Updated October 28, 2021, 3:30 p.m. ET
Facebook’s new company name is Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday, in an apparent effort to reshape the company’s public image from a failing social network to a technology innovator focused on building the next generation of online interaction, known as the “metaverse”.
The Facebook application used by nearly 3 billion people around the world each month will keep its name. But speaking at the company’s Connect virtual reality conference, Zuckerberg said it was time to reshuffle the company’s identity to reflect its broader ambitions.
“It’s time for us to embrace a new corporate brand to encompass everything we do,” he said. “From now on, we’re going to be metaverse first, not Facebook first.”
Seventeen years after Zuckerberg founded Facebook in his dormitory at Harvard University, the company’s brand has been severely shaken by a succession of crises, from Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election to the scandal of Cambridge Analytica’s data privacy, which became public in 2018, will last. this month’s damaging revelations from a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen.
But even as the company was hit by a wave of critical media coverage of the damage to its platforms, based on Haugen’s mine of internal documents, Zuckerberg unabashedly kept his focus on the metaverse, describing it. Thursday as the company’s new “North Star”. . ”
He says the metaverse is the next big computing platform that people’s attention – and dollars – will shift to for years to come. And he wants the newly christened Meta to play a pivotal role in its creation and transformation into a great company.
“Building our social media apps will always be an important goal for us. But right now our brand is so closely tied to a product that it can’t represent everything we do today, let alone in the future. Zuckerberg said.
So what is the metaverse anyway?
Zuckerberg announced the new name, Meta, in a glitzy video presentation that served as the explanation for the metaverse, a futuristic and loosely defined concept that has become a Silicon Valley buzzword in recent years.
The term “metaverse” was coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, Snow accident. Enthusiasts use it to refer to immersive virtual spaces where people can play games, attend concerts, meet colleagues, and purchase all kinds of digital goods and services.
Facebook demonstrated many of these experiences in the brilliantly produced video Thursday, showing Zuckerberg riding an electric hydrofoil in virtual reality (a nod to his real-life hobby), fencing with a hologram and walking in. a 3D rendering of his “domestic space”.
This week, Facebook told investors that its spending on virtual reality and other next-generation products and services will cut $ 10 billion from its overall operating profit this year. He also announced his intention to hire 10,000 workers in Europe over the next five years to build the metaverse.
On Thursday, Zuckerberg said he plans to invest “many billions of dollars for years to come,” painting a vision of the future where one billion people will use the metaverse and generate hundreds of billions of dollars in the digital commerce – while acknowledging it remains “far away”.
“We are fully committed to it,” Zuckerberg said. “This is the next chapter in our work and, in our opinion, for the Internet in general.”
As a nod to Facebook’s long series of crises, Zuckerberg devoted part of the presentation to stressing that the company will focus on privacy and security when building its new virtual hardware and services.
“Privacy standards will be built into the metaverse from day one,” he said. “One of the lessons I have internalized from the past five years is that we need to focus on these principles from the start.”
Change could be the key to the existence of the company
Staying on top of the next big tech innovation isn’t just about Zuckerberg’s interest in the latest Silicon Valley fad. It is about the sustainability of his business, which depends on the attraction of young users.
Leaked internal documents show Facebook fears it will lose relevance as its user base ages. Those under 30 spend less time on Facebook, post less and send fewer messages, according to an internal report prepared in March and reported by Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, Instagram, which the company sees as a pipeline for young users who will eventually age in its other apps, is losing teens to other social media platforms – a phenomenon the company has identified as a “threat.” existential ”. The New York Times reported.
Zuckerberg told investors on Monday he was reorienting the business to appeal to young adults between the ages of 18 and 29, rather than the older crowd that has become its core. He cited threats, including the application of short TikTok videos, which he said is “one of the most effective competitors we have ever encountered.”
The big corporate overhaul comes as Congress threatens to pass tougher regulations on the tech industry, with some lawmakers claiming it has grown so big and powerful it looks like Big Tobacco in its heyday .
“Facebook is going through so much upheaval, so much negativity” that the name change risks making it look like “you’re trying to hide something,” said Prashant Malaviya, professor of marketing at the University’s McDonough School of Business. of Georgetown.
Indeed, critics were quick to accuse the company of this on Thursday.
“The name change from Facebook to Meta may make sense from a business marketing standpoint, but it’s also a blatant attempt to distance Mark Zuckerberg’s company from growing outrage over the damage it is causing to democracy in the United States and around the world, “said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, in a statement. “Zuckerberg and his lieutenants cannot get rid of the Facebook albatross with a smart brand adjustment.”
Changing your name often gives mixed results
Other companies have changed names in times of crisis, with mixed results. In 2001, when Marlboro cigarette maker Philip Morris announced plans to rename himself Altria, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner accused the company of “running away from tobacco.”
Malaviya says the rebranding of Altria worked at the company level – but he points out that the company never attempted to change the name to Marlboro, the product people actually knew.
Likewise, the social network Facebook, known internally as the “Big Blue App”, is not going anywhere.
“The Facebook brand is going to continue to exist. The app will be there. Instagram is still going to be there,” said Malaviya. “And this is where we have problems with what the company does.”
In 2015, Google reorganized under a new parent company called Alphabet, and its founders handed over the day-to-day management of its lucrative search engine, though the company is still widely referred to as Google.
If this story is any guide, said Malaviya, don’t expect the name “Facebook” to disappear from conversations or headlines.
Even though they are talking about this new business, the folks on Wall Street and Main Street might still be saying, ‘Well, yeah, it’s still just Facebook. “”
Editor’s Note: Facebook and Google are among the recent financial backers of NPR.
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