options.
Further hints towards the metaverse future that Meta is creating can be gleaned from their filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Meta’s application is for social networking, creating and interacting, organizing events, sharing and creating media, blogging, subscribing to content, managing profiles, editing photos and videos, performing electronic business transactions, streaming, advertising, fitness, home management and so much more. The application even covers “decorations for Christmas trees.”
Zuckerberg and his company have very ambitious plans for their version of the metaverse, wanting to create a world where people can interact with one another, totally connected, wherein people’s avatars and profiles would be carried between apps and mediums. Meta would of course own many, if not all, of these apps and mediums. Services described in the trademark filing are clearly intended to replace existing services owned by other companies.
The announcement of Facebook’s name change and metaverse plans come as the company is under intense scrutiny, following the release of internal documents referred to as “The Facebook Papers” by a whistleblower named Frances Haugen. These documents detail internal reporting by the company that indicates the company is aware of a lot of real harm being done by and on its platforms. There are real concerns that the company is not doing enough to lessen that harm out of a desire to maintain its bottom line. Facebook has of course unequivocally denied the allegations levied against them, but there should be a lot of attention on the company that wants to own and operate the digital world we may be living in sooner rather than later.
Meta isn’t the only corporation pursuing the development of the metaverse, though it may be the largest. “Fortnite” developer Epic Games announced in April that they had obtained $1 billion in funding for their vision of the metaverse. On Nov. 2, a few days after Meta’s announcement, Microsoft announced their own take on the concept, starting with using Microsoft Teams and Powerpoint to deliver presentations in a virtual space. The next few years will likely feature a new competitive race between several companies searching to create the definitive metaverse.