On Tuesday, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reiterated his commitment to develop a new internet experience that will make Facebook something more than a social media platform. He announced the formation of a metaverse product group as the first step in building something brilliantly new and different from the internet as we know it.
“As part of Facebook’s next chapter, we’re setting up a new Metaverse Product Group. Each of our major initiatives – community, creators, commerce, the next computing platform, etc – will unlock many new experiences by themselves. But together, they’re all part of a much larger goal: helping to bring the metaverse to life. I believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet, and creating this product group is the next step in our journey to help build it,” he said.
The announcement reveals the mega plan that has been in the pipeline for some time now, and confirms what some, including Facebook staff already know.
As June came to an end, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his employees about an ambitious new initiative. The future of the company would go far beyond its current project of building a set of connected social apps and some hardware to support them. Instead, he said, Facebook would strive to build a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences straight out of sci-fi — a world known as the metaverse.
The company’s divisions focused on products for communities, creators, commerce, and virtual reality would increasingly work to realize this vision, he said in a remote address to employees. “What I think is most interesting is how these themes will come together into a bigger idea,” Zuckerberg said. “Our overarching goal across all of these initiatives is to help bring the metaverse to life.”
Zuckerberg, in an interview with TheVerge, last week, talked deeply about the new ambition and how he hopes that metaverse will take the place of mobile internet, changing Facebook from social media to a source of thrilling internet experiences.
The term refers to a convergence of physical, augmented, and virtual reality in a shared online space. (Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has been discussing his desire to contribute to a metaverse for many months now.)
In January 2020, an influential essay by the venture capitalist Matthew Ball set out to identify key characteristics of a metaverse. Among them: it has to span the physical and virtual worlds; contain a fully-fledged economy; and offer “unprecedented interoperability” — users have to be able to take their avatars and goods from one place in the metaverse to another, no matter who runs that particular part of it. Critically, no one company will run the metaverse — it will be an “embodied internet,” Zuckerberg said, operated by many different players in a decentralized way.
But the move has raised more questions than Zuckerberg answered, which includes, whether the idea is being developed because he sees Facebook getting broken up by the US. There is also concern about how metaverse would be regulated and is contents moderated.
Zuckerberg said, the metaverse will bring enormous opportunity to individual creators and artists; to individuals who want to work and own homes far from today’s urban centers; and to people who live in places where opportunities for education or recreation are more limited. A realized metaverse could be the next best thing to a working teleportation device, he says. With the company’s Oculus division, which produces the Quest headset, Facebook is trying to develop one.
Zuckerberg had described metaverse as a vision that spans many companies — the whole industry. “You can think about it as the successor to the mobile internet. And it’s certainly not something that any one company is going to build, but I think a big part of our next chapter is going to hopefully be contributing to building that, in partnership with a lot of other companies and creators and developers,” he said.
Regarding the form it will take, he said: “But the metaverse isn’t just virtual reality. It’s going to be accessible across all of our different computing platforms; VR and AR, but also PC, and also mobile devices and game consoles.”
He explains that entertainment is clearly going to be a big part of it, but doesn’t think that it is just gaming. “I think that this is a persistent, synchronous environment where we can be together, which I think is probably going to resemble some kind of a hybrid between the social platforms that we see today, but an environment where you’re embodied in it.
“So that can be 3D — it doesn’t have to be. You might be able to jump into an experience, like a 3D concert or something, from your phone, so you can get elements that are 2D or elements that are 3D. I think that this is going to be a really big part of the next chapter for the technology industry.
“Think about things like community and creators as one, or digital commerce as a second, or building out the next set of computing platforms, like virtual and augmented reality, to give people that sense of presence. I think all of these different initiatives that we have at Facebook today will basically ladder up together to contribute to helping to build this metaverse vision.
“And my hope, if we do this well, I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our company, I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company,” he said.
However, this is not the first time Zuckerberg will aim at a bogus ambition. In 2019, Zuckerberg moved to develop Libra, a cryptocurrency, in partnership with many big names in the finance and tech industry. His aim was to develop a global single cryptocurrency. But the US government shut it down, forcing his partners to withdraw.
While the idea of a metaverse is different from Libra, the form it will take and its impact raise concerns that will likely attract the same weight of government’s intervention. Zuckerberg said he’s been thinking about some of this stuff since he was in middle school, and acknowledged it will take years and collaborations to make the metaverse dream a reality, but it is not yet clear if his supposed partners share his dream.