Facebook: What is the ‘metaverse’ and why is Mark Zuckerberg building it?

Mark Zuckerberg with his metaverse avatar (Picture: Facebook Connect)
Mark Zuckerberg with his metaverse avatar (Picture: Facebook Connect)

Facebook may have started off as a social network for university students but the tech giant has made clear it has much greater ambitions.

Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes something called the ‘metaverse’ isn’t just the future of Facebook, but also the future of the internet.

So much so, that Facebook has recently rebranded its parent company as Meta.

This new umbrella company will oversee not just Facebook but also WhatsApp, Instagram and, crucially, Oculus.

Oculus is the virtual reality company Facebook acquired in 2014 for $2 billion.

It’s integral to the idea of the metaverse because Zuckerberg believes we’ll all be using virtual reality headsets to teleport ourselves into a virtual space where we’ll work, play and communicate with others.

And considering there are three billion people worldwide currently using Facebook, that’s a lot of potential customers to be turned into metaverse users.

According to Zuckerberg, Facebook has been working on this since well before the pandemic hit. But with Covid-19 accelerating our reliance on tech to communicate and work together, the idea may not be as silly as you’d first assume.

What is the metaverse?

A man playing chess with a virtual partner
It’s going to be like real life – but virtual (Picture: Facebook Connect)

The word metaverse is a combination of ‘the prefix meta, meaning ‘beyond’ and ‘universe’.

Essentially, it’s a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.

It also will incorporate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media, according to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies.

Zuckerberg says he expects the metaverse to reach a billion people within the next decade.

It will be a place people will be able to interact, work and create products and content in what he hopes will be a new ecosystem that creates millions of jobs for creators.

Inside the metaverse will be different apps for different purposes. One of these apps, called Horizon Workrooms, is designed for colleagues to work together.

Each person can design avatars of themselves and use hand gestures thanks to the wireless Oculus controllers that come with the VR headset.

Facebook Horizon is an app that would work inside the metaverse
Horizon is one app designed to work inside the metaverse (Meta)

The metaverse would not be run by one company, Facebook says, but would instead be an open internet which different companies could build on and offer their own experiences to people.

Some of the virtual experiences already exist in some form, but they are all independent and not seamlessly linked together – that is the aim of the metaverse.

Facebook’s metaverse idea would see all the experience accessible in one place and at any point, with users able to enter it not just via VR headsets, but also PCs, games consoles and mobile devices in much the same way they do now with mobile internet.

How will I use the metaverse?

Ready Player One
This isn’t an image from Facebook about the metaverse – it’s a still from the movie Ready Player One, but the concept’s the same (Credits: Jaap Buitendijk)

It looks like, at least at the beginning, you’ll need two things to access the metaverse.

The first will be a virtual reality headset – the best of which is handily made by Meta’s sub-brand Oculus.

The second, in all likelihood, will be a Facebook account. This is so the company can tie your identity to a profile and scoop up all the valuable data about how you use it.

Obviously, the metaverse will grow and expand over time. So while it may start out as a basic virtual reality alternative, the likelihood is it will become a gigantic part of everyday life in decades to come.

A screenshot of people playing cards inside the metaverse
Life inside the metaverse (Picture: Facebook Connect)

‘Right now, I think people think about us as a social media company, and understandably,’ Zuckerberg said.

‘But I think, you know, five years from now, if we do our job well here, people will think about us primarily as a metaverse company.’

When will the metaverse be available?

Facebook changes name to Meta (Picture: Meta)
Meta is hard at work building up its ‘verse (Picture: Meta)

At this moment, we don’t know precisely when the metaverse will be up and running, but Meta is investing some serious coin into its development.

The company is investing £36 million to hire 10,000 highly skilled workers in the EU to build it.

Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg made the announcement in a blog post.

‘We’re announcing a plan to create 10,000 new high-skilled jobs within the EU over the next five years,’ Clegg wrote.

‘This investment is a vote of confidence in the strength of the European tech industry and the potential of European tech talent.’

None of the hirings will occur in the UK, where Facebook already employs around 4,000 people.

‘No one company will own and operate the metaverse. Like the internet, its key feature will be its openness and interoperability,’ wrote Clegg.

‘Bringing this to life will take collaboration and cooperation across companies, developers, creators and policymakers. For Facebook, it will also require continued investment in product and tech talent, as well as growth across the business.’

Are you excited for the metaverse?

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