A year ago, Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of Facebook to Meta. Although the Facebook social network changed the way people communicated, young people took their digital socialization elsewhere.
Facebook was taken over by older and middle-aged groups, who used it to post photos of their children and grandchildren, by community groups – who used it to share information and monitor behaviour deviants from the police – and abusive regimes like Myanmar, which have used it to exchange information and control deviant behaviour.
Zuckerberg wanted the company’s identity to reflect a new project: an online social network that looks like a video game. Instead of communicating in writing or by posting videos, humans would move a computer-generated character through a digital world, talking and interacting with other humans. Zuckerberg called it the metaverse.
“In time, I hope we will be seen as a metaverse company,” he said.
To participate, you needed a virtual reality headset from a company that Facebook bought in 2014 for $ 2 billion. Facebook / Meta has planned to rely on its customers and companies to create places in the game where other people would like to spend time.
The Wall Street Journal recently sent reporters to Zuckerberg’s metaverse called Horizon Worlds. It was mostly empty:
On a recent evening, a Journalist from the Journal visited one of Horizon’s most popular virtual worlds, the Soapstone Comedy Club. It had about 20 users, all of whom appeared as avatars. When the reporter showed up and attempted to interview a small group, one user replied, “You can cover for me, baby. The same user then urged her to expose herself.
A user who was flirting with a woman in the crowd was interrupted by what appeared to be his real girlfriend, who was shouting obscenities at him in the background.
The following day, a male reporter for the Journal attended a “house party” at which he was one of two presentations. He and the other avatar jumped into a boxing ring and fought for a round while wearing a jack-o-lantern fighting headgear, then played beer pong. The other avatar never spoke and the game ended after about 10 minutes. The reporter’s avatar then fell into the pool and couldn’t find a way out. There was no one around to help.
The article points out that Meta’s other main products, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, are used by more than 3.5 billion people per month, almost half of the world’s population. “Horizon currently reaches less than the population of Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” he said.
One of the reasons Horizon Worlds is unpopular is its legs. The characters have none and appear as floating torsos.
Horizon Worlds represents a problem that can arise when a very successful entrepreneur, who still controls the company, has a new idea. You can imagine how the conversation went during the Facebook leadership meeting:
Zuckerberg: I’d like you to create an online world where people have to spend hours talking to strangers with small video screens on their heads, which will appear as legless computer characters.
Subordinates – what will they do in this world?
Zuckerberg: meeting, shopping and socializing. Subordinates: Brilliant idea Mark! This is definitely the future of social media!
Zuckerberg: I’m sure it will be so successful that I would like to rename the company afterwards.
Subordinates: You did it again, Mark! Incredible idea! We’ll start the paperwork right away.
Meta stocks are down 66% from their peak a year ago.
Last week, Zuckerberg said that the people of Horizon Worlds would have legs in 2023. He appeared as a computer-generated character in a video to show what they would look like. Mashable, a technology news website, reported the news this way:
Legs “probably the most requested feature on our roadmap,” Zuckerberg’s avatar called, jumping and stretching to show off his new limbs during the protest, as the ecstatic, legless proletariat silently cheered their king on all fours.
It was later revealed that Zuckerberg’s computer character was created using stop-motion film technology, suggesting that Meta is still unable to replicate the movement of real legs in the digital world.
“Legs are tough, which is why other VR systems don’t have them,” Zuckerberg said.
Which turned out to be wrong. An online anime game called VRChat has tracked the whole body for years, Mashable pointed out.
With Facebook, Zuckerberg has created one of the greatest advertising tools in history. Facebook’s popularity allowed it to buy Instagram, which made it even more successful.
Meta is worth $345 billion. A Horizon Worlds expansion has been put on hold while the company attempts to resolve existing issues, the Journal reported.
Even if Horizon Worlds never becomes popular, I suspect Meta will keep it going just to spare Zuckerberg the embarrassment of having to admit he renamed the company because of a failed idea.
Saving face – and having legs – is important when you’re a tech genius.