03 November 2021
Last week, Mark Zuckerberg, head of Facebook, said it would rename its business Meta Platforms, Inc. Early users of the virtual worlds known as the metaverse criticized Facebook's rebranding, or using a new company name. They say Facebook did not create the metaverse and does not have the right to take credit for the idea.
Metaverse, generally, is the idea for a new internet based on virtual spaces and virtual reality products. It has become a subject of much discussion this year. Both companies and investors want to be a part of the next big thing. But users have for years been spending time on these fast-growing, but little-known, virtual worlds.
Ryan Kappel is one of those users. He is an American who has held meetings in different metaverses for more than two years.
"They are essentially trying to build what many of us have been building for years, but rebrand it as their own," Kappel said.
Facebook's announcement comes as the company fights criticism from lawmakers and regulators over its market power, software operation and policing of abuses on its services.
Blockchain and virtual reality
In virtual reality, users appear as a moving image, or avatar. As the avatar "moves" around, the player meets friends and plays games. Some are based around a digital financial account called blockchain that allows users to buy and sell virtual real estate.
Artur Sychov founded a metaverse virtual world called Somnium Space in 2017. He said Zuckerberg's announcement of the rebrand felt hurried, as if the company wants to become part of the metaverse story. "Which," he said, "is happening right now."
Sychov spends up to five hours a day in Somnium Space along with 1,000 to 2,000 other daily users.
Centralized and decentralized metaverses
Dave Carr manages communications for the organization that runs the virtual world Decentraland. He said metaverse users may resist Facebook's move because they fear its control over content.
Carr compared the virtual world Decentraland with Facebook's planned metaverse. He thinks that people who want to control the future of the virtual worlds they live in, move freely between them and keep the things they make "will choose the decentralized version." He said Facebook's plan will most likely be under central control.
Decentraland was founded in 2017 with about 7,000 daily users. It sees itself as a choice for people who want to move away from popular social media platforms that sell user data and control what users can see.
Blockchain technology is the basis of many existing metaverse platforms. It makes central control impossible. Blockchain is also the electronic heart of cryptocurrencies. In these virtual worlds, people use cryptocurrencies to buy land and other digital objects in the form of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
Pranksy is the name of an investor in NFTs, which are digital resources such as works of art that exist only on computers.
Pranksy said that Facebook wanted to claim the name "Meta" "as soon as possible as more brands become interested." Pranksy first bought virtual world real estate in 2020.
However, the reaction from early metaverse users was not all negative. Some said Facebook's entry could raise interest in the idea of virtual worlds generally, attracting more users and causing more virtual worlds to be created.
Tristan Littlefield is the co-founder of NFT company nft42 and has been a metaverse user since 2018. He said his first reaction to Facebook's announcement was negative because he dislikes its sale of user data.
But his next thought was that having a big company like Facebook come in and spend "billions of dollars ... could be a positive" because of the new people it would bring to the space.
I'm Jill Robbins.
Elizabeth Howcroft reported on this story for Reuters. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.
Words in This Story
virtual – adj. used to describe something that can be done or seen using computers or the internet instead of happening in a physical place
brand – n. a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name
essential adj. extremely important and necessary
non-fungible token (NFT) - n. something that only exists in the digital world and is based on blockchain (see "What is an NFT?")
virtual reality – n. a set of images and sounds produced by a computer to represent a real place or situation
platform - n. n. (computers) a program or set of programs that controls the way a computer works and runs other programs
cryptocurrency - n. virtual money
What do you think of the new name for Facebook? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.