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The Social Media Report #28: what Meta means for the future of social media
"We're already in the metaverse"
What does Facebook’s move to Meta mean for the future evolution of social media? Facebook rebrands to Meta, and a major turning point for social media is unfolding. But this is more than just a rebrand of an app under fire. And it is more pervasive than one company making a play to build a future market for its products. The metaverse is actually already here, we’re just not looking at from the right direction.
In this edition of The Social Media Report, I’m analysing the impact of the latest news to come from One Hacker Way, and the wider implications of Facebook’s vision of the future of the internet. After weeks of whistleblower revelations in the media and in the courts, Facebook has been embroiled in an ever-deepening crisis over its very identity, and whether or not it’s a harm on society. As the brand changes, how will Facebook’s ability to protect its users as Meta evolve? Let’s take a look!
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Facebook the company is now Meta, and its vision for the future of the internet is now drastically different to what we understood before: if you watch Facebook’s promo video for the launch of its new identity and vision, Meta, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we are being shown a distant, dystopian future of the internet that is a sci-fi virtual reality of Ready Player One meets The Matrix.
Compare Meta the company and Facebook the app, and you get chalk and cheese. You might watch the flying robots chatting in space and think: ‘right so this metaverse is a far future concept of Facebook’s inventor.' It certainly bares no similarity to what Facebook’s 2.9 billion users use the app for right now, which is largely status updates, local groups and reading the news.
In his launch video, Meta / Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explains that what’s core now is core to the future of Meta - connecting people. But that this will be done in a more immersive way in the future which Meta will steer us through, using ‘glassed and headsets’. But the truth is, the metaverse is already pervasive, it’s in our pockets and Facebook’s already a purveyor of great power over it.
We are already in the metaverse. We spend our days endless scrolling, in forums, threads, on screens and in games. NFTs powered by crypto currencies fill virtual worlds which are customised with skins and power-ups, and our augmented reality is in our pockets, on our laps and in front of our eyes already for longer than we think. What Facebook / Meta is in fact doing is making a play to own a more compelling narrative over the future of the metaverse, while mitigating the negativity building around Facebook’s role as a force for harm.
However, Facebook / Meta’s vision of the future of the metaverse is also really old. Virtual worlds and VR have been around a long time, and have remained both niche and also enthralled specialist user bases. Take Second Life, for example, which I worked for when it burst on to the virtual world scene in 2006. Absolutely a metaverse, innovative on another level, enthralling, but absolutely niche. The virtual world style metaverse is old hat, and, according to most punditry, just plain boring. This by The Atlantic is worth a read.
On the face of it, Meta is therefore simply a rebrand of Facebook’s parent company. Facebook has to date been both an app and a company. This has meant that other apps owned by Facebook the company, like Instagram or WhatsApp, have been increasingly tarnished by Facebooks recently slumping brand image. This kind of a rebrand is nothing new, and over time, the distance between apps and the Facebook brand will be a valuable move no doubt. Facebook is facing an ever growing wave of pressure from lawmakers, the media, legislators and the public over whether Facebook is good for you or harmful.
So where next for Meta in the metaverse? I think the following four factors will be fundamental to the success of Meta in the metaverse. Ultimately what we have to consider is, what actually is the metaverse, why is Meta a credible force in its future, and will things evolve with any influence from Meta at all?
Social media: lawmakers are gaining ground on the social networks in an effort to protect users from harm, businesses from monopolistic behaviours, and elections from fraud. Social media IS the metaverse, so the goalposts need to change fast. What else is in the metaverse? NFTs, crypto currencies, games and virtual worlds. All are accelerating and innovating at speed, so Meta is in fact at risk of losing out or of becoming irrelevant.
Virtual worlds: places like Roblox, Decentraland and Minecraft are already immersive, virtual worlds. Expect Meta to seek to buy its way into this market or muscle its way in with its own version which it will use the might of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to leverage.
Virtual goods: NFTs and crypto currencies are fundamental to the metaverse. Facebook already has a highly evolved play in digital currency. Last week Diem rebranded as Novi, and we may see this used to power the metaverse. Equally, Facebook could buy its way in with either the dominant NFT marketplace such as Opensea.
Evolving technologies: headsets and glasses are gathering pace in terms of performance and utility. I have been testing the recently launched Facebook / RayBan Stories glasses, and they’re quite good, but lack real use case to be honest. Perhaps Meta will change that?
If we take social media, virtual worlds, virtual goods and evolving technologies together, we have a metaverse and we have the future of the internet that is also very much in the here and now. I look forward to seeing how Facebook works to shape this future, and how the innovators can perhaps spawn the next Facebook along the way, too.
My must reads of the week
Here are some of the stories that I have been reading this week. Being that the topic this week is the metaverse, they are all appropriately themed.
Many reasons for the move to Meta: NY Times explains that Facebook's metaverse is designed to solve several problems: an ageing user base, dependence on Google and Apple, regulatory risk, and reputational damage.
Can a rebrand get Facebook out of trouble? The Financial Times thinks not.
The real reason Facebook Changed its name: Mark Zuckerberg wants to be the hero of the metaverse because he knows Facebook is boring.
A tried and tested story: Axios looks at the brand strategies of changing your name.
Meta Reality Labs
Meta acquires VR company Within: the company behind VR fitness game Supernatural; Within will continue working on the game and help Meta improve future VR hardware. The acquisition will operate under the new Meta Reality Labs brand.
Safety & politics
AOC calls Facebook a cancer to democracy: ouch from the influential US politician.
Facebook’s meta-problem on Capitol Hill: Politico on how politicians are tuning out of Facebook’s lobbying.
How two thirds of Facebook’s staff are focused on protecting users from harm: a fascinating thread from Azeem Azhar on how crazy this situation is.
The metaverse has been here for years in computer games: Washington Post looks into current examples of metaverses.
Into the Metaverse: Bloomberg on ‘Where Crypto, Gaming and Capitalism Collide’.
Facebook’s NFT play: The Information says: ‘Facebook’s corporate name change to Meta wasn’t the only news coming out of Connect… The tech giant revealed Thursday that it’s looking at integrating non-fungible tokens into its metaverse business.’
The surge in interest in NFTs: how NFT-based tokens have seen a surge with Facebook’s Meta rebrand.
Coming up next
An interview with Facebook / Meta’s Andrew Bosworth: the influential FB figure ‘Boz’ and leader of the Reality Labs division on the future of Meta.
Meta issues its first ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviour report’ and it’s in Nicaragua: a big report on troll activity on Meta’s apps (ie Facebook and Instagram). This is really fascinating actually as Meta removed a network of “937 Facebook accounts, 140 Pages, 24 Groups and 363 Instagram accounts” in Nicaragua which targeted domestic audiences and was linked to the government of Nicaragua.
The Social Media Report is written by Drew Benvie, founder & CEO of Battenhall.