Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has announced the company will change its name to Meta, saying the move reflects the fact the company is now much broader than just the social media platform, which will still be called Facebook.
The rebrand follows several months of intensifying discourse by Zuckerberg and the company more broadly on the metaverse - the idea of integrating real and digital worlds ever more seamlessly, using technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
Zuckerberg said he hoped the metaverse will be a new ecosystem that will create millions of jobs for content creators.
But is this just a shallow PR exercise, with Zuckerberg trying to reset the Facebook brand after several scandal-ridden years, or is it a genuine bid to set the company on course for what he sees as the future of computing? Facebook's journey into the metaverse
While gamers fretted that Facebook would give them VR versions of Farmville rather than the hardcore content they envisioned, cynics viewed the purchase as part of a spending spree after Facebook's US$16 billion stock market launch, or simply Zuckerberg indulging a personal interest in gaming.
Facebook has invested heavily in VR and AR. Organised under the umbrella of Facebook Reality Labs, there are nearly 10,000 people working on these technologies - almost 20% of Facebook's workforce.
Last week, Facebook announced plans to hire another 10,000 developers in the European Union to work on its metaverse computing platform.
While much of its work remains behind closed doors, Facebook Reality Labs' publicised projects include Project Aria, which seeks to create live 3D maps of public spaces, and the recently released Ray-Ban Stories - Facebook-integrated sunglasses with 5-megapixel cameras and voice control.
All these investments and projects are steps towards the infrastructure for Zuckerbeg's vision of the metaverse. As he said earlier in the year: I think it really makes sense for us to invest deeply to help shape what I think is going to be the next major computing platform.
Why does Facebook want to rule the metaverse? The metaverse may eventually come to define how we work, learn and socialise. This means VR and AR would move beyond their current niche uses, and become everyday technologies on which we will all depend.
Is the internet a blueprint for an open metaverse? Appropriately enough, the metaverse under Facebook is likely to resemble the term's literary origins, coined in Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash to describe an exploitative, corporatised, hierarchical virtual space.
Facebook's rebrand, its dominance in the VR market, its seeming desire to hire every VR and AR developer in Europe, and its dozens of corporate acquisitions - all this sounds less like true collaboration and consensus, and more like an attempt to control the next frontier of computing.
We let Facebook rule the world of social media. We shouldn't let it rule the metaverse.
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