Facebook has rebranded itself as Meta to gain control of the metaverse, a concept for a 3D version of the internet being developed by a number of companies.
Expect plenty of confusion in the coming months, since Facebook – whose products are used by more than 3 billion people worldwide – is rebranding. Here’s what you need to know.
Why has this happened?
On 28 October, Facebook, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, rebranded as Meta. At Facebook’s annual Connect conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “Right now, our brand is so closely associated with one product that it’s impossible to represent everything we do, let alone what we’ll do in the future.” Over time, I hope we become known as a metaverse company, and I want to focus our work and identity on what we’re building towards.”
Despite the name change, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram will all retain their current names. However, the company responsible for creating and maintaining these applications will now be named Meta, similar to how Google reorganized in 2015 into Alphabet as a parent company. Even the Facebook building’s sign was changed on 28 October.
What is a metaverse?
Now we discuss what is metaverse. Facebook, now Meta, is named for the key product that Zuckerberg hopes the company will represent: the metaverse, a shared 3D virtual space that a number of companies are working on as a future version of the Internet.
“In the future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to the office without having to commute, to a concert with friends, or to your parents’ living room to catch up with them,” Zuckerberg wrote in a letter announcing Facebook’s rebrand as Meta.
One of Meta’s goals isn’t to be just another social media platform. It is about owning the operating system of the future, as well as Facebook’s experience of being an app on other people’s – rivals’ – operating systems, says Anupam Chander at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC. They don’t want to be prisoners of another person’s platform. Instead, they want other people to be prisoners of theirs.
Although Meta made a couple of oblique references to Apple in its announcement, saying it wanted to avoid a single company restricting what you can do and charging high fees, Max Van Kleek at the University of Oxford is skeptical the platform will be controlled by Meta itself.
Rather than act as a gatekeeper, will Meta just provide the tools? Van Kleek doubts they will give up anything that would compromise their position as the definitive advertisement provider for the metaverse.
A steady stream of negative stories has followed the release of the Facebook Papers, internal documents that highlight issues with the company, secretly leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen. It has been argued that the new name is intended to distract from the narrative.
Taina Bucher at the University of Oslo, Norway, and author of the book Facebook says launching something entirely new – in their minds – is a way to completely rebrand and start fresh rather than change much with the existing problematic products.
Rather than overwriting the issues raised by the Facebook Papers, Chander sees this as an attempt to ignore them.Facebook seems to be trying to pretend that there aren’t strong headwinds and operating as if those headwinds didn’t exist, he says.
In the event that Meta succeeds, what happens?
If Meta becomes the sole company in charge of the metaverse, its vision of the future will play a significant role in our lives. Over the past few months, the company has struggled with outages on its key apps, which have cut off communications for large parts of the world. If such an event occurred in an all-pervasive VR universe, as in the metaverse, the consequences could be dire.