Virtual Reality

Facebook rebrands as Meta, attempting to shape the future of the Web

Facebook rebrands as Meta, att...
Mark Zuckerberg introduces a fictional new home space
Mark Zuckerberg introduces a fictional new home space
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Mark Zuckerberg introduces a fictional new home space
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Mark Zuckerberg introduces a fictional new home space
Virtual screens will replace physical ones
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Virtual screens will replace physical ones
Meta-Zuck meets his colleagues in a space station to share dog videos
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Meta-Zuck meets his colleagues in a space station to share dog videos
Text messages will hang in the air before your eyes
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Text messages will hang in the air before your eyes
Board games will no longer need physical boards – or physical opponents, for that matter
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Board games will no longer need physical boards – or physical opponents, for that matter
Naturally, gaming will form a key part of the metaverse
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Naturally, gaming will form a key part of the metaverse
Virtual event attendance is already available to Quest users
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Virtual event attendance is already available to Quest users
Virtual presence could bring some topics to life for students
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Virtual presence could bring some topics to life for students
VR immersion can make you feel like you've been to places - that'll really be something for teaching history
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VR immersion can make you feel like you've been to places - that'll really be something for teaching history
The new Meta logo
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The new Meta logo
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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the company is rebranding itself as Meta as it focuses its energy on its next great gamble: creating the backbone of an immersive VR/AR "Metaverse" it sees as the next evolution of the Web.

Facebook has already changed the world once – for better or worse – and with the Metaverse platform it wants to lay the foundations of a new internet based on immersive places instead of pages on screens. This is far from a new idea – notably, Neal Stephenson first coined the term "metaverse" in his Snow Crash novel from 1992, and Spielberg's Ready Player One film from 2017 had its "Oasis," more focused on gaming.

How will it work? Well, you'll access it through VR goggles or AR glasses, meaning you can choose to have one foot in the physical world or be totally immersed. Loosely, you can map it onto today's internet by replacing web pages with locations, and hyperlinks with the ability to teleport between locations.

It's designed as a social space, so whether you're at home or in some public space you'll be able to invite friends or strangers to join you, interacting through avatars that will evolve to capture and transmit your body language and facial expressions as well as transmitting your voice and action commands. You'll be able to set boundaries on exactly how social.

Virtual event attendance is already available to Quest users
Virtual event attendance is already available to Quest users

So far, so VR; Facebook's Oculus Quest 2 VR headset already offers people access to a Horizon: Venues app that acts in much the same way, letting you teleport in and out between your home space, a public lobby and a series of "event" rooms where various different shows can be enjoyed as you interact with strangers, wearing an editable avatar.

Facebook's Metaverse would expand this concept to become all-consuming. You'd be able to go shopping, play VR games, have work meetings, catch up with friends on mountaintops or alien planets. Whatever you're doing online now, Zuckerberg wants you to be able to do it in VR.

Or AR – with a good set of glasses, you'll be able to bring elements from the virtual world with you wherever you go. That might mean switching your work desk and computer with a giant set of virtual screens that can hover holographically in the air wherever you decide to work. Or a holographic board game you can play with a friend, whether you're together in person or whether they join you remotely as an avatar.

Virtual screens will replace physical ones
Virtual screens will replace physical ones

That's not to say Facebook will be building all of this content – rather, the company seeks to build the standards and underpinning systems that'll make this whole thing work, and to make it an attractive place for independent third parties to spend time designing for. That means crypto-based payment systems, advertising infrastructure and other ways for third party entities to squeeze a buck out of their virtual designs, be they games, digital art, shopfronts, experiences, social spaces or whatever else people can dream up.

It's a bright and shiny vision, backed up by some cringeworthy render video, and Zuckerberg says the scope of the company's vision here means the Facebook brand will no longer cut the mustard. "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 in a founder's letter. "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 ... To reflect who we are and the future we hope to build, I’m proud to share that our company is now Meta."

Essentially, the Facebook company is splitting in two; the social media site won't be changing its name, but Zuckerberg is clear that it's been relegated to second priority: "From now on, we will be metaverse-first, not Facebook-first. That means that over time you won’t need a Facebook account to use our other services. As our new brand starts showing up in our products, I hope people around the world come to know the Meta brand and the future we stand for."

The new Meta logo
The new Meta logo

The rebranding will do little to wash Facebook's hands of controversies, both historic and recent, that have left a sour taste in many mouths during the company's meteoric rise to global social media domination. That mud sticks to Zuckerberg himself, and his profile and past misdeeds will make him impossible to ignore as the figurehead of the new metaverse.

Either way, this represents an enormous bet on what shape the future will take. It's easy to forget in modern life that the keyboard, mouse and screen that dominate the modern office have only been common since the 1990s. Touchscreen smart devices first appeared 14 years ago with the iPhone, and you only need to interrogate your own habits to see how comprehensively these have taken over our interface with the wider world.

The Zuck fervently believes that before the decade's up, VR/AR will be the next wave, and he's betting billions to try to own and shape that pie as it cooks. And while he'll be happy to pocket percentages of virtual currency spent online, the real gleaming booty he's likely digging for is the same as it's ever been: data, about you, which can be sold on. But as VR and AR platforms develop, the data available will be orders of magnitude more comprehensive and valuable.

