Meta Platforms Inc.’s head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, recently spoke about the metaverse, a still-undefined virtual world, during a virtual space in Meta’s Horizon Workrooms. Clegg, who appeared as an avatar, spoke with a handful of reporters wearing borrowed Meta Quest headsets in Washington, and promised a more user-friendly experience with virtual legs. He believes that the metaverse is the future of computing, and that it will be the heart of the new computing platform.
However, the rest of the tech world has shown a relative loss of interest in virtual realities, as the industry has focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and the burgeoning startup sector around it. Many companies have pulled back on investments in virtual experiences, including Microsoft, which killed its industrial metaverse project as a part of its layoff of 10,000 people. Walt Disney Co. also cut a division that was working on its metaverse strategies as part of its own broader workforce firing.
In contrast, Clegg believes that Meta can capitalize on its investment in virtual worlds through advertising and commerce. Harnessing user data to target specific ads is what made Meta’s Facebook and Instagram platforms profitable. Still, it remains to be seen how much people will be willing to spend on virtual goods or use virtual reality (VR) tools for shopping. Meta is walking a fine line with investors when it comes to its commitment to the metaverse. In 2022, CEO Mark Zuckerberg held fast to his expensive commitment to build out the metaverse when faced with three consecutive quarters of revenue declines, leading to the stock’s worst year in history.
In February, Zuckerberg made a stark about-face, declaring that 2023 would be the “year of efficiency,” with a focus on near-term problems. That meant firing 10,000 people, including those in the Reality Labs division, which works on the metaverse. This new tone was rewarded with a share price trading at levels not seen in a year.
While some communities, like gaming and fitness, have embraced virtual worlds, Meta believes there is untapped potential for applications in fields like education and healthcare. Clegg stressed the company’s commitment to involve researchers, civil organizations, and other companies in the development of the metaverse to create an experience that allows “real creativity, real ingenuity, and real just pleasure and enjoyment and delight to flourish.”
During the virtual room, when one reporter asked a question, three of the avatars on the screen moved their mouths, as three different headsets in the physical room in Washington picked up the voice of the same person talking. The view outside the virtual room was lovely, with imaginary green mountains towering over a blue lake. Virtual arms darted out in front of avatars as reporters tried to peer under their headsets to write in physical notebooks.
Clegg believes that while today’s metaverse applications are clunky, they will eventually be replaced by a more user-friendly experience that isn’t so heavy on the head. He believes the metaverse will take over the computing platform in the future, and Meta is committed to the long haul. The company will continue to invest in the metaverse and work with others to make it a reality.