Facebook Goes Full Meta. Is That What Consumers Want?
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- It’s “Meta.” After a week of intense speculation, Mark Zuckerberg revealed a new name and logo for Facebook rooted in the social-networking giant’s ambition to develop a digital world that would replace the current version of the internet.
The metaverse Zuckerberg envisions will be a place where consumers can play, socialize and even run a business, all within a computer-generated virtual environment.
In one way, the name is apt. At the end of his virtual keynote, Zuckerberg noted how he was inspired by the origin of the term “meta,” which comes from the Greek word meaning “beyond.” To him, it suggests there is “always more to build.” Judging from his presentation, that would be an accurate assessment of Facebook’s progress thus far.
Zuckerberg didn’t offer much in terms of tangible software or hardware developments. Yes, there was confirmation Facebook was working on a new, more advanced virtual-reality headset and an augmented-reality device, but we already knew that. Instead, we were left to imagine a new digital universe, in which avatars of ourselves and friends and co-workers mingle seamlessly thanks to still-to-be-developed technology.
The timing for the rebrand is, of course, convenient. After whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s credible testimony before the Senate about Facebook’s harmful effects, there is more unity and momentum in Congress to rein in the tech giant. The name change certainly could help get negative coverage out of the headlines for a few days. But as a diversionary tactic, it’s unlikely to work for long.
Facebook’s supporters will note that the billions of dollars the company plans to invest make it far more likely to succeed. But even an enormous chunk of money is no guarantee in technology. Take Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which has spent a fraction of what Intel Corp. has devoted to research and development over the last few years and still has been able to develop better-performing chips.
But what might be the undertaking’s biggest challenge is that it isn’t clear whether the public really wants Facebook to win the eventual metaverse.
In recent years, Facebook has alienated some users amid a raft of data privacy scandals and growing outrage over algorithms that amplified harmful content. It’s hard to imagine that consumers, especially the younger ones that Facebook/Meta hopes to capture, will be any more persuaded to commit to the company’s vision now.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Barron's, following an earlier career as an equity analyst.
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