Comment Facebook the company is being renamed to Meta, and the social network will be a brand within that entity, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday.
You may think that this is just a cheap and cynical rebranding exercise to mitigate the ongoing controversies in which Facebook is mired. But this move goes way beyond that. We're well beyond an organization renaming itself to simply signal a change in direction or attitude. We're beyond a company trying to shed its toxic image. This isn't an antidote to the poison.
Mark Zuckerberg has gone off the deep end.
The name change heralds the reorganization of the Facebook empire around a single concept: the metaverse. To Zuckerberg, the term – coined by Neal Stephenson in the sci-fi novel Snow Crash – describes an internet-connected fantasy world in which everything and everyone is virtual and perfect.
Zuckerberg wrote the following words, and we're not making this up:
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.
Think about how many physical things you have today that could just be holograms in the future. Your TV, your perfect work setup with multiple monitors, your board games and more — instead of physical things assembled in factories, they’ll be holograms designed by creators around the world.
The sheer tragedy of this: a man with more money than he knows what to do with and who could buy any experience he wants on Earth or beyond, holed up inside a sprawling mansion and wearing VR goggles after his website has had untold effects on democracies, scheming how to help us escape the society he dragged his car keys along for more than a decade.
Is this his plan B? After Facebook does a number on the planet's population, we'll start again in a make-believe world in which everyone loves Mark? Or will it be another troll-infested, anti-intellectualism dystopia – nope, no question mark needed. Below is what he thinks the Facebook metaverse will look like. Watch more than 30 seconds of this, and try not to be utterly insulted by it.
New season of Black Mirror takes a wild turn pic.twitter.com/3uwnS86hn2— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) October 28, 2021
As Sally Rugg said on Twitter, "All we wanted was you to kick off the white supremacists." But instead we've got the Power Rangers of Absurdity – Magic Leap, Theranos, Google Glass, Black Mirror, and HyperLoop – combined into one disappointment.
You'll never escape it, either, Zuck promised. The metaverse will be accessed via augmented-reality spectacles that can be worn when "present in the physical world;" via virtual-reality goggles for when you want the full hit; or via computers and phones when they're needed.
That's if PCs, handhelds, and TVs haven't been made obsolete by this obviously totally viable technology that hasn't failed before. Zuckerberg predicted there'll be no need for things like tellies that are built in factories when they can be virtualized in a pair of Facebook, er, Meta goggles that will still need to be built in factories.
Today, as part of the Meta launch, the biz teased Project Nazare – a set of AR glasses that are "a few years out" – and Project Cambria, an immersive VR headset, which are expected to pipe the metaverse into your mind when available. This will complement Facebook's Oculus hardware, we imagine.
"We plan to sell our devices at cost or subsidized to make them available to more people," the world's eighth-richest man said. "We’ll need to make sure we don’t lose too much money along the way though."
Lest you think this is a power grab, he insisted Facebook, or is that Meta, didn't want to be in control, and the future new reality must be built on open standards and easy interoperability, with privacy and data security built in from the star-haha-hahahaha-hahahaha. Ah, noble aspirations, but we've heard them all before.
He said he wrote in Facebook's original founder’s letter: "We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services." Today you'll find that statement chilling out with "Don't be evil" around the back of a Silicon Valley 7-Eleven.
A new logo will do the trick, eh?
All right, so this name change. Zuck, who has had his thinking VR cap on perhaps a little too tightly during the COVID-19 lockdown, is convinced Facebook shouldn't be the face of this metaverse fantasy.
"Right now our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything we’re doing today, let alone in the future," he said. "Over time, I hope we are seen as a metaverse company, and I want to anchor our work and our identity on what we’re building towards."
Thus Meta will be made up of Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus, and then all the stuff that provides the metaverse. The biz will become "metaverse-first, not Facebook-first," he said, and rather than using Facebook to log into other platforms, the future will all about using Meta, which we're sure will deal with all that data responsibly.
And after all the scandals and billions of dollars in penalties, the rebrand might help Facebook staff feel a bit better about themselves, and it might be useful in attracting talent again to the tech empire – no, you're not working on Facebook, oh no, you're working on the metaverse for Meta.
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Facebook has weathered so many storms – from admitting to aiding genocide in Myanmar to paying $5bn in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica kerfuffle to manipulating people's emotions in a secret experiment – that with nearly two billion people using the thing on the daily, rejigging the corporate identity seems virtually pointless. So what if the press and a few politicians are upset, the billions in ad dollars are still coming in.
Maybe the latest leaks of internal documents, which showed there were times when Facebook staff raised concerns about the content being shared on its platforms and bosses did little or nothing, have rattled Zuck into action, wiping the slate clean. Or perhaps he read Ready Player One, and had the whole thing planned for months anyway and it's just interesting timing.
Maybe the name change will have some positive effect, PR wise. Y'know, Windscale, the British nuclear facility that caught fire in 1957 and spread radioactivity across Europe, changed its name to Sellafield in the early 1980s. Mercenary operation Blackwater changed its name to Xe in 2009, after the Nisour Square massacre, and changed it again to Academi two years after that.
In any case, Zuckerberg is banking on a digital future in which everything's virtual, and you never have to enjoy an actual after-work session down the pub, share a kiss with a stranger at a concert, nor hug your parents. Never have to experience the joy of making something with your hands or feel and smell the sea breeze, nor have to treat another human being as anything other than a video game character.
After more than a year of coronavirus restrictions, does anyone want to spend more time in front of a computer system? Zuck's metaverse is Second Life with all the baggage of Facebook.
"We have built things that have brought people together in new ways," he said. "We’ve learned from struggling with difficult social issues and living under closed platforms. Now it is time to take everything we’ve learned and help build the next chapter.
"I’m dedicating our energy to this — more than any other company in the world. If this is the future you want to see, I hope you’ll join us."
Hmm, maybe not. But at least the guessing is over on the new name, and we're sad to say none of El Reg's readers predicted this one – though you provided a lot of mirth. We'll take all the laughs we can get. ®