He has staked his company on it. He has staked his legacy on it. But will Mark Zuckerburg’s bold gamble to pivot the focus of Facebook, now Meta, pay off? Personally, I do not think so.
Meta is bleeding badly. The latest figures show Reality Labs, the division building the metaverse, lost 3.16 billion GBP between July and September, and investors are starting to grumble. Zuckerburg has already been forced to lay off 11,000 people, too. So why has the metaverse not been as successful as he expected?
When you look at every major tech breakthrough, from the creation of social media networks to the birth of the internet, they have two things in common. They provide something that people really want, and they come at a moment in time where people are ready to make the transition, creating value and utility. These two factors are yet to come into play with the creation of the metaverse.
A window of opportunity
Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic did create demand for an ability to interact remotely, this is not something we have seen widely adopted post-pandemic. Workers are choosing to go back to the office, at least on a flexible basis, and human contact was elevated in value rather than diminished.
I do not see that window of opportunity that is needed. Let us not forget that even the mobile phone had to fail a few times before it got its moment. When the smartphone came in, it had everything we needed on one device and everyone from nine to ninety years old was ready for it. It had one overarching advantage; transgenerational appeal.
The same cannot be said for Meta. It may appeal to a younger generation, whereby the idea of an augmented reality, living another life, a life you prefer may well be intriguing. It can be likened to social media 2.0, you can portray the best version of your life at all times. Rather than on platforms such as Instagram where you can only present a favourable side through photos – Meta will allow you to do that more permanently.
However, this appeal is unlikely to transfer to an older generation. Older generations may now love being able to swipe through their photos on an iPhone, but I find it very unlikely that they will be willing to plug themselves in to a VR headset for hours at a time.
Real world application
The other key factor influencing Meta’s success may sound obvious, but is incredibly applicable here, and that is having utility. Meta is a huge bet, revisioning the way we live our lives, but without any meaningful application. Zuckerburg may argue that it blends work and entertainment, but I would say this is not something people are overly keen on post-pandemic, having undergone restrictions of working and living in a largely digital realm. Besides, there is already an abundance of entertainment, it is not a utility.
I believe there are many other industries that will serve greater utility, particularly robotics and drone services as examples. With robotics, the advancement in the last 30 years has been immense and we area already seeing their value in settings such as care homes, helping to tend to the elderly. Robotics has advanced so that robots are now capable of listening and responding to people with dementia, which offers both value and utility. In the next five years, we will see robotics continuing to provide clear utility and value, through advancements enabling them to do tasks that others do not want to, or are unable to do, like picking up litter.
The same can be said for drone services. As the latest data and trends indicate our shopping continues to become more online focused, it is likely we are going to see further developments in the drone delivery space. This is not all though. One of my businesses, Autonomous Flight, is at the vanguard of eVTOL (Electrical Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft. I strongly believe that as our population swells, and our roads continue to congest, the lower height airspace is going to be utilised for those eVTOL aircraft allowing passengers to traverse cities in a fraction of the time than on the roads.
Both of those industries seem to me to have far more utility than the Metaverse does. I simply do not see what societal demand or issue it solves, and the populace as a whole do not seem either ready for, or suited to, its offerings. When we could stream, the VHS went out. The iPod brought us the ability to hold many multiples of songs that the Walkman gave us. The metaverse needs a niche, and it needs demand and I simply do not see this massive gamble paying off without those two factors.