Facebook may be mired in scandals at present, but today it attempted to shift the public’s attention towards the future—specifically, a future built around an even more ever-present Facebook.
At the company’s annual developer’s conference today, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Andrew Bosworth, the head of the company’s Reality Labs unit, laid out a broader vision for the “metaverse.” To fuel its next chapter, Facebook announced a series of updates to its Oculus VR and Spark AR platforms, part of an effort to entice developers to build more applications and features for Facebook’s metaverse. Zuckerberg also revealed that the company would be renamed Meta, emphasizing his virtual reality vision for the future.
“The next [internet] platform and medium will be even more immersive, an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it,” Zuckerberg said during the virtual presentation. He went on to say that in the metaverse, people will get together with friends and family to work, learn, shop, and play—things that people can obviously do today using 2D, flat screens like our laptops and smartphones, but that Facebook’s (Meta’s) vision of the metaverse goes beyond the way we’re experiencing things today.
For Facebook, building out the metaverse is just the next move in a years-long land grab for our online attention. For critics of the company, though, there might not be anything more alarming than the idea of Facebook becoming synonymous with the next big phase of the internet, particularly as it grapples with both privacy and content moderation problems around the globe.
And Facebook staking its claim in the metaverse also raises questions about how open this next iteration of the internet may be; even as Facebook calls out other tech companies like Apple for their closed ecosystems, the social media company continues to show off experiences that are exclusive to its own Oculus virtual reality devices.
The Meta Deets
Zuckerberg, Bosworth, and a virtual parade of Facebook Reality Labs executives constructed a loose vision of the metaverse today, highlighting different elements—from app platforms to hand-gesture technology to prototypes of VR headsets and AR glasses—that will, they say, all eventually come together to create a new form of digital presence. This included an expansion of the Horizon Workrooms app, a kind of VR version of Zoom that Facebook demoed in August; a more social version of “Home” in the Oculus Quest VR headset, for interactions with friends in VR; some enhanced fitness features for the Oculus Quest; and support for some non-3D apps in Facebook’s virtual environments. The 2D app support is particularly noteworthy, though it’s hard to say how useful these apps will be until they’re widely available. But the idea is that even if you’re wearing a VR headset to collaborate with remote coworkers, you won’t have to take it off to check Slack (or Instagram, if you’re slacking off). These apps will run as flat panels within the virtual environment.