Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company he founded as a Harvard undergrad would change its name to Meta. “From now on, we’re going to be metaverse-first, not Facebook-first,” he said during a virtual keynote at the company’s Connect event.
It’s perhaps the most obvious issue, but in the nearly a year since Zuckerberg first attempted to articulate what a metaverse is, it’s still not very clear. Last year, Zuckerberg described it as “an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.” The company’s website currently says the metaverse is “the next evolution in social connection and the successor to the mobile internet.”
But what those words mean to most people is fuzzy at best. “Outside of early adopters and tech-savvy people, there’s still confusion as to what is the metaverse and what we’re going to be doing with it,” says Carolina Milanesi, a consumer analyst with Creative Strategies.
That means Zuckerberg will not only need to offer an understandable definition, but an idea of what it will mean for the billions of people already on his platform. Which brings us to…
Milanesi adds that it would help to show off metaverse experiences that go beyond just having meetings or hanging out with strangers in VR. “I think there are other use cases either on the education side or on the entertainment side, that might be a bit more interesting,” she says.
However, early signs suggest we shouldn’t expect drastic improvements to Horizon Worlds. According to a recent report from The Verge, the app is so buggy that the company is struggling to get its own employees to use it consistently.
How will it get creators and third-parties on board?
But that brings up another issue: for all of Zuckerberg’s talk about interoperability and making the metaverse an open ecosystem, Meta has so far shown little progress when it comes to bringing outside developers or other companies into its vision in a meaningful way.
It also shows that Meta is still largely reactive when it comes to safety issues: spinning up new features and quick fixes in response to a bad news cycle rather than launching with them already in place.
What about AR and non-headset enabled experiences?
We’re expecting Zuckerberg to talk a lot about virtual reality — the company is launching its newest headseat at Connect — but it’s a lot less clear how augmented reality fits into the company’s current plans. Meta has teased AR glasses, but those are likely at least two years away.
And without glasses, much of Meta’s work on AR is limited to in-app effects for Instagram and Facebook, which are popular but definitely not part of any kind of metaverse. And it’s still not at all clear that Meta has a plan for integrating its existing social platforms into the metaverse. In a recent interview with Protocol, Zuckerberg suggested the company was thinking about it, but stopped short of giving any kind of idea as to how this may work.
“For Horizon, making it so that you can create a world and share it on Facebook or Instagram, and people can just jump into it from there — that’s going to be pretty valuable,” he said. But, he added, “we need to be careful about not making it primarily a mobile experience.” The reason, he said, is because he wants the metaverse to be about new platforms and technologies, not simply an extension of the mobile products that already exist. But the fact is the market for VR headsets is still tiny compared with the number of people who use Facebook and Instagram.
And if he wants more of them onboard, they should be able to experience the metaverse in some form with the devices they already own.