Facebook
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies

The Facebook Meta rebrand may have a problem. Or two or three. Not to mention some conceptual issues with the Metaverse.

Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would be changing its name to Meta as part of a rebranding effort. Officially, Meta Platforms Inc.

An Arizona-based company that sells computers, laptops, tablets and tech software called “Meta PC” launched a little over a year ago. And this August, filed to trademark “Meta” in relation to any technological use. That could exclude Facebook from using the name. This was first reported by TMZ. The founders called Facebook’s announcement “a shock”.

Meta PC cease-and-desist

Meta PC’s trademark hasn’t yet been granted, these applications usually taking 1-2 years to process. However, co-founders Zack Shutt and Joe Darger told TMZ they won’t sell the name to Zuckerberg for less than $20 million. And they posted a public cease-and-desist on Facebook!

A federal trademark gives a company legal protection for its brand and helps to identify its goods and services, according to the Patent and Trademark Office. However, it doesn’t mean that a company can legally own a specific word or be able to prevent others from using it.

For example, if Facebook was granted a trademark for Meta, that wouldn’t mean the company would own the word – and it couldn’t prevent a company outside of its industry from using it. It’s unclear how a court would rule on whether MetaPC and Facebook are in the same wheelhouse.

Meta PC has been vocal about Facebook’s rebrand on its Twitter account, posting memes and other jokes in light of the name change. The company posted a video showing Schutt jokingly announcing that MetaPC is changing its name to “Facebook.”

There’s more.

A German-based health startup called “M-sense” is claiming Facebook is trying to steal their logo. The above is what’s known as a “striking similarity” between the logos, and could be the basis for additional litigation.

On social media accounts, M-sense stated that they are honored for inspiring Facebook. This is probably humor. They also made another reference to the social media company about how their logo were similar to the Meta logo. M-sense stated that Facebook can also take M-sense as an example in data security. Facebook is in hot water with the public and congress over data-security and privacy. And lack of moderation.

Things go even more sideways.

There’s a Chicago-based company called, you guessed it, Meta Company. In a long letter published on the company’s website, Meta Company Founder Nate Skulic alleged that Facebook lawyers had reached out to his company over a desire to buy its name, without initially disclosing whom exactly it was that they represented.

Skulic goes on to claim, “We refused their offer on multiple bases,” alleging that Facebook made a “low offer that wouldn’t cover” the name change costs. Beyond that, Skulic says the company wanted to know who was behind the proposal and what their intent was, and the fact that Facebook’s lawyers were being cagey about this infomation didn’t help matters.

M-Sense logo and Facebook/Meta

Beyond this, Meta Company has filed “legal actions” against Facebook over its rebrand. In addition to worries about a negative association between his company and Facebook, Skulic says they are delaying a product launch over the issue.

All this is not going over well with the public, which according to this survey, over 70% either disapprove or don’t care about the name change. So why did they make the move? Zuckerberg has formally announced that gaming and virtual reality, bundled up in the expansive and hard-to-define rubric of “the metaverse,” are the future of Facebook. The day after Facebook announced the name change, the company demonstrated how it will accomplish that goal: a deal to buy Within, the company co-founded by VR pioneer Chris Milk, best known for its Supernatural workout app.

In fact, Facebook — I mean Meta — has bought over a hundred companies in recent years. The company is also looking into building its own hardware so the don’t have to work with Apple, Google, et cetera. Some folks, including in Congress, think the answer may be to simply break-up Facebook.

FTC commissioner Rebecca Slaughter made it even clearer: “I think of serial acquisitions as a Pac-Man strategy,” she said when the report was released. “Each individual merger viewed independently may not seem to have significant impact, but the collective impact of hundreds of smaller acquisitions can lead to a monopolistic behavior.”

It’s All About the Metaverse

Facebook’s move to rename itself as Meta has as much to do with embracing the coming Metaverse as it does washing some of the stink off the company from its recent travails in consumer privacy and their apparent active promotion of hate and discord to generate conversation on their platform.

When we hear the word “Metaverse”, we imagine an immense, simultaneous, sustained virtual world like what we saw in Ready Player One, but to date no system even approaches it. The two preexisting examples that come closest are Linden Labs’ Second Life (which because of its dated underlying technology cannot support VR headsets) and the VR-capable, wildly popular VRChat.

Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment recreated in VRChat

Despite this well established and preexisting art, Meta has been trying to position itself to be the curators of the coming metaverse for some time now. The newly renamed Meta Quest 2 provides a low priced introduction to virtual reality, and right now it’s the fastest selling headset on the market. However, all Meta has to show for its vision of the Metaverse are pie-in-the-sky promotional trailers, big on concept, but a complete vacuum as far as substance goes.

