Facebook has revealed a plan to hire 10,000 new workers within the EU in a bid to work on their new “metaverse” concept. This concept looks to incorporate virtual reality (VR) headsets into the workplace.
Facebook has been under heavy fire for the past few months. It has been either the perpetrator or victim of data leaks, disinformation and association with serious crimes. However, these problems have not tripped Facebook up, as they're seeking to expand massively with this new project. As hybrid and home working becomes the norm, Facebook is looking to ride the wave and potentially promote their own Oculus as a tool for professional workspaces. This would lead to people working from home and putting on their headsets to enter virtual meetings and workspaces.
At first glance, it's easy to think that Facebook is onto something here. Remote and hybrid working is undeniably a fixture of modern working life now, and the ability to work in a virtual office rather than a physical one definitely has a uniqueness to it. However, while a virtual meeting room seems like something you'd see in a film about the future, the lack of holograms and butler robots shows us that films rarely have an accurate idea of what the future will look like.
What Is Facebook's Plan?
If you're unsure on what a “metaverse” is, it's a virtual space where people can interact with each other in real time. The line is a bit blurry on what actually constitutes a metaverse, as you'd never call a message board or chatroom a metaverse, but what about online games like World of Warcraft or Animal Crossing? Despite this ambiguity surrounding the word, Facebook's new project lands itself firmly in the metaverse camp.
By using VR headsets (likely Facebook's own Oculus), as well as AR and other technology, businesses and organisations will be able to simulate a work environment that allows for virtual meetings and office spaces. In theory, this will allow businesses to cut down on office costs, hire employees that live further away, and accomplish more through the working day.
Facebook has only just announced this big plan, so the minutiae of the metaverse are still very up in the air. However, Facebook claims that this project has huge potential.
“The metaverse has the potential to help unlock access to new creative, social, and economic opportunities. And Europeans will be shaping it right from the start.” — Nick Clegg, VP for Global Affairs and Communications
This is a very long-term plan, as Facebook claims that even this initial hiring process will take 5 years, as they seek out “highly specialized engineers.” They then believe the project will take another 10 to 15 years.
So does this idea have any potential? It's not completely unfounded. Facebook has dabbled in this field before, with virtual meeting rooms and even a somewhat surreal virtual tour of a flooded South American neighborhood.
However, neither of these ideas really exploded, so the VR market still remains largely untapped for Facebook.
If you're wondering why Facebook are focused on European tech investment, the company has outlined a few different reasons.
The EU has a number of advantages that make it a great place for tech companies to invest — a large consumer market, first class universities and, crucially, top-quality talent.
Facebook point to their pre-existing workforce and investment in the EU as being “hugely important” and praise the high caliber of universities and engineers, as well as the EU's influence on “shaping the new rules of the internet”. Facebook claim that they share the values of European policymakers on issues including “free expression, privacy, transparency and the rights of individuals”.
Will VR Work as a Professional Tool?
The idea of using a virtual headset from home in order to attend meetings may appeal to employees and businesses alike, as it would save time and money for both parties. And this isn't just a perk for office working, as it can be easily used to tour places, view products, and meet people from across the globe.
You wouldn't be blamed for seeing this as an exciting prospect. Imagine everyone sitting at home with their headsets on, controlling their avatars as they do business – it definitely seems like something you'd see in a movie or a book about the future. However, how much water does this idea actually carry?
Functionally, what advantage does a virtual meeting room have over a simple video call? Everyone will be sitting down, talking when its their turn, and listening when it's not. It's arguably not worth the effort of putting on a headset to undergo a meeting with virtual avatars, when you can not put on a headset and see people's actual faces (through a screen, of course.)
There are undoubtedly various professions that can benefit from VR. Real estate agents can show houses virtually, ‘tourism' can be done without leaving your home, and product designers wouldn't have to physically create a prototype to see how it would work in a given environment. But would a board meeting really benefit from a bunch of avatars meeting in a virtual space rather than a group of people simply firing up a web-conferencing app? It's hard to imagine so.
The Future for Facebook
While creating a metaverse is a massive and fantastical ambition for Facebook as a business, its social media network remains largely unchanged for now, and it remains to be seen whether businesses will be willing to jump on board.
However, if the idea does progress, we may see it gain footing in a more casual social media context. As mentioned, Facebook owns the Oculus, a VR headset that they'll be integrating with this metaverse. The Oculus requires a Facebook login, meaning that it's already somewhat connected with social media. If Facebook were to one day start promoting virtual consumer events or a similar social metaverse, it would undoubtedly use the Oculus.
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