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(Pocket-lint) - Mark Zuckerberg is betting on a new version of the internet. It's called the Metaverse, and the CEO wants Facebook to be at the forefront of this technology. In fact, he envisions a future where you won't just log onto his company's products; you'll live, work, and hang out in them.

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What is Facebook Metaverse?

Facebook’s CEO introduced Wall Street to a concept known as the Metaverse during a 28 July 2021 second-quarter earnings call with investors. He called it “the next generation of the internet and the next chapter of us as a company”. It's a massive reimagining of the social network that will require huge annual investments. In fact, Facebook is spending “billions" on it, hoping to eventually make money when it succeeds.

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“In the coming years, I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a Metaverse company", Zuckerberg said on the call. "In many ways, the Metaverse is the ultimate expression of social technology". He added: “It’s the future we are working towards. A virtual environment where you can be present with people in a digital space. An embodied Internet that you are inside of".

While in vague, high-level language, Zuckerberg essentially described the Metaverse as an immersive virtual world, much like virtual reality now, but one where people spend time together and share experiences. He first mentioned the Metaverse a few days prior to the call, noting plans to hire a team to develop it. During the call, however, he described it as the future and something he “dreamed of building" before Facebook.

During the second-quarter earnings call, Facebook executives mentioned "Metaverse" more than a dozen times - despite having never discussed it publicly before.

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How will Facebook Metaverse work?

Zuckerberg said the defining quality of the Metaverse is 'this feeling that you're really there with another person or in another place". 

He thinks Facebook's Metaverse will be accessible from all devices and apps, and that users will enter the Metaverse to play games, work, and create and share experiences with friends. They will even use it like they use the internet today, but they'll also be able to do "some things that don’t make sense on the internet today, like dancing". Zuckerberg also noted creating avatars and digital objects will be central to how users express themselves in the Metaverse.

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Is only Facebook building the Metaverse?

The thing is, the Metaverse is not a new concept that Facebook invented. It's a regular theme in sci-fi. Facebook has only now begun using the terminology publicly while revealing it’s something it has been working toward with Oculus and other investments in virtual and augmented reality.

As Zuckerberg noted during Facebook's second-quarter earnings call, no one company can develop the Metaverse. For Facebook, the Metaverse will be a new ecosystem with new protocols, new payment systems, new everything. The company has therefore tasked an internal group with building out its version of the Metaverse, with Zuckerberg viewing it as a social product for hundreds of millions of people to use. 

When asked about interoperability, Zuckerberg said this “virtual environment” will be accessible on devices and headsets, not just Facebook's, and that all companies will have the opportunity to create experiences for the Metaverse. Is that a pipe dream? Possibly. There is nothing stopping competitors from building their own Metaverses. Heck, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Epic Games have all discussed their own iterations.

In a Facebook post, Andrew Bosworth, the VP of AR/VR at Facebook, even said the Metaverse is already here. He described it as a "collection of digital worlds each with its own physics to determine what’s possible within them". But to achieve Facebook's full vision of the Metaverse, he said his company needs to build the "connective tissue between these spaces" and "remove the limitations of physics".

What is the XR Programs and Research Fund?

Andrew Bosworth Facebook's VP of AR/VR, believes the Metaverse won’t be built overnight by a single company.

In fact, in a September 2021 blog post, he said Facebook plans to collaborate with policymakers, experts, and industry partners to bring its version to life. He announced a $50 million investment in research and program partners to ensure it is "developed responsibly". It's called the XR Programs and Research Fund.

The fund will be invested into “programs and external research” over the course of two years. Facebook's goal here is to make sure it builds a Metaverse that's compatible with other services, as well as one that has an eye toward inclusivity, privacy, safety, and “economic opportunity". The company is partnering with organisations like Women in Immersive Tech, Africa No Filter, Electric South, and the Organization of American States.

It also said it’ll “facilitat[e] independent external research” with organisations like the University of Hong Kong and the National University of Singapore.

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Who is in Facebook's Metaverse group?

Facebook's group working on the Metaverse includes the following executives:

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  • Vishal Shah, comes from Instagram and is leading the entire effort.
  • Vivek Sharma, comes from Facebook Gaming and will lead the Horizon teams.
  • Jason Rubin, comes from Oculus and Facebook Gaming and will lead the Content team.
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Why does the Metaverse matter to Facebook?

Zuckerberg thinks it's essential Facebook helps form this next version of the internet. He believes there will be many successful players in the Metaverse, but he's hoping it will still reflect Facebook's mission and business model. “We're certainly making a lot of the key investments that we need to make in the foundational technology to be able to deliver the parts that we want to", he said. 

What's the latest on Facebook's Metaverse?

Below are the most recent news updates to Facebook's Metaverse vision:

27 September 2021: Facebook is spending $50 million to ‘responsibly’ build the metaverse

Facebook has announced a $50 million fund to develop the metaverse more responsibly. It’s officially called the XR Programs and Research Fund.

Writing by Maggie Tillman.
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