Zuckerberg’s vision behind Meta and the Metaverse is not as foolish or cynical as it seems; the Meta model is incredibly bold and could catapult the company to the top of the league table of the world’s biggest companies.
What’s in a name? That which we call a privacy failure by any other name smells so foul. Facebook is the most unpopular popular medium in history. In the second quarter of 2021, there were 2.895 billion Facebook users. Whatsapp boasts two billion users and Instagram 1.386 billion. They are the first, third and fourth most popular social networks in the world, with only YouTube stopping a clean sweep.
In a recent survey conducted amongst teenagers, a mere two per cent cited Facebook as their favourite social media platform, compared with 35 per cent for Snapchat and 30 per cent for TikTok. Of the Metaverse family, Instagram was the most popular, with 22 per cent citing it as their favourite.
However, peruse social media, including Facebook itself, and dislike screams at you.
And the public is so not so gullible. In a survey conducted soon after Zuckerberg announced the name change from Facebook to Meta, 47 per cent of respondents said the name change was a poor idea.
As for public support for the idea of the Metaverse itself, well, suffice to say there are more popular ideas — a new holiday resort in hell might be less popular, but not much else.
Some are comparing the name change with Phillip Morris rebranding itself as Altria. And let’s face it, rebrands are difficult; remember when BP started referring to itself as Beyond Petroleum.
BP’s image was heavily damaged by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but Facebook has had its spills — data spills. To privacy advocates, Facebook and the devil are bedfellows.
Not a rebrand
Is the name change to Meta really a rebrand? Google is now called Alphabet, but we all think of it as Google.
People will still use Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp; they won’t start calling these products Meta — they won’t say, “I’ll Meta Whatsapp you.”
The Google name change had a deeper meaning — it was the company’s way of saying “we are more than a search engine.” Who knows whether the name change helped the share price, but it might have done. On the other hand, maybe the change went deeper than that. Corporate culture can be reflective of the company name — the Google to Alphabet name change was probably more about how employees perceived the company than the public.
For Mark Zuckerberg, the Metaverse matters.
Nothing lasts forever
Nothing lasts forever. Will we still be using Facebook in ten years? Who knows, maybe not. Will we be using Facebook in twenty years — probably not?
Zuckerberg understood this when he bought Instagram, but will Instagram still be popular in twenty years?
Zuckerberg reckons the future is virtual reality. That is why he bought Oculus Rift back in 2014 for $2 billion. That was a visionary move. At the time, virtual reality was an obscure concept. If in 2013 you had ‘Alphabet’ Googled virtual reality, top of the search would have been the Virtual Reality Forum. It stated: “Virtual reality has slowed in recent years, and progress has not exactly been recent.” A forum set up to promote virtual reality had practically given up.
When Zuckerberg splashed out all that money, it seemed like an extraordinary move; some called it foolish.
Is the Meta dream realistic? It turns out that even the company’s developers are sceptical of the Metaverse. They believe it will require a breakthrough in physics.
Zuckerberg is looking forward. How many people thought a touchscreen phone was a good idea? Steve Jobs understood that if he could design a phone with a touchscreen that was user friendly, he would have a product that could change the world. He said words to that effect when he announced the iPhone.
Zuckerberg is thinking similarly. The company has been busy hiring too — 10,000 people have been recruited to work on the Metaverse, suggest media reports.
Zuckerberg isn’t hiring 10,000 people to try and fix the Facebook image problem.
He is hiring 10,000 people because he believes the Metaverse is the future. So what if it needs a physics breakthrough, invention has a mother, and Zuckerberg thinks the Metaverse is a necessity. He has got a bit of cash hanging around to spend, too.
Of course, Facebook can’t just spend money willy nilly, Facebook aka Meta, is a PLC. So how does Zuck persuade shareholders that this recruitment drive is a good idea? Changing the name to Meta is part of this process.
Zuckerberg insists that privacy will be built into the Metaverse at the foundations — like privacy by design. We will have to wait and see, but we can say that if Zuck hasn’t learned what privacy really means yet, he never will.
You may find the idea of a Metaverse unnerving, and just as social media has created a host of social problems, so might the Metaverse. These things do tend to have a habit of creating social change anyway; but isn't it up to us as to mediate the side effects of change?
The name change is a meta of faith in a new concept — if it comes off, the company may yet claim the title of the world’s biggest company — give it ten years. If he fails, well, the corporate graveyard awaits those companies with products that don’t matter.
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