Facebook is an app. Meta is the company. That was the final message of Mark Zuckerberg's keynote at the Connect conference, in which he also explained a number of the ways Facebook — sorry, Meta — is thinking about the metaverse.
Meta is a "metaverse-first" company. That's what Zuckerberg said he hoped the name change signals. But both in making that change and in some of Meta's other new announcements, one thing is abundantly clear: Facebook is going from the center of a digital universe into just another app in the portfolio. And its days may be numbered.
- Going forward, users won't need Facebook accounts to log in to other apps and services; they'll each be able to operate on their own. (It also sounds like a "Meta account" is going to be a thing, but who knows what that'll look like.)
- In fact, Facebook the app hardly came up at all during Zuckerberg's keynote. He was far more focused on Meta's Horizon products than any of the company's existing social platforms. Though he did acknowledge they'll have a place in the metaverse.
- The writing has been on the wall for a while here: Facebook's popularity has begun to level off, and even decline, among younger users. Throw in a half-decade of nonstop scandals, and while Facebook still generates a huge amount of revenue, it's not a particularly good brand anymore.
- Zuckerberg also hinted to The Verge that he knows the F-word is tainted. "I think it's helpful for people to have a relationship with a company that is different from the relationship with any specific one of the products," he said, "that can kind of supersede all of that."
- He does intend to keep the company together, though: He told The Information he hasn't thought "very seriously" yet about splitting the social and the metaverse, though that's how the company reports its earnings from now on. (Also, fun fact: It's no longer $FB on Wall Street, it's $MVRS.)
So what is the metaverse? That's what Zuckerberg says he and his company are focused on figuring out. In his keynote, he described apps you might use to play immersive games with friends around the world, host meetings, show off your sick NFT collection, and much more. He was careful to say most of this isn't coming soon, but it's coming.
- Also not coming soon: some of the hardware Meta is working on, including smart glasses with neural interfaces and EMG systems that would let you use tiny gestures to control your devices.
- Zuckerberg gave a brief glimpse of Facebook's Project Nazaré, its first truly AR headset, with all the holograms and floating phone calls you'd expect. But that, too, is a long way off.
- One device that is coming soon, or at least soon-ish: "Project Cambria," the new high-end standalone headset coming in 2022. It'll have eye, facial, and body tracking, and much more mixed-reality capability. That would be a big step forward.
The metaverse could also replace Facebook as the company's cash cow. So much of Zuckerberg's presentation focused on the ways people can buy and sell things in these digital spaces, and how goods can be moved between games and worlds. As one Facebook commenter put it, "When you say ecosystem, you mean economic system!"
There was an almost totalitarian vibe to Zuckerberg's keynote, which a lot of people seemed to pick up on. The undertone of the whole thing was "the metaverse is going to be huge, it's going to be amazing … and we're going to own it." Zuckerberg said multiple times that he believes in open standards and building together with developers, but didn't make clear where in the metaverse he wants Meta to begin and end.
- "Our role in this journey is to accelerate the development of the fundamental technologies, social platforms and creative tools to bring the metaverse to life," he wrote in an updated founder's letter for Meta, "and to weave these technologies through our social media apps."
- He also took several shots at closed platforms — by which he fairly clearly meant Apple — and noted that "living under their rules has profoundly shaped my views on the tech industry." He advocated for lower fees, more choice, and more innovation.
- As with everything else in this space, there's a lot to sort out. But this company, whatever its name, has a long history of building ever taller walls around its walled garden, and trying to be the internet rather than a good citizen of it. It's not hard to imagine it taking a similar approach to the metaverse.
Zuckerberg continues to insist he's not trying to divert attention away from the Facebook Papers, or any of the other questions surrounding the big blue app. But as Facebook — sorry, sorry, Meta! — looks to what's next, there are plenty of opportunities. But Facebook seems to be nowhere to be found.