Facebook wants to be a metaverse company. What does that mean for Facebook.com?

Will the metaverse kill Facebook's legacy apps and services?

Photo of smartphone with Facebook apps

Will the metaverse replace Facebook's existing apps and services?

Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

At this week's Facebook Connect conference, Mark Zuckerberg is expected to unveil additional details about his company's quest to build the metaverse. That includes a new generation of social media services that brings real-time communication to AR, VR and other platforms, complete with varying degrees of embodied presence (in the future, we'll all be avatars).

Facebook has been spending heavily on this endeavor, including more than $10 billion in 2021 alone. During Thursday's Connect keynote, Zuckerberg is expected to share a few more details on what all this money is being spent on, including an update on the company's social VR world, called Horizon.

But while the metaverse is starting to take shape, one question still remains to be answered: If Facebook wants to be a metaverse company, then what does that mean for Facebook, the blue app and service? And that leads to another question: Is there room in the metaverse for Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp?

One possibility: The metaverse will replace social media as we know it. Video may not have killed the radio star, but social media has had its fair share of has-beens. Remember Friendster, Myspace, Bebo?

  • Facebook's newly announced financial reporting changes seem to support this notion. Starting in Q4, the company will break out revenue and expenses for FRL, the unit tasked with building AR and VR hardware and services as well as devices like the Portal.
  • Most of Facebook's existing business will be reported as part of a new "Family of Apps" segment that includes Facebook's blue app, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and more. It's where all the money is coming from these days, but the grouping also has a strong legacy business stench to it.
  • In a way, this seems reminiscent of Netflix's decision to break out its then-nascent streaming business from its DVD subscription business. And we all know how that turned out.
  • There's already some evidence that parts of Facebook's legacy business have plateaued; daily active user metrics for Facebook, the service, have essentially been flat in Europe and North America since the beginning of 2020 — a trend that is apparently so alarming to the company that it now wants to refocus on young adults.

But Facebook has had a lot more misses lately when it comes to launching things from scratch. Some of the company's biggest services have been acquisitions, and efforts to launch new standalone media services have largely fallen flat.

  • Take IGTV, for instance: The video service launched with great fanfare, and a dedicated app, in 2018. Those efforts never really paid off, and three years later, IGTV got essentially folded back into Instagram.
  • Facebook Watch, which launched in 2017 with a massive slate of originals, hasn't really fared much better. Many of those originals have since been canceled, and key publishing partners have pulled back on their Watch investments.
  • That's not to say that Facebook's focus on video was wrong: Zuckerberg had predicted in 2016 that "the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video" in the future. Five years later, video viewing accounted for almost half the time people spent on Facebook.
  • However, that time isn't being spent in a Facebook-operated standalone video service, or even a dedicated Watch tab with Hollywood-made content. Instead, people just watch a ton of videos in their feeds.

The good news for Facebook is that the metaverse needs a lightweight social layer, and Facebook's existing family of apps may be able to provide just that.

  • Even with AR and VR improving every year, we won't be wearing headsets and glasses all day long anytime soon. Metaverse services will have to extend to mobile and ambient computing, giving people a chance to participate via videoconference or Clubhouse-like spatial audio.
  • Even when we are in AR or VR, we may not always want to commit to a fully embodied presence. Call it a social mute button, a VR incognito mode, or even the metaverse equivalent of participating in a Zoom call with your camera off: There will be times when you'll want to use the next computing platform without all the social bells and whistles.
  • To transition back and forth between different devices as well as varying levels of social participation, we'll need services that can communicate our status, as well as easily help us gather our friends or co-workers — functionality that can be easily added to apps like Messenger and WhatsApp.
  • And while the metaverse is all about real-time interaction, we'll still want spaces to share memories, both from the real world as well as all these new worlds, with friends and family across device boundaries. That's where Facebook and Instagram come in.

Zuckerberg seems to be committed to bringing these legacy properties along as the company prepares for the metaverse. The metaverse "needs to work everywhere," Zuckerberg told analysts on the company's Q3 earnings call Monday. "It needs to be able to work across our whole family of apps. It needs to be able to work on the web and on phones and on computers."

Facebook may become a metaverse company, and perhaps even change its name along the way. But for better or for worse, Facebook will still be Facebook.

A version of this story will appear in Thursday's Source Code. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every day.


Everything you need to know about tech layoffs and hiring slowdowns

Will tech companies and startups continue to have layoffs?

It’s not just early-stage startups that are feeling the burn.

Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

What goes up must come down.

High-flying startups with record valuations, huge hiring goals and ambitious expansion plans are now announcing hiring slowdowns, freezes and in some cases widespread layoffs. It’s the dot-com bust all over again — this time, without the cute sock puppet and in the midst of a global pandemic we just can’t seem to shake.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Sustainability. It can be a charged word in the context of blockchain and crypto – whether from outsiders with a limited view of the technology or from insiders using it for competitive advantage. But as a CEO in the industry, I don’t think either of those approaches helps us move forward. We should all be able to agree that using less energy to get a task done is a good thing and that there is room for improvement in the amount of energy that is consumed to power different blockchain technologies.

So, what if we put the enormous industry talent and minds that have created and developed blockchain to the task of building in a more energy-efficient manner? Can we not just solve the issues but also set the standard for other industries to develop technology in a future-proof way?

Keep Reading Show less
Denelle Dixon, CEO of SDF

Denelle Dixon is CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit using blockchain to unlock economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered. Previously, Dixon served as COO of Mozilla. Leading the business, revenue and policy teams, she fought for Net Neutrality and consumer privacy protections and was responsible for commercial partnerships. Denelle also served as general counsel and legal advisor in private equity and technology.


Sink into ‘Love, Death & Robots’ and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite picks for your weekend pleasure.

Image: A24; 11 bit studios; Getty Images

We could all use a bit of a break. This weekend we’re diving into Netflix’s beautifully animated sci-fi “Love, Death & Robots,” losing ourselves in surreal “Men” and loving Zelda-like Moonlighter.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.


This machine would like to interview you for a job

Companies are embracing automated video interviews to filter through floods of job applicants. But interviews with a computer screen raise big ethical questions and might scare off candidates.

Although automated interview companies claim to reduce bias in hiring, the researchers and advocates who study AI bias are these companies’ most frequent critics.

Photo: Johner Images via Getty Images

Applying for a job these days is starting to feel a lot like online dating. Job-seekers send their resume into portal after portal and a silent abyss waits on the other side.

That abyss is silent for a reason and it has little to do with the still-tight job market or the quality of your particular resume. On the other side of the portal, hiring managers watch the hundreds and even thousands of resumes pile up. It’s an infinite mountain of digital profiles, most of them from people completely unqualified. Going through them all would be a virtually fruitless task.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.


A crypto advocate’s plea: Cool the Twitter trash talk

A top blockchain advocate says the SEC is wrong in its efforts to regulate crypto, but crypto advocates’ personal attacks aren’t helping.

Chamber of Digital Commerce founder Perianne Boring spoke with Protocol about how crypto can strike a better tone.

Photo: Chamber of Digital Commerce

Chamber of Digital Commerce founder Perianne Boring cites a Bible verse to sum up her philosophy about how the crypto trade group should take on the industry’s many critics.

Her Twitter page refers to Ephesians 4:29, which says — oh, let’s use the King James version, it’s more fun: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.” For her, it’s a reminder that trash talk in defense of crypto is unacceptable.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories