A MARTINEZ, HOST:
The company Facebook is restructuring and rebranding.
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MARK ZUCKERBERG: You can kind of think about the Metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content, you're in it and you feel present with other people.
MARTINEZ: That was CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing the change at the company's virtual reality conference yesterday. So why the change and what does it mean? Alex Heath is a reporter for The Verge and was the first to report on this anticipated change. In full disclosure, before we start this conversation, Facebook was until recently an NPR sponsor. So, Alex, I watch a lot of comic books and superhero shows on The CW, so I know about the Arrowverse. What is the Metaverse? Because that is Facebook's brand-new name.
ALEX HEATH: Yeah, their new name is Meta, and Metaverse originated as a concept actually in the '90s in a sci-fi novel called "Snow Crash." And interestingly, it was describing people fleeing a dystopian, apocalyptic, futuristic world to escape into a virtual, immersive one. So you could draw some analogies to the world we find ourselves, you know, in now with Facebook.
MARTINEZ: So let me ask you this then, is it actually filling a demand? I mean, do people actually want the Metaverse?
HEATH: The Metaverse doesn't exist yet, and I think, you know, what Zuckerberg was showing off at the keynote, a lot of it was hypothetical. What he's saying is that this concept of a, you know, fully embodied internet where you're in it and not just viewing it through a screen will be mainstream in the next decade. So this is really a long-term bet for them, and it's something that, you know, akin to the mobile internet, he thinks that it's going to be that transformational, but it's going to take time.
MARTINEZ: So it's going to be an experience where people are kind of living online, living digitally in a way.
HEATH: Yeah. And there's analogies today to apps like Roblox, which is an incredibly popular gaming platform that young people use a lot. And it's - basically you can build virtual worlds and hang out as avatars. And Fortnite, you know, is another example. And these are all kind of 2D experiences today, but you can imagine them extended to something like the Oculus Quest, now called the Meta Quest, which is Facebook now Meta's virtual reality headset. So they're already starting to work on stuff like this. But, yeah, the idea is that this is going to be the way that a lot of people interact online in the near to long-term future.
MARTINEZ: Then what does this reorganization mean for the Facebook brand, their products, including Instagram and WhatsApp?
HEATH: So the apps and the brands for the apps aren't changing, but what this does mean is that Facebook's going to create a unified account system that's tied to Meta now because now Mark is the CEO of Meta. And so this umbrella company Meta, you'll basically be able to have an account that is not necessarily tied to the Facebook app, especially for a lot of this virtual reality stuff. And interesting, you know, I interviewed Mark Zuckerberg about this change actually the other day, and he was saying one of the reasons that he wanted to do this rebrand was that they realized people did not want to be logging into their Oculus headsets with their Facebook accounts. There was just a lot of concern about privacy and data sharing there. And you'd think, wow, why would he be so interested in something that not that many people use? But it's because he thinks it's something that a lot of people are going to want to use in the future. And he's very nervous about, you know, the negative associations with the Facebook brand and the future stuff he wants to build.
MARTINEZ: Well, on that, to those negative associations, Facebook's name has been surrounded by controversy for a while now. Any indication that this rebrand is maybe a response to those issues?
HEATH: I asked him that, and he said that work on this began in earnest just over six months ago and that he'd actually been thinking about it for years. But, you know, if you think back six months, it was before this, you know, whistleblower, this ex-employee, Frances Haugen, had leaked a bunch of these documents to the media and was testifying about all these problems that she uncovered in the company. So he told me - he used the word ridiculous to suggest that - it was in reaction to this. He said it was really about trying to move forward and solidify what they're already doing.
MARTINEZ: All right. Alex Heath is a reporter at The Verge. Alex, thanks.
HEATH: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.