Facebook's big rebranding reveal came on schedule today, during CEO Mark Zuckerberg's keynote address at the company's annual Connect conference, and the new name for Facebook is Meta.
This seemed like an obvious but also an odd choice for the rebrand back when we first learned it was happening last week, given that it's tied up with Facebook's announcement it plans to invest heavily in the "metaverse" — a next-level internet with VR and AR technology that other companies plan to work on as well in the coming years. Given that things can be called "meta" that don't relate at all to this "metaverse" where you can take virtual vacations and have VR happy hours with people around the globe, it's maybe not the best choice. But there you have it.
It was actually sort of unintentionally comical when Zuckerberg excitedly announced, "Starting today, our company is now meta."
As The Verge reports from Zuck's virtual keynote, he says he's been thinking about such a rebrand ever since the company acquired Instagram and WhatsApp, in 2012 and 2014 respectively. And earlier this year, he decided it was definitely time — and of course this has nothing to do with Facebook's name being sullied beyond repair by data-leak scandals, election interference, misinformation peddling, genocide enabling, and so much more!
"I've been thinking a lot about our identity as we begin this next chapter. Facebook is one of the most used products in the history of the world," Zuckerberg said. "It is an iconic social media brand, but increasingly it just doesn't encompass everything that we do."
And the name change, it's all about "confusion" around the company's identity, of course.
"I think that there was just a lot of confusion and awkwardness about having the company brand be also the brand of one of the social media apps," Zuckerberg said. "I think it’s helpful for people to have a relationship with a company that is different from the relationship with any specific one of the products, that can kind of supersede all of that."
And, as The Verge notes, Zuckerberg had to address the fact that the timing of the rebrand comes amid the flood of negative media stories coming out of whistleblower Frances Haugen's trove of pilfered documents — and her recent testimonies before Congress and the UK Parliament.
All that "had nothing to bear on this," Zuck says. "Even though I think some people might want to make that connection, I think that’s sort of a ridiculous thing. If anything, I think that this is not the environment that you would want to introduce a new brand in."
Of course, Zuckerberg tends to use words like "ridiculous" when he's being defensive, kind of like when he said in 2016 that it was a "crazy idea" that fake news on Facebook influenced the election of Donald Trump. That hasn't aged well.
Whether anyone is really going to start calling the company Meta anytime in the near future is another story. Google became Alphabet five years ago, and that still hasn't fully caught on, even if they changed their stock symbol — journalists, politicians, and the public still think of the company as Google, and they say things like "Google-owned YouTube," etc.
Facebook's stock ticker symbol will also change, btw, to MVRS, starting December 1.
But the work has already begun on the underpinnings of this new metaverse that Zuck thinks we'll all be clamoring to live in as our planet falls apart in the next decade.
Facebook/Meta unveiled a new high-end "mixed reality" headset that it's calling Cambria, which mixes VR graphics with the real world surrounding you, and allows for more realistic avatars.
Then there's the software behind that, called Horizon. As The Verge explains it, "It’s part Minecraft meets Roblox with an application for work collaboration as well."
Facebook is also at work on its own, next-gen version of Google's Glass — a pair of normal-looking eyeglasses called Nazaré that will act as an AR headset for overlay computing and more. That's reportedly still a few years out.
As CNN notes, Zuckerberg even did a presentation on the metaverse using a goofy avatar of himself, with some cartoon people behind him.
We may never know how much Facebook paid a branding firm to come up with this new name and logo, but it was likely in the millions.
And as for all this just being a distraction, a "look-over-there" strategy for keeping us talking about something besides all of the company's present woes, Zuckerberg has an answer for that too.
"I know that some people will say that this isn't a time to focus on the future, and I want to acknowledge that there are important issues to work on in the present. There always will be," Zuck said. "So for many people, I'm just not sure there ever will be a good time to focus on the future. But I also know that there are a lot of you who feel the same way that I do."
Right. And it's also not hard to foresee that this is just another virtual universe — a platform, if you will — that Facebook, in the future, will have to learn how to moderate and manage, something that it still can't get right on its existing, non-meta platform.
It's going to be a mess.