‘An immersive embodied internet’, that’s how Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook and now the CEO at ‘Meta’, is describing the ‘metaverse’ that the company wants to ‘help’ build. With this new focus, Facebook is now called ‘Meta’, a change, the company announced at its Connect 2021 conference.
But what does this rebranding exercise really mean and how does Facebook plan to build this ‘metaverse’? We explain below.
What does the new name ‘Meta’ mean? Is the Facebook app also called ‘Meta’ now?
‘Meta’ in Greek means ‘after’ or ‘beyond’. The overall Facebook company will now simply be called Meta. However, the Facebook app will retain its name and there’s no change for other apps.
But Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger are now all under the company ‘Meta’— like Google has all its products under the umbrella company Alphabet.
And the way Zuckerberg pitched his vision in the keynote, it seems all of these apps will continue to have a role in the upcoming metaverse, though in a very different way. “…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,” he wrote in a post.
Meta has a new logo as well, which is sort of like the symbol for infinity. In a blog post, the company says that the ‘Meta’ symbolise is “designed to dynamically live in the metaverse — where you can move through it and around it.”
What exactly will it mean to live in the metaverse?
The way Zuckerberg is envisioning the ‘metaverse’, it will go beyond the internet as we know it, with interoperability, avataars, natural interfaces, teleporting, Home Space, presence, digital goods being some of the key features of this metaverse.
As we noted in an earlier article, metaverse is not an idea original to Facebook or Meta as it is now called. The idea originated in the novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Of course, the vision Silicon Valley is selling now is not so dystopian as in the novel.
One could experience being in a digital space, almost as if it were real, and also share the space with others. Think realistic holograms, virtual avatars which are present everywhere and a holographic screen you can just access by gestures or even a tilt of your head.
Zuckerberg insists that living in the ‘metaverse’ will feel more ‘natural and vivid’. “Devices won’t be the focal point of your attention anymore,” he said.
Based on Facebook’s presentation it could be possible for two people in two different cities on the planet to attend a concert together, even attend a party with other virtual or holographic avataars. Work from home in the metaverse would have a different meaning. Logging in would let you experience the office, almost as if you were there, without having to be there in the actual physical sense.
But the metaverse is more than the ability to teleport oneself into different spaces or to experience mixed reality. One of the key characteristics of the ‘metaverse’ is that it is live and continuous and doesn’t reset. And while this might sound like the digital world will overtake our entire lives, Zuckerberg insists it will not be about spending more time on screens.
How does Facebook plan to build this ‘metaverse’?
Meta knows it is not the only company that can ‘build’ this metaverse. The plan is to keep the experience of the metaverse free and for that Meta will sell its “devices at cost or subsidised to make them available to more people.”
These are VR or AR devices which can be used to access parts of the metaverse such as the Oculus Quest 2 or 3. There’s also a new VR device called Project Cambria, which will be more expensive and with more advanced tracking technology. This is coming next year. Facebook also has its AR glasses project called Aria, which is still in the works.
Meta will also “support side-loading and streaming from PCs so people have choice, rather than forcing them to use the Quest Store to find apps or reach customers,” he wrote.
“And we’ll aim to offer developer and creator services with low fees in as many cases as possible so we can maximise the overall creative economy. We’ll need to make sure we don’t lose too much money along the way though, ” he added.
In his keynote, Zuckerberg also took a direct shot at other platforms, namely Apple. He said, “This period has also been humbling because as big of a company as we are, we’ve also learned what it’s like to build on other platforms. Living under their rules has profoundly shaped my views on the tech industry. I’ve come to believe that the lack of choice for consumers and high fees for developers are stifling innovation and holding back the internet economy.”
So clearly the all encompassing metaverse, will also offer Facebook a chance to escape the rules of Apple and Google, which tightly control the iOS and Android platforms respectively.
But this sounds a lot like science fiction? Is this going to be real in the next few years?
Well science fiction is the inspiration behind the idea and even Zuckerberg knows it won’t be built in the next few years. He’s hopeful that parts of the metaverse will exist by the next decade. But there are lots of challenges to the metaverse.
For one, all those accurate and real holographic projections will require the technology to catch up. It is not quite there yet. And Facebook is not the only one working on making this mixed reality an actual reality. Epic Games is giving a big push to creating elements of the Metaverse using its unreal engine. Microsoft’s Project Mesh is also trying to bring a similar kind of mixed reality to life and would include the ability to allow ‘holoportation’ for individuals.
But again the technology is far from ready. Google’s Project Starline showed a similar kind of mixed reality experience for video calls, but again the technology is only in the beginning and yet to roll out at scale.
One big challenge will be interoperability. This would mean that a piece of digital item you buy in the metaverse should technically work everywhere. For instance, a virtual item such as a virtual t-shirt should work in all aspects of metaverse. Right now this is not possible. For instance, items bought in PUBG cannot be used in Fortnite.
In the metaverse, this would be possible thanks to interoperability, though Zuckerberg admits this would require rewriting of rules and more open standards.
What about privacy on Metaverse?
Meta or rather Facebook has its fair share of problems when it comes to user privacy. But Zuckerberg insists that the metaverse will be built keeping in mind ‘user’ privacy.
The keynote also talked about how they don’t want to surprise people with new technology, and that they would need to work with policy makers, governments as the metaverse is being built. But details are still unclear on how privacy would function in this metaverse. And given how metaverse wants to be all encompassing, how ‘Meta’ handles privacy will certainly be a much scrutinised aspect of this new world.
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