By now you’ve likely heard that Facebook is re-branding as Meta. The news travelled pretty fast when announced through the media on October 28. Or at least the parent company Facebook is being rebranded. The individual brands the company owns such as Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp will still maintain their individual identity apparently. Think Google and Alphabet for a parallel.
Why are they doing this?
It’s easy to be cynical and dismiss this as a re-branding exercise to distance the company from scandal. Recent whistle blower allegations over knowingly continuing to cause harm with algorithm manipulation, fueling digital addiction and society division, has many comparing the ethics involved to the tobacco companies back in the 80s. Enter the rebrand? Perhaps, but it’s a bit more complicated.
What is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is the hypothesized next iteration of the internet, supporting decentralized, persistent online 3-D virtual environments. This virtual space would be accessible through virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphones, PCs, and game consoles.
In the past, the “Facebook parent company” focus was on the Facebook app. Now it’s about the “metaverse.” Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life – helping people connect, find communities and grow business. The metaverse would be a world where augmented reality, virtual reality and social experiences collide. Our lives would move into a virtual world. It would be like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. Think immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together, or doing things you couldn’t do in a physical world. It would be the next evolution in social technology, and it appears it is poised to define the next chapter for Facebook – I mean Meta! Nobody has pulled this off yet, but in Silicon Valley there sure seems to be interest in the AR/VR thing and where to take it.
Data meet Meta
It all sounds a bit Star Trek at this stage to me. Remember episodes where characters would teleport to space locations, become holograms, or interact in artificial worlds that were hologram realities? In fact, doesn’t Zuckerberg look disturbingly like “Data” – the Star Trek android, with impressive computer like brain function, but an absence of emotional intelligence? A disturbing parallel, I know.
Zuck appears ready to stake his company on the metaverse as a first mover. He partnered with Rayban a while back to produce AR glasses. He’s hired data scientists, engineers and developers in the VR space. It seems a bit more planned and purposeful than a re-brand to get out of dodge.
A view from 30,000ft
This all of course begs the question – is this what we really need? Is this where we want to pull society? And an even bigger question – Is Facebook (I mean Meta!) and its founder really the company we want to lead us there? With a sketchy record at best for favoring profit over society good, it seems we’re driving in this direction without anyone having stopped to ask the question – just because YOU can, does it mean WE should?
Maybe we’re light years away from the metaverse being a mainstream thing, as ubiquitous as Facebook is now. Or maybe it will never happen. But there sure is a lot of money being tossed at it, on the gamble that the general public will buy in.
Virtual reality, augmented reality… you might be thinking, could it get any more complicated? Yes, it could. I’ll freely admit to being late to the crypto currency investment game. I got spooked initially when a friend got scammed, and dismissed it being as solid as a Vegas bet. We’ve all seen the headlines about Bitcoin’s roller coaster ride to high valuation. But there’s a lot more to the crypto currency space than Bitcoin. CoinMarketCap data lists 13,506 cryptocurrencies in existence. But the top 5 (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, Tether and Biance Coin represent 70% of the crypto market cap. What the heck does this have to do with Facebook rebranding as the Metaverse? Apparently, a lot, according to conversations with those in the know this past week. Crypto is expected to be the global digital currency in the meta space. Add in NFTs (non-fungible token’s) as digital assets, stored on a digital leger (blockchain) that represent real world objects like art, music and in-game items, and you have the makings for a whole new commerce space, and supply chain in a third-dimension virtual reality space. How about creator coins? Some of my colleagues with large online communities are creating their own creator coins as digital currency using Rally https://rally.io/creator Does this blow you mind with possibility? It should. The pandemic has just rendered cash obsolete. The timing is right.
What does this all mean for you?
If you made it this far, you might be musing – cool, maybe cool, whatever I don’t really get it…
But let’s noodle on it…If someone is immersed in a virtual world, how might an advertiser show up? Could experiences be sponsored? Could they touch or feel your product? Could speakers or educators show up in this virtual world? Instead of buying a plane ticket, could you VR yourself speaking at a conference? How about a hotel using VR to show a potential guest around the property and their room before booking? AR could be used to compliment real life city tours, with highlights and historical facts displayed when you look at a particular building. Hey, lots of people want to continue to work remotely – perhaps having a hologram take your place is the answer to filling office space. Beam me up Scottie!
The concept is actually pretty exciting, but it’s a slippery slope. It’s troubling to think of all the real time behavioral data that could be collected and monetized by Facebook (I mean Meta).
What about Facebook advertising?
My initial assumption is that this re-branding would be mostly superficial, and that it wouldn’t spill over into Facebook advertising. But curiously “Meta for Business” is now a Facebook page. It’s not a new page. It was changed from “Facebook for Business” on Oct 28. I suspect that is a way to brand advertising options across all platforms owned by the company (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp) under on “Meta” family banner. But it also means that this AR/VR stuff will likely be introduced across platforms at some point in the future.
It all seems a bit wild to me right now.
I love thinking about this stuff. Speculating, talking to others in the space. As one colleague put it, “Our youth already lives their lives virtually on their phones. Full VR is the logical and unstoppable trajectory. Trillions in market cap already in the space.”
As much as I love new stuff, and embrace cool new ways to market and connect people with brands, I’m still troubled by the question of whether this is what society really needs, and if this is the company that we should trust to take us there. I’m fully aware that sometimes consumers don’t know what they might want if they’ve never experienced it before (think Apple iPhone and iPod when they first came out) This could be one of those things. Feel free to remind me of my current skepticism five years from now!
I guess the big thing is to be knowledgeable about the changes that are taking place. We need to be prepared to evolve. It’s likely in the future that we won’t be able to continue doing things as we always have. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think. And if you just want to vote yes/no on the resemblance between Zuck and Data, that’s cool too! Or, if this all makes the prospect of sitting by a fire at a cabin, or watching ocean waves lap the shore, that much more appealing, I get it!