Now obviously the metaverse is the dominant topic of the day, and I was quoted all the way back in the 90s as saying that building the metaverse is a moral imperative, and even back then most people missed that I was actually making a movie reference, but I was at least partially serious about that. I really do care about it and I buy into the vision, but that leaves many people surprised to find out that I have been pretty actively arguing against every single metaverse effort that we have tried to spin up internally in the company from even pre-acquisition times.
You know, I want it to exist, but I have pretty good reasons to believe that..setting out to build the metaverse is not actually the best way to wind up with the metaverse…
The metaverse is a honeypot trap for architecture astronauts.
—John Carmack, Connect 2021 keynote
John Carmack is the former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Oculus VR, and I had a friend recommend I watch his keynote address from yesterday’s Connect virtual event, so I sat down with a big cup of black coffee to hear what he had to say.
John Carmack is a heavy hitter at Facebook (sorry, Meta) and he usually gives a keynote at Connect. John stepped down as CTO in 2019, taking on the role of Consulting CTO in order to focus more on his artificial intelligence projects.
John was very happy with the launch of the Oculus Quest 2, calling it “better, faster, cheaper—one of those just rare combinations that you you almost never get to have in a product.”
He said he was gently pushing back on the push towards cloud VR rendering, stating that there are still a lot of challenges associated with it. He also said that there were a lot of internal battles over the App Lab, too. He speaks about the internal dissent within Meta over releasing the 120Hz framerate option for the Oculus Quest 2 as well.
John is not afraid to call a spade a spade, and disclose where there has been behind-the-scenes tension and disagreement within the company, which is why so many people look forward to his candid keynotes! In particular (as the quote I highlighted up top indicates), it’s clear John has some reservations about Mark Zuckerberg’s push to repivot Meta as a metaverse company.
All in all, this video is a valuable and refreshing counterpoint to Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote and I would encourage you to watch it in full!
What used to be called “Oculus Connect” for many years, and then was renamed to “Facebook Connect” last year, is now suddenly just “Connect”. You have to scroll down, and hunt around a bit, to find any mention of Facebook on the homepage!
Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this story.
Facebook already has more than 10,000 employees building consumer hardware like AR glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones. In July, he told The Verge that, over the next several years, “we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”
A rebrand could also serve to further separate the futuristic work Zuckerberg is focused on from the intense scrutiny Facebook is currently under for the way its social platform operates today. A former employee turned whistleblower, Frances Haugen, recently leaked a trove of damning internal documents to The Wall Street Journal and testified about them before Congress. Antitrust regulators in the US and elsewhere are trying to break the company up, and public trust in how Facebook does business is falling.
But really, all this is is just a name change. The same fundamental problems that Facebook has are still there; slapping a fresh coat on paint on everything is not going to fix the fact that Facebook requires you to set up an account on its social network in order to use Oculus VR headsets going forward. More and more, people are realizing that it’s not a good ides to trust Facebook with your personal data. As I have written before on this blog:
Some will respond that Google, Apple, Amazon, and many other firms commit the same level of personal data vacuuming that Facebook does, which is true. However, I actually have more faith that those companies will at least not weaponize their data against me. Few companies have seen the level of public distrust rise as high as Facebook (and frankly, the company’s recent fight with Apple over the latter wanting to make transparent how much data Facebook collects on you, is SO nota good look for Mark Z.).
Time and time again over the years, Facebook has shown that it cannot be trusted (see: the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the incitement of violence in Myanmar, to give just two relatively recent examples of egregious behaviour happening on the platform). Combine that lack of trust with its overweening ambitions, and you have a potentially serious problem.
I responded by voting with my feet and my wallet, deleting my Facebook and Oculus accounts, and vowing to never again purchase or participate in any Facebook/Oculus hardware and software, a decision which I explain here, and one which I continue to stand by in good conscience. I full well realize that I might be missing out, but I consider the price of admission to be too high (and frankly, too opaque). God knows how my personal data is being used, and Facebook’s track record frankly sucks.
I even went so far as to ask Facebook to delete all the data it had on me, but I also know that the Facebook social network probably has some sort of “shadow account” on me, based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family who are still on Facebook. I am going to assume that Facebook has indeed done what I have asked and removed my data from their social network. Frankly, there is no way for me to actually verify this, as consumers in Canada and the U.S. have zero rights over the data companies like Facebook collects about them, as was vividly brought to life by Dr. David Carroll, whose dogged search for answers to how his personal data was misused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a focal role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (which, by the way, I very strongly recommend you watch).
And need I remind you that the January 6th, 2021 insurrectionists in Washington, D.C. also used Facebook to help organize? Not to mention the misinformation, disinformation, and crazy conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and vaccines circulating on the platform (although this is a problem on other social media as well). The Facebook social network and its algorithms have become a toxic cesspool, and anything that touches it, or (in the case of Oculus) forcibly integrated with it, becomes tainted by association.
So no, a name change is not enough—not nearly enough.
UPDATE 1:45 p.m.: Of course, Twitter is all over the Facebook rebranding news with its trademark snark. Here’s just a sample of the responses in my feed today:
Three years ago, Sandy Parakilas, an earlier Facebook whistleblower, explained to me the power of the SEC, which regulates the financial markets, by telling me that in America, money will enable you to get away with most things. “But the one thing you can’t do,” he said, “is to fuck with our capitalism.”
The UN found Facebook helped facilitate a genocide in Myanmar. We know that it helped foment an insurrection at the US Capitol. And its own research says it is harming teenagers. (A 2019 Facebook presentation slide, just revealed, said: “We make body-image issues worse for one in three teenage girls.”)
That’s all fine, it turns out, but if this suit can prove it’s lied to investors, someone is going to jail. If I were a Facebook employee, I’d be browsing the whistleblower section of the SEC’s website, which grants immunity from prosecution, very, very carefully.
In other words, both the Delaware and D.C. lawsuits mean that Facebook is in serious, serious trouble—no matter what they call themselves.