- Facebook will invest $50 million to help develop the so-called metaverse more responsibly, per a company blog post on Sept. 27. The social giant's announcement also looks to define the vague term "metaverse" as a cross-device digital world where people can explore and communicate with others they're not physically with.
- As Facebook turns its focus to researching and building the metaverse, which it calls the "next computing platform," the social giant plans to work with a number of partners, including policymakers; researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Howard University; industry stakeholders; and organizations like Women in Immersive Tech, Africa No Filter, Electric South and the Organization of American States.
- The new XR Programs and Research Fund will invest the money globally over two years to ensure metaverse tech is built with inclusivity, privacy, safety and economic opportunity in mind, per the announcement.
Before this week, Facebook's most recent metaverse endeavor was a platform called Horizon Workrooms, a beta app that lets Oculus users host virtual reality (VR) meetings with colleagues. Now, it appears the social networking behemoth is taking a slightly different tack toward building the metaverse with a focus on research and scale, while painting itself as a responsible technology partner.
The news follows a slew of negative events surrounding Facebook's suite of social platforms. The company on Sept. 27 announced it was pausing a kid-focused Instagram after a report by The Wall Street Journal claimed Facebook knew Instagram was bad for teenage girls. The social media giant also has said it's working to be more transparent about what posts its algorithms bury from users' News Feeds. Despite these and other efforts, Facebook continues to get caught up in controversy: It apologized to researchers earlier in September after providing inaccurate data, and its oversight board recently requested more information about how the platform moderates its celebrity users differently.
While Facebook is pitching the new fund announced this week as metaverse-focused, it appears to center on the mixed reality realm more broadly. The company already invests significant research in the AR/VR space, including funding research into the social impact of AR wearables and soliciting "trustworthy" VR hardware proposals, suggesting the company has the experience and global infrastructure to help prop up the "next computing platform." However, $50 million is a modest amount for a company as large as Facebook and doesn't seem to match the importance it already places on AR/VR or the metaverse's potential future impact.
Brands like Diageo's Crown Royal, Coca-Cola and Hyundai have started to dabble in the nascent metaverse space to connect with consumers in a splashy digital manner. Toying with virtual spaces or auctioning off digital merchandise — like nonfungible tokens (NFTs) — are the most popular manners in which brands have explored the metaverse so far.
Still, mainstream familiarity with the buzzy term remains low. Just 38% of surveyed global consumers are familiar with the metaverse, per Wunderman Thompson Intelligence research. The report also found that two-thirds of respondents prefer to engage brands digitally, suggesting a strong appetite for activations that blur the line between digital and physical spaces.