The Facebook social network changed the way people communicate, and its main products — Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — are used by more than 3.5 billion people a month, equivalent to about half the world’s population.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg realized that the network was being taken over by middle-aged and aging people who use it to post photos of their kids and grandkids. Facebook was also being taken over by community groups and by governments. Young people were socializing elsewhere, wrote Aaron Patrick, a senior correspondent for Financial Review, in an Oct. 17 opinion piece.
Facebook announced Facebook Horizon as a new social virtual reality world of avatars at the Oculus Connect 6 conference in September 2019. Horizon was accessible at the time only to a select group of Oculus VR users who answered invitations to join the virtual world. In August 2020, Facebook announced that more users would be included in an invitation-only beta phase. On Dec. 9, 2021, Facebook opened up Horizon Worlds to anyone 18 and older in the U.S. and Canada.
Zuckerberg wanted his company’s identity to reflect a new project: an online social network that looked like a video game. Instead of communicating through writing or by posting videos, people would move a computer-generated character around a digital world and speak to and interact with each other. Zuckerberg called it the metaverse.
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The broader launch of Horizon Worlds was an important step for Facebook, which officially changed its name to Meta in October 2021. The Meta name was based on the sci-fi term metaverse to describe its vision for working and playing in a virtual world.
“Over time, I hope we are seen as a metaverse company,” Zuckerberg said of the multi-year project.
To participate, users needed to buy virtual-reality headsets manufactured by a company Facebook bought for $2 billion in 2014. Facebook/Meta planned to rely on its customers and companies to create places in the game that other people would like to spend time in, Patrick wrote.
The Wall Street Journal sent reporters into Horizon Worlds and they reported back on what they had found there: the new social world is glitchy and mostly empty.
WSJ tech reporter Meghan Bobrowsky said she reviewed some internal documents that show less than 200,000 people are going into Horizon Worlds. “Horizon is currently reaching less than the population of Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” WSJ said.
Zuckerberg’s decision to rename Facebook Meta after the metaverse could have been a mistake, Patrick wrote.
For one thing, you have to buy a virtual reality headset for about $400 to go there and the price is going up. Meta’s original goal of reaching 500,000 monthly active users by the end of 2022 has been reduced to 280,000, Bobrowsky said.
People’s objections include saying that they can’t find worlds they like, they can’t find their friends, the avatars look cartoonish, not real, and none of the avatars have legs. And some people complain that other users misbehave or act badly.
Meta’s response? “We’re working on this.”
It’s a multi-year project at a time when Facebook is battling with TikTok and other social media companies for users. “They’re really pushing reels and video content and they’re trying to stay relevant right now,” Bobrowsky said.
He has already spent $15 billion on his metaverse. Meta is worth $345 billion and Meta shares are down 66 percent from their peak in the past year. And Zuckerberg has lost more than half his fortune — $76.8 billion — since September 2021, dropping from No. 3 on the Forbes list of the wealthiest people in the U.S. to No. 11.