Facebook is giving itself a new name – Meta – as part of a reshuffle that sees the social media platform become just one of several products maintained by a new umbrella company.
“Starting today our company is now Meta,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said at the company’s Connect conference on Thursday, announcing the company’s shift towards virtual reality.
With the new name, Zuckerberg wants to underline the company’s focus on a new virtual environment that it calls “Metaverse”, in which he sees the future of digital communication.
He also wants to use this new project to lead the group out of the shadow of its original and biggest platform, Facebook, which has been struggling to pull in younger users.
“Our mission remains the same,” Zuckerberg said. “Our apps and our brands, they’re not changing.” Instagram and WhatsApp are now set to join Facebook as Meta brands.
“From now on we’re going to be Metaverse first, not Facebook first,” Zuckerberg said.
Noting the Greek meaning of the word meta – “beyond” – and suggesting there is much more to be built, the 37-year-old Facebook founder sees the future in a so-called Metaverse, a virtual environment in which physical and digital worlds are to come together.
Facebook also says much of the Metaverse will need 10-15 years to be fully developed.
On the one hand, Zuckerberg wants to rely on virtual reality headsets, in which users can immerse themselves in digital worlds. This also plays into Facebook’s hardware focus as the owner of VR company Oculus.
However, the Facebook founder also sees so-called augmented reality (AR) as a Metaverse building block, in which digital content is superimposed on the real environment for the viewer on displays or with the help of AR glasses.
Reflecting the new nature of working since the start of the pandemic, Facebook says the Metaverse will be a set of virtual spaces where users “can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.”
Something of a buzzword in Silicon Valley, the word “Metaverse” itself is not from Facebook, and comes from the American writer Neal Stephenson, who first used it in 1992 in his science fiction novel “Snow Crash”.
Facebook’s renaming also comes after numerous scandals over issues such as the company’s role in the manipulation of democratic processes to massive data leaks leading to users being hacked, and the tech giant has been under further pressure internationally in recent weeks following whisteblower leaks.
A former Facebook product manager in early October accused the company of, among other things, not being sufficiently transparent about the potential for the online network to cause harm and their knowledge of this.
Facebook is not the first Silicon Valley company to change its corporate name to signal that the company’s focus has broadened. In 2015, for example, Google placed a new holding company called Alphabet above the group.
Google wanted to signal that it not only runs a search engine and cloud business, but also has ambitions in driverless cars, health solutions and other high-tech areas.