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The company formerly known as Facebook is staking its future on the "metaverse," said Lauren Goode at Wired. In a monumental pivot, the world's biggest social network announced last week it was rebranding itself as "Meta," a nod to what more and more tech companies claim will be "the successor to the mobile internet." In a presentation that was supposed to illustrate this metaverse, CEO Mark Zuckerberg "moved in and out of spaceships and forest scenes" and even "hydrofoiled alongside a world-class surfer" in virtual reality. Why is Zuckerberg doing this? asked Kevin Roose at The New York Times. It could be just a way to distract from Facebook's recent scandals. But there's a case to be made that this pivot is necessary to save his company. Zuckerberg's flagship product is "rapidly losing the attention of teenagers and twentysomethings." If the metaverse "encourages young people to strap on Oculus headsets instead of watching TikTok videos," it could solve a lot of Facebook's problems.
Good luck with that, said Ethan Zuckerman at The Atlantic. This future has been "imagined a thousand times before, and usually better." Like every other metaverse idea, Zuckerberg's version apes Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction classic Snow Crash, while forgetting that Snow Crash was set in a dystopia. Zuckerberg is reaching for this because he is out of ideas. He knows he needs to fix Facebook, but the problems he sees aren't the ones the rest of us do. Zuckerberg is "not humbled by the problem of Russian disinformation, or the spread of anti-vax misinformation, or the challenge of how Instagram affects teen body image. No, he's humbled by how hard it is to fight against Apple and Google."
It's notable that in Zuckerberg's video introducing Meta, said David Pierce at Protocol. Whatever you think of the metaverse, Zuckerberg is registering the signals that Facebook's days at the center of the digital universe "may be numbered" and is trying to stay ahead. Whether Facebook calls itself Meta or not, customers and partners won't simply forget that "its crisis is ongoing," said Steven Levy at Wired. Everyone sees the "thorny issues" that Zuckerberg either "skated over or ignored." Why would anybody "buy into this next great adventure if it's pushed by a company they can't trust"?
That's why Facebook desperately needs a new leader, said Kara Swisher at The New York Times, not just a new name. Zuckerberg has become "the personification of the problem." It will struggle with leaks and public trust for as long as he is at the helm. For now, though, Facebook seems to rest in Zuckerberg's hands more than ever, said Ben Thompson at Stratechery. The obvious analogy to its renaming is Google's 2015 reorganization into Alphabet. But "Alphabet" didn't mean anything, "and that was the point." On the other hand, "Meta" expresses where Zuckerberg thinks the company is headed. Whether it gets there depends on whether Zuckerberg can "accomplish more than any mere manager" and remake himself as a visionary in the Steve Jobs mold.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.