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Facebook might rebrand as a ‘metaverse’ company. What does that even mean?

The Verge said that this rebrand (which could happen at the annual AR/VR-focused Facebook Connect conference on Oct. 28) could be related to the company’s ongoing efforts to build out the “metaverse,” defined by Facebook as a “set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.”

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it was looking to hire around 10,000 employees across Europe to create the multi-modal computing platform that would be the foundation for the metaverse; the metaverse would be an interconnected medium of virtual experiences brokered through technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality.

“At its heart is the idea that by creating a greater sense of ‘virtual presence,’ interacting online can become much closer to the experience of interacting in person,” Facebook said in the announcement. “No one company will own and operate the metaverse. Like the internet, its key feature will be its openness and interoperability.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge in July that they aimed to “effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company,” elaborating that he sees the metaverse as “a big part of the next chapter for the way that the internet evolves after the mobile internet.”

So what exactly is the metaverse? Several outlets have noted that the term was first coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in the 1992 book Snow Crash to describe an alternate (and somewhat dystopian) 3D virtual world where avatars of real people live and connect. Here’s what we know about Zuckerberg’s vision for the future of Facebook, and the future of digital communications.

The metaverse is something Facebook has been hyping up for a while now.

It all started when Facebook purchased VR tech company Oculus in 2014. Input wrote recently that Facebook likely bought that company because they believed that virtual reality would become one of the main ways we interacted with each other online.

Earlier this summer, Facebook introduced “Horizon Workrooms” through Oculus, responding to the trend of changing work spaces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “More people are working remotely, more people want flexible work options, and more people are re-thinking what it means to be in an office,” Facebook said in a statement. “Workrooms is our flagship collaboration experience that lets people come together to work in the same virtual room. It works across both virtual reality and the web and is designed to improve your team’s ability to collaborate, communicate, and connect remotely, through the power of VR.”

Through the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, workers can come into these virtual rooms using Oculus avatars and really “feel like” they’re in the room. The virtual workspaces will also integrate other features like mixed-reality desk and keyboard tracking, hand tracking, remote desktop streaming, video conferencing, and spatial audio.

At the start of September, Facebook said that it was going to invest $50 million to research and develop metaverse-related products that could connect augmented and virtual reality with consumer hardware, which would lead to new ways for people to connect with others. “It’s not necessarily about spending more time online — it’s about making the time you do spend online more meaningful,” Facebook wrote. “Many of these products will only be fully realized in the next 10-15 years.”

Shortly after, Facebook’s Reality Lab debuted Ray-Ban smart glasses that can capture and share photos and videos through the Facebook View app (think Black Mirror: The Entire History of You). These glasses, along with other VR and AR tech, would be able to allow users to access and participate in the “metaverse.”

On September 22, Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post that Andrew Bosworth, the VP of Facebook Reality Labs, will become the next chief technology officer of Facebook. After the transition, Bosworth will still run Facebook Reality Labs and spearhead the company’s developments in augmented reality and virtual reality. “This is all foundational to our broader efforts helping to build the metaverse,” Zuckerberg wrote.

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