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Is the Metaverse a Bandwagon Worth Jumping On?
January 20, 2022 News


Written by: Muhammad Zulhusni, Journalist, AOPG.

When Facebook’s parent company changed its name to Meta in October 2021, it sparked the Internet and quickly became the most talked-about topic in social media and beyond. For Meta, however, they are now embarking on a new direction and there’s no turning back. As Mark Zuckerberg put it, “I think we’re basically moving from being Facebook first as a company to being metaverse first.”

But for all the buzz it’s creating, what is the metaverse? To find out, DTA reached out to Benjamin Joe, Meta’s VP of Southeast Asia and Emerging Markets, who started off by explaining that the metaverse is the next evolution in social technologies and the successor to the mobile internet.

Technology is something that has allowed us to effectively write, then talk and now see each other. According to him, the metaverse will be the next step – letting us feel like we are sharing a space together.

“Nothing beats being together. But when we can’t be together in person, the metaverse gets us even closer to feeling that in-person connection. Because it is immersive and engaging, it makes it easier to really feel like you are having a shared experience even when you can’t be together,” he added.

Although it won’t happen overnight, over time, Benjamin believes that the metaverse will unlock new opportunities for people and communities. Some examples:

  • Immersive and engaging experiences means more people will be able to choose to study and train in places that felt off-limits because of where they live or what they can afford.
  • And more people will be able to choose to turn their passions into careers because they won’t have to rely on access to expensive tools, vast workshops or precious materials in order to train, study or make digital art, games or experiences for people to enjoy.

The Rebranding of Facebook

When asked if Facebook’s rebranding was necessary, he stated that the name captures where their company is going and the future they want to help build – which is to help build the metaverse and allow people to connect, find communities, and grow businesses.

“The other reason is also because we wanted to address the consumer need for clarity as our company shared the same name as one of our apps,” he said. “Facebook started as a single product but now, nearly 20 years later, our company is more than just one brand or product. Meta brings together all of our apps and technologies under one new company brand.”

He goes on to state that they chose Meta because it may imply “beyond,” capturing their commitment to developing social technologies that go beyond what internet connectivity allows today – and signalling their willingness to help bring this vision to life.

Although it appears like Meta is changing its business culture, the company’s objective remains the same: To connect people together. Their apps and brands aren’t going anywhere. Whether it’s Facebook or Instagram, Benjamin guarantees that the company is still focused on people and that all of their products, including applications, now have a new mission: To help bring the metaverse to life.

The Benefits Meta Brings

As for Meta’s future plans, Benjamin stressed the need of being smart rather than fast as they progress towards the metaverse. For a start, one of the company’s core principles will be “don’t surprise people.” That is why they are having this discussion in the open, well before the release of all of these technologies.

He stated that building this will be more akin to how the Internet came to be than any single app’s introduction. They’ll collaborate with other companies, developers, experts, and policymakers at every stage.

“I’d like to share more about our Spark AR program as an example. Today, more than 700 million people use AR across Facebook’s apps and devices every month. Creators in the Asia Pacific and Latin America account for over 60% of Spark AR’s monthly active users. That’s why we are investing in programs to support Spark creators grow their skills, pursue new opportunities and establish themselves professionally,” as Benjamin explained the opportunities that technologies can bring to businesses/individuals.

They’ve recently seen the following work:

  • 100 Days to Beat Plastic Pollution campaign: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Mesh Minds, and 45 key opinion leaders and sustainability advocates collaborated on the first-of-its-kind AR campaign, which is now live in some parts of ASEAN, with the goal of educating and empowering everyday activists in Southeast Asia to combat plastic pollution.
  • Māori AR experience: Meta teamed with a group of Māori creatives and designers to create a ground-breaking new AR experience to virtually experience te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) in connection with APEC 2021. Ngā Atua Māori (‘The Māori Gods’) is a unique and interactive new approach to recounting the ancient Māori creation narrative and the origins of Mori culture.

As organisations accelerate their modern workforce, the way they operate their business is changing. Many individuals work from home these days, and more people are rethinking what it means to work in an office. However, if you don’t have the right communication tools, remote work can be challenging, according to Benjamin. The tools we currently have are sufficient for knowledge workers but do not enable spaces to be creative with each other in a highly collaborative way.

“That is why we launched Horizon Workrooms, designed to improve a team’s ability to collaborate, communicate, and connect remotely with a higher sense of presence. You can get together virtually anywhere to brainstorm, whiteboard an idea, work on a document, share updates with your team, socialise and more,” he said, as he discussed how Workrooms symbolises the foundational step toward the metaverse and what the future of work might look like.

How Meta Uses Their Users’ Data

This all sounds too good to be true – from the concept of the metaverse, the benefits that Meta can bring, the future does look bright. However, people are becoming more conscious of the importance of data privacy and security.

According to Benjamin, they are going to be guided by some core principles. First and foremost, they intend to minimise the amount of data they collect about people in the metaverse, as well as be transparent about the data they do have and how they utilise it.

“We should do that early as we build, rather than trying to retroactively fix things later down the line. And it can’t be done by us alone. It has to be a partnership with experts and policy makers,” he explained.

In September 2021, they announced a USD $50 million investment in global research and programme partners to ensure that items for the metaverse are manufactured properly, he noted. Benjamin also expressed that Meta will collaborate with professionals from government, industry, and academia to think through concerns and opportunities in the metaverse.

Despite growing user concerns about data privacy and security, Meta hopes that the metaverse will reach a billion people over the next decade, host hundreds of billions of dollars in digital commerce, and provide jobs for millions of creators and engineers.

Benjamin said that it is not about Meta building this – but how they partner to make this vision a reality. “Already there are incredible partnerships in research and experimentation in these emerging technologies happening in Singapore and Southeast Asia.  We are also home to some of the most creative communities,” he said. Some examples:

  • XR Programs and Research Fund: USD $50 million research fund is being invested in organisations throughout the world, including three in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea), to ensure that they are responsibly developing the next generation of the internet (the Metaverse).
  • Project Aria: Using glasses to capture real-world data that will aid in the creation of future AR products, and Singapore is a significant element of their study and one of the few areas in the world where they are taking data in public spaces.

“ASEAN and APAC are important regions to Meta, and we continue to listen to feedback and explore opportunities to pave the way for the future here, in these regions,” he concluded.