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Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become “a metaverse company”

Mark Zuckerberg has laid out his vision to transform Facebook from a social media network into a “metaverse company” in the next five years. Facebook is creating a product team to work on the "metaverse," a digital world where people can move between different devices and communicate in a virtual environment, Facebook CEO said July 22.

The Metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word "metaverse" is made up of the prefix "meta" (meaning beyond) and the stem "verse" (a backformation from "universe"); the term is typically used to describe the concept of a future internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

“An embodied internet”

The Facebook CEO described the metaverse as “an embodied internet where instead of just viewing content - you are in it”. He told The Verge people shouldn't live through “small, glowing rectangles”. “That’s not really how people are made to interact,” he said, speaking of reliance on mobile phones.

“A lot of the meetings that we have today, you’re looking at a grid of faces on a screen. That’s not how we process things either.”

One application of the metaverse he gave was being able to jump virtually into a 3D concert after initially watching on a mobile phone screen. “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 said.

“An infinite office”

Facebook is also working on an “infinite office” that lets users create their ideal workplace through VR. “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. “I think that is really powerful.”

The metaverse team will be part of Facebook’s virtual reality group, Reality Labs, executive Andrew Bosworth said in a Facebook post. “Today Portal and Oculus can teleport you into a room with another person, regardless of physical distance, or to new virtual worlds and experiences,” Bosworth wrote. “But to achieve our full vision of the Metaverse, we also need to build the connective tissue between these spaces – so you can remove the limitations of physics and move between them with the same ease as moving from one room in your home to the next.”

Facebook, the world's largest social network, has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies.

It has also bought a bevy of VR gaming studios, including BigBox VR. It has about 10,000 employees working on virtual reality, The Information reported in March.

Zuckerberg has said he thinks it makes sense to invest deeply to shape what he bets will be the next big computing platform. "I believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet, and creating this product group is the next step in our journey to help build it," said Zuckerberg in a Facebook post.

Large investments in virtual reality by tech companies

Technology companies and executives, not only Facebook CEO, have started to increasingly discuss building a “metaverse” as a successor technology to smartphones and the mobile internet. Generally, technologists consider a metaverse a virtual world where large numbers of people can gather to play, work and socialize.

The metaverse is closely related to virtual reality and augmented reality technologies currently being developed by Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft in addition to Facebook. Roblox, a game targeted at children whose parent company is valued at over $44 billion, is often considered an example of a metaverse.

Facebook is heavily investing in AR and VR technologies because they offer the company the possibility of controlling its own hardware platform if they end up taking off, instead of being controlled by rules Apple and Google place on their app stores.

In the interview with The Verge, Mark Zuckerberg said the company’s own metaverse would work on virtual reality headsets, as well as mobile devices and game consoles. “And my hope, if we do this well, I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our company, I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company,” he said in the interview.

Metaverse concept origins

The term Metaverse was coined in Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash”, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional space that uses the metaphor of the real world. Stephenson used the term to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the internet. Concepts similar to the Metaverse have appeared under a variety of names in the cyberpunk genre of fiction as far back as 1981 in the novella “True Names”.