Before the wave of stories published on Oct. 25 revealed new details about the troubling ways Facebook Inc. runs its social networks, the company had been hoping to spend the week talking about its plans to expand beyond that business. A major theme at its annual Connect conference beginning on Oct. 28 will be the company’s ambitions for the so-called metaverse, a new digital space that it believes will supplant smartphone apps as the primary form of online interaction. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has said pursuing this path will transform Facebook, and has publicly set a goal of attracting 1 billion users to the metaverse by the end of the decade.
The metaverse has played a prominent role in science fiction for decades—the digital universes of the novels Snow Crash and Ready Player One, where characters live parallel digital lives to their physical existences, are metaverses. Video games such as Roblox and Fortnite are also similar to what Facebook has in mind. The idea is that smartphones are reaching their limitations in creating immersive computing experiences, and people will hunger to go further, opting to engage in three-dimensional digital interactions, for example, instead of doing video chats. “You can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet,” Zuckerberg told the tech news website the Verge last summer, “where instead of just viewing content, you are in it.” The person in charge is Andrew Bosworth, a longtime executive and close friend of Zuckerberg’s who will take over as chief technology officer in early 2022. “We want to give people a glimpse into that vision, into that future,” says Bosworth, 39, known within the company as Boz. He describes the conference as a “love letter to the future of the metaverse.”