Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the company is now striving to build a more interconnected, maximalist version of the social network. He told his employees in a remote address about the ambitious new initiative, online news media The Verge reported on Thursday.
“Our overarching goal across all of these initiatives is to help bring the metaverse to life,” The Verge quoted Zuckerberg as saying.
The metaverse, a term coined by Neal Stepehnson in his 1992 sci-fi novel ‘Snow Crash’, refers to the synergy between physical, virtual and augmented realities in a shared online space. In other words, Facebook plans to become an immersive set of interconnected experience for consumers.
Zuckerberg described it as “an embodied internet where instead of just viewing content, you are in it,” adding that people should not just live through their smartphones which he referred to as “small, glowing rectangles”.
Experiencing concerts in 3D
One immersive application that he proposed was the ability to jump into a three-dimensional concert.
“You feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness,” he told The Verge.
“People will primarily think about us as a metaverse company, rather than a mobile internet company,” he added.
In an influential essay released in January 2020, venture capitalist Matthew Ball defined the metaverse as “a manifestation of actual reality, but one based in a virtual (often theme park-like) world,” adding that some of its key characteristics are that it has to span both the physical and virtual worlds, contain a fully-fledged economy and offer “unprecedented interoperability” where users can create their own avatars to get from one place in the metaverse to another.
In an interview with The Verge, Zuckerberg said that Ball’s essay on the metaverse aligned with Facebook’s “mission and worldview”.
This vision is not a far-off reality, it has already been widely adopted in the gaming community. A report by The New York Times from earlier this month identified some widely known companies and products that had metaverse-like elements, such as popular video games Fortnite and Roblox.
“We’re here to serve as many people as possible and to help people connect. And when you’re building social systems primarily, you want everyone to be able to be a part of the same systems. So we want to make them as affordable as possible, we want to make them as unified as possible, and part of that is making sure that things can run everywhere, can run across different platforms, can talk to each other,” said Zuckerberg.
“There are a bunch of big questions about how you do that. There will be privacy questions, there’ll be intellectual property questions.”
Offices in immersive reality
Another idea put forward by the Facebook founder was the ‘infinite office’ which would enable users to create their very own, ideal workspace through virtual reality.
“In the future, instead of just doing this over a phone call, you’ll be able to sit as a hologram on my couch, or I’ll be able to sit as a hologram on your couch, and it’ll actually feel like we’re in the same place, even if we’re in different states or hundreds of miles apart,” he said.
According to UK-based news media the BBC, Facebook has invested a great deal in virtual reality. The company spent $2 billion on acquiring VR developer Oculus.
Following the move, the company launched Facebook Horizon in 2019 which was an invite-only immersive environment that enabled people to mingle with one another and chat in a virtual space using their own cartoon avatars through Oculus headsets, the BBC report added.
“Part of the reason Facebook is so heavily invested in VR/AR [augmented and virtual reality] is that the granularity of data available when users interact on these platforms is an order of magnitude higher than on screen-based media,” VR expert at the University of the West of England Verity McIntosh told the BBC.
She described it as not being where or what you click on or decide to share on social media, but that the general idea was more about “where I choose to go, how I stand, what I look at for longest, the subtle ways that I physically move my body and react to certain stimuli,” adding that it would act as “a direct route to my subconscious and that is gold to a data capitalist.”