Kardashian was bemoaning Instagram’s new emphasis on video. Gone are the innocent days when users could post pictures of cakes, pets or selfies, and influencers like Kardashian spent millions crafting one single dramatic image. Users are now badgered to perform in short home-made videos; photos are now a “legacy format”, according to company executives. This is a response to the Chinese-owned video site TikTok, and Meta has reacted not by creating a new video product, but by turning an existing product into something completely different.
This is a trick you can do with software – the equivalent of turning an articulated lorry into a cruise boat overnight. But it’s remarkable that Meta has so little faith in its own abilities to invent a new social media brand of its own, even with billions of users. In response to a competitive threat, it redesigns a key product.
These poor choices threaten the fundamental audience-gathering machinery far more than the privacy activists do. But more damaging still is Zuckerberg’s long term obsession with the “metaverse”, the 3D world where he believes people will spend their time engaging, in crude cartoon digital costumes.
Zuckerberg has so much faith in this bizarre vision, he changed the company name to Meta. But consider this. Eight years ago, Facebook acquired a leading virtual reality headset maker, Oculus, and has since turned it into the leading consumer virtual reality (VR) product today.
VR is wonderful fun for games, and for shared experiences for families to enjoy. So the natural strategy for Meta would be to acquire games studios and great creative talent to compliment its technical lead in what is really gaming hardware. Microsoft is spending $69bn on one studio, Activision Blizzard, to bolster its gaming Xbox service.
But Meta doesn’t really see 3D computing this way, as a games experience. It wants to bludgeon 3D into everyday life, insisting that we’ll be in VR Zoom meetings, or pottering around buying crypto currencies or NFTs instead. It’s a quite lunatic crusade, and last week Meta quietly increased price of a Quest 2 headset by $100, making it even harder to play games on Meta hardware.
Silicon Valley companies are structured to insulate their eccentric founders from shareholders. But the arrangement also insulates the founders from reality. For the first time it’s possible to imagine a much more prosperous Meta without the very odd man who started it, Mark Zuckerberg.
Andrew Orlowski is not on Facebook or Instagram, but tweets at @AndrewOrlowski