In point of fact, Facebook has some serious competition to overcome. The closest thing to the Meta vision of the Metaverse has been in operation since 2014: VRChat. The social platform has been in operation since 2014, made it to the Steam marketplace in 2017, and became available for the Quest in 2019. It already features user-created avatars and environments, and uses Unity3D, the most popular game development platform in the world as the means of implementing them. Player models are already capable of supporting “audio lip sync, eye tracking and blinking, and complete range of motion, and users can interact with the service via VR headsets and more conventional desktop clients.

Player concurrency reached 40,000 in December of 2020, putting it within hailing distance of Linden Lab’s Second Life. So far the best thing Facebook has come up with is a crude VR meeting app called Horizon Workrooms. To say it’s ugly really doesn’t do it justice.

We haven’t seen graphics this good since 1991. No, that’s not a compliment.
Also notice that these avatars have butts, but no legs.

Everybody’s getting on the Metaverse bandwagon

Microsoft’s Vice President Jared Spataro described Microsoft’s Mesh earlier this month as “the platform of the Metaverse. We’re leveraging this experience and embedding Mesh right in Teams … and driving performance beyond what was previously possible.” They’re betting heavily on Augmented Reality — a computer-generated visual overlay to real world objects and environments — as being the medium for the Metaverse.

Epic Games announced its intention to develop a multiverse platform with a $1 billion round of funding, with $200 million of that coming from Sony Group Corporation.

Meta’s efforts are still in the formative stages as well, with no actual architecture yet on the table, but they have declared that their tool of choice is likely to be Unity3D, the same one that VRChat selected, and the same one that just literally bought Weta Digital, the company in New Zealand that did all the digital effects for all the Lord of the Rings movies.

NVidia seems to be the one to watch at the moment. They’re not waiting around for the others to catch up. Instead, they are in the process of releasing tons and tons of power tools based on AI and the extra computing power their graphics cards can provide, to do everything from sweeten your Zoom camera to building new avatars entirely from scratch. Their new asset management system Omniverse already solves a lot of the puzzles awaiting the developers of new metaverse-capable applications, by incorporating Pixar’s Universal Scene Description protocol. This allows artists working in a variety of tools to all work together on the same scene, regardless of what tool was used to make what, and do it in near real time. No attempt to build the Metaverse would work without being able to do this, so NVidia is positioned to be at the center of everything.

Coming up with something reasonably stable that can serve as a platform for the metaverse isn’t easy. Linden Lab, for example, assumed that since people mostly teleport to get around in Second Life, that nobody would miss the mass concurrency of the experience and would instead happily load standalone scenes for their troubled VR product Sansar. After a few years of plugging the heck out of Sansar, though, three things became very clear:

  • Rolling their own VR engine was a mistake. Everything worked great as long as you didn’t move your head. At all. The head tracking in Sansar was so poor compared to the standard VR code libraries that the product was nearly unusable.
  • Nobody wanted to wait ten minutes to download a new scene, and many of the pocket universes Sansar features require that much of a wait.
  • Not supporting a single, persistance world was a product killer. They assumed that because people teleported everywhere, that being able to view the world as one contiguous experience was not important to most players, but there is more to player experience than just what one sees. Sansar users found it so isolating that it just wasn’t fun to use.

VRChat, while offering cruder graphics over all, has that vital dynamic that Sansar never did: people. The interactions in VRChat are fluid, dynamic, fast loading, and most importantly, accessible to everyone whether they have a VR headset or not. The visual quality, though, has been a source of constant attention. The graphics are smooth, angular, and mostly lacking in detail.

In the meantime, Meta and Microsoft are doodling around with VR meeting rooms, because going to meetings is the only thing their corporate task masters really understand. They’re potentially so out of touch with what people actually want that neither of them is likely to seize the metaverse by the nape of the neck and rule it unilaterally.

While companies like Linden Lab and VRChat have had boots on the ground in the metaverse arena for years, though, these bigger companies are going to be pushing huge amounts of cash at the problem. There will be miscalculations. There will be missteps. The Metaverse, however, is inevitable.

The Metaverse isn’t here yet. It won’t be here next year either, just more VR apps. When the different companies start working out interoperability between their various platforms, that’s when things will start to get interesting, but don’t look for any of that in the near future.

One thing’s for certain: the metaverse never looked as good as it does right now.

-30-

David Raiklen
David Raiklen

David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.

%d bloggers like this: