Facebook has decided to move forward in the ever-growing world of Internet with ‘metaverse' that is aimed to take virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to new levels. As a major step in the new direction, the social media giant on Thursday changed its name to Meta. The company also teased to be working on a series of developments in bringing the metaverse to life through its online presence. But what exactly is metaverse and how it could change the way we use the Internet today?
The term metaverse is not that new as it was first coined by science-fiction author Neal Stephenson back in 1992 in his novel Snow Crash. Nonetheless, the Menlo Park, California-based company is set to bring that fictional world to reality.
“The metaverse will not be created by one company. It will be built by creators and developers making new experiences and digital items that are interoperable and unlock a massively larger creative economy than the one constrained by today's platforms and their policies,” said Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a public letter released online.
American writer Stephenson defined metaverse in his novel as a shared virtual space where people connect with others virtually using the Internet, VR, and AR together. Individuals were given the power to create their avatars in virtual space. But that original concept of metaverse has not yet received a final shape.
Many companies including Apple, Google, and Microsoft have been trying to grow their businesses with virtual spaces and their native AR experiences for some time. However, Facebook seems to have gained with the first mover's advantage by not just showing off its interest in building the metaverse but also renaming itself Meta.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us familiar with the remote working culture. But the concept of metaverse is a step ahead in that direction. It is to live in a world where you have your high-quality avatar communicating with others in virtual spaces. You will have equipment such as glasses or headsets that will help you stay connected to the virtual world.
Facebook has been quite actively working in bringing VR and AR closer to the Internet for quite some time. The company initially showcased its interest in bringing immersive experiences back in 2014 — when it acquired VR headset manufacturer Oculus VR. However, the move to go deeper into the virtual ‘metaverse' and adopt Meta as the company's new name is something that Facebook plans to use for a major shift in its overall business.
“From now on, we will be metaverse-first, not Facebook-first. That means that over time you won't need a Facebook account to use our other services,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook showed us a glimpse of what exactly we could see with its metaverse move while announcing its Horizon Workrooms VR Remote Work app in August. It also started investing millions of dollars to build metaverse using its existing and new resources.
The timing of launching its metaverse-focussed plans and the new Meta brand name seems quite interesting as the company is facing legal battles in global markets over the way it operates as a social media network. The company has often been accused of favouring political powers and not using resources to restrict fake news, misinformation, and hate speech. It was also recently alleged to have failed to police abusive content on its platforms globally, despite being in the know of it.
Some believe that Facebook may be able to overcome some of these allegations and criticism by shifting its focus towards the metaverse. But the company has not yet provided any clarity on how it would go ahead with the new business and whether it would take any of the previous learnings into consideration while designing new virtual experiences.
Meanwhile, some netizens are comparing Facebook's metaverse to the metaverse in Stephenson's Snow Crash where instances of the virtual world getting infected by a computer virus are portrayed.
“Our hope is that within the next decade, the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers,” Zuckerberg asserted.
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