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Facebook was renamed Meta because of Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the metaverse. What has been up with that lately? Well, there are rumours that Zuckerberg is quietly but surely “laying off” the metaverse.
Only two weeks ago, the head of Meta posted that the company is creating a “top-level product group” focused on generative AI as well as building text and image based models, tools, and “experiences”. With this, Zuckerberg is taking a tour into the field where OpenAI has already carved a niche.
Meta Met A Roadblock
In 2022, Meta reported that its metaverse, AR, and VR building platform, ‘Reality Labs’ generated almost $2.2 billion in the full year. That makes it the biggest player in the metaverse. But even then, the segment generated a total operating loss of $13.7 billion for the company—the company is spending more than it is making. Moreover, the company expects a growth in operating losses in 2023, year-over-year.
Continuing in October of last year, the company’s shares dropped by 24%. Since then they have been struggling to reel back their losses, which was also because the ad revenue dropped due to macroeconomic conditions.
The result: Meta started its large-scale layoffs. In November, the company trimmed its workforce by 13%, slashing 11,000 jobs, for the first time in 18 years since the company was founded. This was followed by the company starting to rescind offer letters for a small number of candidates in January this year, citing “readjusting hiring priorities”.
“How To Reel in Money? Build ChatGPT”
The Microsoft backed AI-startup, OpenAI, is posing a threat to every other big-tech—its chatbot is now synonymous with AI. Google is now integrating almost all of their technologies and platforms with AI. Why would Meta lag behind?
By February, Meta started flattening its organisational structure and started focusing on coding, designing, and research. By the end of the month, Zuckerberg made his Facebook post about focusing on generative AI.
Yes, the same week Meta had unveiled LLaMA, their own large language model. The obvious next step could be a ChatGPT-like model. Interestingly, the company was actually one of the leaders of the chatbot world as well with ‘BlenderBot’, which only remains a faint memory now with the likes of ‘ChatGPT’ and ‘Google Bard’.
Meta has been leading the technology game ever since it started out as a social media company. By adopting technologies, acquiring companies like Instagram and Whatsapp, and earning ad revenue from them, Meta moved to something like Web3 with metaverse. But, now with the hype for Web3 fading away, it seems like a plausible way for the company to move towards the next step—AI. As we can see, the company hasn’t actually been behind in AI anyway.
For Now, It’s A “Betaverse”
Can we say that OpenAI’s generative AI boom was the reason that the Meta’s metaverse dream is sidelined? The likes of ChatGPT and DALL-E are eating up the space of metaverse. Arguably, the idea of metaverse is already there with games like GTA Online, Minecraft, or Roblox. Can Meta actually do better and, more importantly, how soon?
It is clear that the metaverse is increasingly becoming like a money sink for Meta. The idea of building it exclusively is clearly not boding well for them and Zuckerberg agrees that metaverse is a far-fetched idea and that pouring all the money into it and expecting profit is not ideal. Therefore, the step into generative AI might be where they expect the funds to pour in from.
Picture this: The metaverse is about as close to reality as a flying unicorn and it’s not exactly the type of unicorn you can ride to work. But, on the off chance that it does become a thing, maybe in a decade or so, who’s going to build it? This is where things get interesting.
Microsoft laid off its industrial metaverse team, with almost 100 employees. The OpenAI backer said that they “don’t trust the idea of metaverse anymore” as Meta, the leader, has taken a nuanced approach.
The internet was put together by a bunch of brainiacs and government-funded eggheads, so that we could all have a platform to share and create stuff. But now it seems like Meta wants to hog the metaverse for itself, kind of like a kid who doesn’t want to share their toys.