A tech company has done WHAT now? If it’s not billionaire founders taking day trips to space, it’s EV tycoons smoking a fat one on the world’s most-watched podcast. Thankfully, at least to us, Facebook Inc’s rebrand to ‘Meta’ didn’t feel quite so strange. In fact, it made a lot of sense.
Undeterred by the inevitable meme backlash, Zuckerberg delivered a pretty neat virtual keynote that made Apple’s recent M1 laptop announcements look like they were put together in Canva. In many ways, the news was a big surprise, even to those deeply embedded in tech journalism. But as the dust settled and we read more about what Meta have already been up to, it’s clear that this is far, far more than a vanity project.
If this is all unfolding a little too fast for you, now would be a good time to check out our recent blog on the metaverse; what it is, how it’s gaining traction, and ultimately, how you will access it.
So what’s the purpose of a parent group rebrand?
I guess it’s like when Hoover tried making appliances that weren’t hoovers. “Can you pop a couple of slices of toast in the Hoover pleasure, darling?” It doesn’t quite work. Tenuous analogies aside, Facebook’s parent brand was and always would have been too tightly linked to the Facebook product.
This brand evolution is interesting, and couldn’t have been foreseen in the early days of the lone social media platform. But over the years, as the company scooped up others (Whatsapp, Instagram) and launched new products (Workplace, Portal), the Facebook name became somewhat redundant, even by its first acquisition.
Away from the mergers we all know, Facebook has acquired almost 80 companies over the years, and only 27 of these were made public. This isn’t unusual for a big tech company, and is a tried and tested tactic. Buy out the opposition, assimilate their technology, adopt their users, and essentially shut them down – no matter how big or small.
One such example was Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR, bought for $2.3 billion dollars in March 2014. Before long, the conjoined teams were working alongside Samsung, Xiaomi and Lenovo to release impressive consumer wearables. Today, Meta’s Oculus shows no signs of slowing down, with teams continuing to work on the evolution of the headset technology, and third-party developers queuing up to release new titles.
What’s interesting is that at some point during last month’s announcement, it was quietly mentioned that the Oculus brand will be phased out in 2022, with the product line and associated experiences being marketed under the new Meta company name. Then, gradually pushed out to consumers under another new brand, ‘Horizon’.
Again, it’s not uncommon to see an old product name eventually disappear sometime after a merger or acquisition, but these movements are interesting nonetheless. Being the only Facebook-owned product to be changing in the near future, it’s a clear signal that the Oculus technology will play a key role in Meta’s work.
It’s the biggest ‘towel on the sun lounger’ move we’ve ever seen
Whether the metaverse is something you only found out about last week, or it’s something you’ve been telling people down the pub about for years, it’s ultimately going to be huge. We often hear the phrase “no one could have predicted how big the internet would be”, and for the most part, that makes sense. But thanks to the internet itself, and just about every tech advancement we’ve seen run in tandem with the web over the last twenty years, looking to the future and predicting outcomes on an enterprise tech and consumer tech level has become a whole lot easier.
That comes down to the route that the internet itself carved for us. Supercomputing, frame rates, resolution, hard drive space, the SSD, processing, bandwidth… everything changed, grew and multiplied faster than we could reasonably keep up. Just about everything that we saw in ‘version one’ of the personal computer or the web, has been completely dwarfed by where we are today. You don’t need me to tell you that your smartphone has more computing power than a 1980s spaceship.
This infinitely upward trend in computing makes it a little daunting to consider just what’s going to be possible in another twenty years, let alone five years from now. Crikey, what will Meta announce next year?
“But her emails”
The big, blue elephant in the room here is the allegations that the company faces around privacy and online safety. Many have claimed that this rebrand is a public distraction. And a well-timed one too, as Frances Haugen testifies against the group this month.
Meta cannot hide behind a new face, and in 2021, bad news doesn’t just go away. PR and public perception is somewhat of a game of smoke and mirrors, but the legal system runs rain or shine. Whether justice prevails or not, Meta and the Facebook product will have some cleaning up to do, particularly if they want their 3.5 billion users to even set foot in a Meta-owned experience.
This 3.5 billion-strong army of content-hungry customers is no doubt a huge motivation for Meta to position themselves as the new architects of the metaverse. A fortnight ago, the vast majority of that swollen user base hadn’t heard of the metaverse. Last week, they are learning that the parent company to their favourite social media apps has been making huge strides to take all of their users on a wild ride into this brave new world.
A method to the madness
We’ve certainly had to pinch ourselves over the last few days, with our cynical side wondering if we are part of some big, cruel sci-fi capitalist Dystopian Black Mirror-esque joke. But our analytical side, the one we tend to trust in more, reassures us that this is an experience-first venture, and as potential users, we have an incredibly interesting and immersive future to look forward to.
And I guess that’s why we remain optimistic, not pessimistic. Technology excites us and these big strides in evolution give us more to dream about. We are a tech agency and we hope to see two clear things come out of this.
- For Meta to tidy up their house, and regain the lost trust of consumers who should not have to question the morals of a company who have now positioned themselves as somewhat of a gatekeeper to the metaverse.
- And for the product, platforms and experiences that ultimately take us into the metaverse to be ones that remember what’s important – the people who make these experiences, and the planet that we wish to experience them on.
See you on the other side.