Headsets will track your eye motion to know exactly what draws your gaze. Positional tracking cameras built into VR and AR headsets will map and catalogue every room you switch them on in. Companies will be able to track your behavior, attention, surroundings and interactions in unprecedented depth – and there's serious money in that, along with dystopian grossness as the user-as-product model reaches a new level.

Board games will no longer need physical boards – or physical opponents, for that matter
Board games will no longer need physical boards – or physical opponents, for that matter

Will it happen? It's hard to know. Facebook's current Oculus Quest 2 VR headset is hugely impressive, even if it's clear where it needs to improve – but as of May this year it had only sold around five million units. Huge numbers in the VR world, but not the kind of avalanche that would appear to signal a revolution, especially since Quest 2 is significantly cheaper than, say, a PlayStation 5. Then again, there were only 1.7 million iPhones sold in its first year, and 10 million in its second.

VR today still feels like a bit of a novelty; a mind-blowing experience, particularly in the first few hours, but far from essential to your digital life. The headsets, advanced as they are, are still a bit sweaty and uncomfortable, and motion sickness still needs to be overcome when you're gliding around in virtual spaces.

The equipment is still embryonic, but it'll improve quickly. There's not currently a ton of unmissable content, but that'll come as the user base grows. People don't appear to be crying out for VR, but they'll generally hop on board given a compelling reason – it's just not self-evident exactly what that liminal moment will be, and I don't think today's announcement of a VR version of 2004's GTA: San Andreas is going to be it.

Meta must be kicking itself that it wasn't five years down the track on this stuff at the start of a global pandemic that made vast swathes of humanity sit at home on the sofa yearning for a sense of physical presence among their friends.

You can watch the Facebook Connect announcement video here.

Source: Facebook/Meta Platforms

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18 comments
18 comments
Daishi
Even as VR improves I don't know if I could see myself spending much time as a percentage of my day with a VR headset on my face. I met someone at a conference that made a pretty convincing argument that VR is just a step but AR will probably be bigger but the technology just isn't ready yet. I could see advertisers willing to spend big money to display digital ads in the physical world (like back to the future) when that happens.
Michael son of Lester
The big problem with this is the algorithms used to feed people information. If a person reads, listens or watches a right-wing or left-wing news story, the algorithm determines that this person likes that sort of thing and feeds more of these stories to that person to get that person to read/like more. This is to sell more ads and make more money. Now Meta wants to up the game to make more money. This is fine, but as Robert A. Heinlein once said: “Goodness without wisdom always accomplishes evil.”
Grunchy
I've got an AR app, it's "Star Chart" for the iphone (one of the first of them, I think). It's "ok" and helps identify objects in the night sky, but the precision isn't so hot.
I've also got plenty of VR apps (games for the Playstation VR) and I can't play any of them. I get the motion sickness pretty hard inside there, plus I haven't figured out how to solve the "drift" issue that plagues PS-VR, so between the aggressive motion and the endless need to recalibrate I just about can't play the thing. I don't think I've put it on in over 12 months (I'm afraid!)
I guess if this is what Zuckerberg thinks people want or need, he's fooling himself. I see VR/AR as a more cumbersome version of 3d television glasses, which never caught on very well. I see it as kind of a gimmicky fad, but it does do one thing: it would compel people to buy ever more powerful hardware, which unfortunately isn't going to deliver any better user experience. What's the point of the power then? I think what Facebook is really planning to do is use that pointless computational power to put artificial intelligence onto our cellphones in order to surveil us and better learn our weaknesses in order to exploit them for Zuckerberg's benefit.
As far as I'm concerned, "Meta" = "Zuckerberg Spyware". I don't trust that guy in the slightest.
Gregg Eshelman
This has already existed since 2003. It's called Second Life and was inspired by the virtual world in "Snow Crash". There are ways to use the Oculus and other VR devices with it. But like so many things, the second mouse will get the cheese. Zuckerberg will likely create a lot of flash and noise with Meta then will buy Second Life to absorb into it.
Daishi
@Michael son of Lester I have had this convo a bit. As someone that works in technology I had higher hopes earlier on that it would be used to break down barriers of understanding through things like seamlessly translating languages. I was naive to think people could potentially use the Internet to break free of heavily bias news sources. Instead what happened is that Facebook and Google built algorithms that prevent people from any information that contradict their views and reshape the world around them to conform to whatever views it identifies. There have been some studies that if you start looking at flat earth videos on Youtube it will then cater your youtube experience with more and more pro-flat earth stuff. Not only will it convince you the earth is flat but from your perspective it will seem confusing how anyone couldn't share that view with you. They use that technology to create an alternate individually catered version of the truth for each person. People have never been more divided and they get angry with you for not choosing a side because you are "enabling" the enemy. Now the same responsible people want to control the Metaverse. What could possibly go wrong?
guzmanchinky
I watched the video last night and it felt very staged/creepy. I look forward to the future of AR/VR but I'm pretty sure we're not even close yet...
HoppyHopkins
The only thing Zuckerberg cares about is Knowledge and power is algorithms learn peoples political and purchasing leanings, this gives him knowledge, his algorithms allow him to control the news and opinions that people are exposed to. George Orwell would be proud to see such insidious manipulation
Aross
Misguided people are worried that governments are trying to control them through Covid vaccines. I would be and am much more worried about being controlled and manipulated by the Zuckerberg's of this world. This new venture needs to be very closely watched and regulated.
FastBuck
META = Make Everything Trump Again!
Graeme S
This will end bad, remember the movie Total recall, it should be seen as a prophecy, don't go there.
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