Does Facebook's recent attempt to change its company name to Meta seem like a desperate attempt to transform the face of the company into something it is not? what is Zuckerberg's next move going to be?
So much, too much, can be said about yesterday's Facebook post that the company changed its company name to meta as part of a shift towards essentially virtual online reality. Most of what needs to be said is actually not good for Facebook. This is a desperate move in the face of a public relations nightmare that has little chance of becoming a market offering and essentially no chance of reversing the company's declining political and market position in the United States and Europe.
So, given the rich environment, let's start close to home: "Metaverse" is the second chaotic concept that Facebook is abusing by the blockchain industry. Likely to be poorly executed like Zuck's first fake magpie, Libra's future stable coin, now known as Diem (Facebook screwed up this launch so badly it had to rename the product: Feeling the theme?). Libra or Diem or Novi or Calibra or any attempt to steal the obscure crypto hello while actually generating a powerful new data stream for Facebook, which is directly against the principle behind the whole model.
Similarly, the true "metaverse" is a blockchain concept, but it could be argued that Facebook's meta-universe would be just as evil as Libra for Bitcoin. The main idea of the metaverse blockchain is the wide interoperability of virtual assets, which are stored in neutral and verifiable registers. The same blockchain technology that makes the irreplaceable tokens (NFT) usable in virtual galleries and (soon) Twitter, for example, is used to create tokens that represent virtual reality assets that can be used in a variety of immersive experiences, from Decentraland to (yes) we say., theoretically) Second Life to Minecraft.
While Facebook's online VR will have some form of NFT integration, Zuck doesn't offer a broader vision. Much of yesterday's presentation focused on his frustration with Apple's App Store and Facebook's plans to build a competitive parallel walled garden focused on online VR experiences (I won't call it "Metaverse" as see above). You would charge a fee from the creator who designed the virtual sweater, for example. Zuck even warned yesterday that the platform's fees would be high for a while (which, to get into Facebook's communications team, we know you're experiencing moral paralysis, but at least pretending is a little harder).
Zuck justifies this high cost by the fact that Facebook (no, I don't call it "meta either", as see above) will be building its online VR business for a while at a loss, also by subsidizing devices. This supports one of the other big warning signs of support for Facebook. It's pretty clear by now that very few people actually want to use VR, especially in a perpetual way that would make it great for gardening content stores. Oculus VR devices, which are at the heart of Facebook's plans, have been pretty good tech for at least three or four years, but sales have not been impressive. Other VR and AR companies, like the infamous Magic Leap, are burning money without finding a suitable product market. Spending big bucks to drive adoption is Facebook's only hope of getting VR up and running mass.
The cost also shows how desperate this move is. Not that it wasn't an obvious long-term plan - maybe it was even in the plans when we bought Oculus in 2014. It didn't come naturally, as Zuck admits, when he said: “We expect billions of dollars to be invested over the next few years before Metaverse reached its size. Compare that timeline to Instagram's much faster payments after Facebook bought it in 2012.
(We can also see again how little Facebook means in everything it says about user privacy. Oculus was developed and founded by Palmer Lucky, an ideological authoritarian who founded a military entrepreneur, Anduril, who unquestionably spyware such as camera drones and intelligence towers. being sold is influenced by his engineering work at Oculus. Do what you want.)
A normal company that is not subject to strict controls over the abuse of its own customers and the law is unlikely to change its name to a company that has already failed. And spending money to acquire customers is a risky start-up behaviour that uses private money for venture capital to increase its chances of opening up new business opportunities like Uber by using subsidies to win co-rides. It is not clear that the tactic makes sense for a large publicly traded company trying to revive a company that appears to have little control over itself.
It also doesn't make much sense, as the price of hardware like VR headsets isn't really a limiting factor in the reception that Zuck wants to believe. That first part of the acceptance curve hasn't happened for VR yet, even during the pandemic when everyone is stuck at home. Cheaper headphones can't cope with this lack of interest with a very old audience who shouldn't be interested in price.
But the monopoly approach to being one step ahead of the competition comes from the book of another of Zuck's favorites, the non-reactionary authoritarian Peter Thiel (see here?). Maybe convince Zuck to return to a familiar book. And there are probably Web 2.0 investors who are confident enough out there that Zuck can prevent a complete meltdown in the next 10 years by offering something like "You have to spend money to make money, Seed" for investor calls over the next 10 years, say a device. and then bleed to death the entire balance sheet of the company.
Because that's the bigger picture here. Regulatory and legal issues aside, Facebook may be past its prime as a company. The number of users in the US is declining, especially among young people, both on Facebook itself and on Instagram, extending the company's relevance for several years. Unfortunately, Facebook's future may lie in second- and third-tier economies with weaker governments and poorer citizens.
This leaves Facebook freer to follow its worst impulses. Ironically, on the metaverse front, this could mean that it ends in something closer to the term's deepest origins in Neil Stevenson's Snow Crash, a dystopian cyberpunk science fiction masterpiece from the 1980s. Metaverse Stevenson is a corporate ghetto where the world's poor play digital illusions of a life they can't afford while their emaciated bodies dry up in cramped apartments.
The Metaverse Facebook is building is, in a nutshell, a digital version of Hell. It's hard to imagine a more fitting Charon to get us there than Mark Zuckerberg, who has unleashed so many demons in the real world.