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So, What’s the Metaverse?

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Talk about having a bad day turn into a bad week and month! Mark Zuckerberg. the public face of Facebook, has to be wondering what else could go awry to challenge the mega social media platforms under the Facebook umbrella. In early September 2021, the whole of the social media world experienced a total global blackout of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. It was the first disruption of the popular platforms in more than three years. Millions of loyal, addicted users were denied a daily “fix” of posts and likes for more than six hours as Facebook’s army of techies frantically worked to identify and repair the cause of the calamity.

“The underlying cause of this outage also impacted many of the internal tools and systems we use in our day-to-day operations, complicating our attempts to quickly diagnose and resolve the problem,” a Facebook spokesperson lamented. The company reported that there was no evidence of malicious tampering or that any user data was compromised as a result of the downtime. According to the CNA, Standard Media Index, Facebook was losing about $545 million in ad revenue per hour in the U.S. during the outage. Shares of Facebook stock fell by 4.9%, and the outage was thought to be the motivation for a broad sell-off of all tech stocks for the trading day.

Six hours later connections were being restored as Santosh Janardhan, Facebook’s VP of Infrastructure said, “Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”

The breakdown came during a period when a former Facebook employee was giving testimony to the U.S. Congress about problems that Facebook management was attempting to keep under wraps. Bipartisan members of Congress have been struggling to come up with regulations to address a broad menu of issues plaguing Facebook and Google. Calls for a legislative break-up of Facebook have reverberated through the halls of public debate for years as critics of “big tech” have speculated that social media monopolies needed to suffer the attention of anti-trust legislation in order to correct perceived indifference and unfairness to users’ concerns.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen was testifying that “the company was aware of how its platforms are used to spread hate, violence and misinformation, and that Facebook leadership has tried to hide that evidence from the public and its loyal users for years.” Despite her critical testimony, when asked Haugen testified “I’m actually against the breaking up of Facebook.” Her perception was that Facebook would be less able and less effective in instituting solutions to the issues if the tech giant was broken into separate parts. “Facebook will continue to be this Frankenstein that is altering, that is endangering lives around the world, only there won’t be money to fund it,” she concluded.

The compounding events of the period of time came unexpectedly and surprised social media platform executives amidst the company’s incredible year-to-date performance. Facebook was enjoying a 47% year-on-year increase in ad revenue, amounting to $28 billion, when the bad day broke on the horizon. But the bad news and good news of early September was about to be trumped by an unexpected and surprising announcement by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The company would be rebranding Facebook as Meta. Meta is a name of a virtual world where people work, play, learn and connect, according to company officials. Zuckerberg said that the word “meta” comes from the Greek word meaning “beyond” and that “it symbolizes that there is always more to build.” The Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp platforms will continue to operate under the current, individual identities. So why the change in name?

“Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything we’re doing today, let alone in the future. Over time, I hope we are seen as a metaverse company, and I want to anchor our work and our identity on what we’re building towards,” Zuckerberg claimed. However, not everyone feels as though the reason was being truthfully articulated by the Company. Kyla Lam, research analyst for ARVR/Wearables at IDC speculated, “I think there are several reasons why Facebook renamed itself as Meta. First, facing numerous allegations on privacy and safety, Facebook is using the new parent name as a distraction to the public to talk about the rebranding despite of whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimonies against Facebook. Secondly, it helps to placate investors as its stock prices have been declining recently. Having a parent company streamlines operations, which suggests that there could be more transparency and clarity in evaluating its Family of Apps including Facebook and Instagram and Facebook Reality Labs including AR and VR related business segment independently.” Other critics associate the rebranding akin to putting a new shade of lipstick on an old pig.

A recent poll of consumers and social media users, conducted after the announcement, indicated that 47% of respondents believed Facebook’s company rebrand to “Meta” was a poor idea and 49.2 percent said they were not excited to find out what “Meta is all about.” More than a third, or 37.5% of respondents, said they did not believe the rebrand would bring any real changes to the new Facebook/Meta organization. When survey takers were asked why they believe Facebook decided to rebrand, 39% believed it was due to poor public perception and 37% thought it was connected to the recent problems surrounding the social media giant.

Christopher Tompkins, the CEO and founder of The Go! Agency, said “Facebook’s decision to change the platform’s name is a classic redirection to pull attention away from not only what the public perceives, but what every marketing professional knows. There are more changes going on behind the scenes than the public at large know. They are not really money-motivated monsters. Power is what they are looking for, and gaining.”

For those of us in the digital marketing profession the social media landscape going forward is likely to be disruptive and more challenging to navigate than ever before. With new channels like MeWe and Parler, just to name a few new challengers, the game is about to be joined by aggressive and focused new comers. An alternative economy is being launched against the favored placeholders of big tech. Be prepared to be agile, be creative and hang on. It’s about to get exciting.