This interview was conducted on Tuesday, two days before the Facebook Connect keynote where Zuckerberg unveiled his vision for the metaverse, and announced his company’s new name: Meta. There were no limitations on the interview; it was my choice to focus on the company’s new vision and not the current controversies about Facebook.
This interview is also available as a podcast; to listen register for a free Stratechery account and add your podcast feed to your preferred podcast player.
On to the interview:
So I just watched your presentation. I did get a view of it before you showed the world, but I don’t know the name so the name is not going to come up in this conversation, it is definitely being kept close to the vest. Who is the target for this presentation? Given that you’re painting a picture of something that is several years in the future, I could definitely see critics saying it’s just a bunch of vaporware. I get your point is you said you’re spending all of this money to build something, you want to show what it is you’re building, but who is it you want to show it to? Is it employees, is it recruits, is it investors, is it developers? I suspect you’re going to say the last one, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge number of opportunities outside of games quite yet for this sort of vision that you painted, which is many years down the road.
Mark Zuckerberg: This film was meant to be a description of the vision of what we’re doing. I tried to be pretty clear up front that this was not a traditional corporate keynote in the sense of “Okay, we’re just going to tick through this year’s product announcements” or anything like that. It was meant to be a more expansive view of what we’re hoping to build over the next, I don’t know, call it ten years, and help build there.
But I think that there’s a lot of ambiguity around what the metaverse means. I think people say different things and it means different things to different people so I thought it would just be useful to put our stake in the ground on what we thought some of the most important use cases are going to be, but also just philosophically what some of the principles are that are most important around building it. What needs to be interoperable, what some of the foundational components are, what the business model should be, the different ways of looking at that. What a bunch of the foundational pieces of technology that need to come together are. We tried to put this piece together, this film together to basically outline all of that.
You talked about things like interoperability and the importance of openness and you referenced your experience being an app on someone else’s platform and how that influenced your thinking. But there is a tension here where to deliver on a metaverse vision, particularly when you talk about things like being able to carry, say purchases, across different experiences, where it actually may be easier if there is one company providing the totality of the fabric, and that does seem to be this vision where Facebook is the water in which you swim when you’re in the metaverse, not Facebook, but whatever the new name, the new idea for this metaverse is, and then other people can plug into it. Is that a good characterization of the way you’re thinking about it? Or do you see this really being a peer-to-peer thing, where there are other metaverses and those are also interoperable? What’s your vision on how that plays out?
MZ: I think it’s probably more peer-to-peer, and I think the vocabulary on this matters a little bit. We don’t think about this as if different companies are going to build different metaverses. We think about it in terminology like the Mobile Internet. You wouldn’t say that Facebook or Google are building their own Internet and I don’t think in the future it will make sense to say that we are building our own metaverse either. I think we’re each building different infrastructure and components that go towards hopefully helping to build this out overall and I think that those pieces will need to work together in some ways.
We’re trying to help build a bunch of the fundamental technology and platforms that will go towards enabling this. There’s a bunch on the hardware side — there’s the VR goggles, there’s the AR glasses, the input EMG [electromyography] systems, things like that. Then there’s platforms around commerce and creators and of course, social platforms, but there will be different other companies that are building each of those things as well that will compete but also hopefully have some set of open standards where things can be interoperable.
I think the most important piece here is that the virtual goods and digital economy that’s going to get built out, that that can be interoperable. It’s not just about you build an app or an experience that can work across our headset or someone else’s, I think it’s really important that basically if you have your avatar and your digital clothes and your digital tools and the experiences around that — I think being able to take that to other experiences that other people build, whether it’s on a platform that we’re building or not, is going to be really foundational and will unlock a lot of value if that’s a thing that we can do.
I’ve talked a bunch about how I think that we should design our computing platforms around people rather than apps and I guess that’s sort of what I’m talking about. On phones today, the foundational element is an app, right? That’s the organizing principle for kind of your phone and how you navigate it. But I would hope that in the future, the organizing principle will be you, your identity, your stuff, your digital goods, your connections, and then you’ll be able to pretty seamlessly go between different experiences and different devices on that. I think that building that in upfront is going to be pretty important to maximizing the creative economy around this and making it so that somebody who’s building one of these digital goods or experiences can make it as valuable as possible because it just works across a lot of different things.
This idea of organizing around people instead of apps is not a new one that we’ve heard from you in particular. I think this was something that you articulated a lot. When I first started Stratechery, I actually spent a lot of time being fairly critical of Facebook, particularly efforts around building your own phone and your own launcher and things on those lines, in part because I disagreed with this it ought to be organized around people thinking. My view was that the app organization made sense because you wanted your phone to do a whole host of jobs, not all of which were necessarily social and that Facebook was being a little solipsistic and focusing on this particular point of view.
Do you think I was wrong? Do you still hold by your view that phones ought to have gone a different way? Or do you think maybe, “Well, actually the paradigm ended up making sense, but for this next paradigm, it really should be about people this time”? Or should have phones developed differently, in your view, had Facebook had the underlying platform instead of Apple, would we think about the mobile Internet very differently than we do now?
MZ: I think it would have been a little bit different, but I do think that there’s a big opportunity for it to be quite different going forward, because I think the metaverse is this embodied Internet, where instead of looking at the Internet, you’re in it. So organizing it around your personal experience and your identity in that I think just makes a lot more sense in terms of making it so that you can travel between different experiences and bring your stuff.
There’s the vision way of looking at this, which is the high level abstract version, and then there’s just a lot of specific trade-offs that you make along the way when you’re building out these platforms. One of them that we talked about a little bit in the film is what we’re doing around building Project Cambria, which is the next VR headset that we’re going to release where one of the big new features is around eye-tracking and face-tracking. The reason why we’re putting those in is because we’re really optimizing for social presence, which I think is going to be important across a lot of use cases that we talked about in the film, not just the ones that you would think about as social where you’re hanging out with someone. But eye tracking, it’s really important for, among other things, being able to make eye contact in VR and AR. Face tracking is valuable so that way, you can smile physically and your avatar can smile and it creates a much richer sense of presence. The reality is, is that there’s a real trade-off about including those sensors. In addition to the financial cost of including them, it also makes the device a little bit bigger, maybe it makes it a little thicker. So if you were trying to design the package with the goal of having it be as thin as possible, which other companies might do, then maybe you’d trade that off.
I think that there’s a real intellectual battle, if you will, about what will be the default package of things that is in our VR experience or our AR experience. We’re trying to propose our set of ideas for how we think that’ll go. Of course, if that ends up not being useful to people, then it’ll go in a different direction, but I think that there’s a good chance that it will be, and I think that that will basically just influence, hopefully, the direction that this whole next platform evolves in, not just for the devices that we’re building, but for the ones that other companies build as well.
These decisions about how much the platform is designed around human connection — it’s not just like one thing, right? There are always different decisions in each iteration of the hardware and the software that we’re going to do that I think are going to add up to a picture that could end up looking pretty different over time.
In a similar vein, I’ve always been, I think like a lot of people, more bullish about AR versus VR because like a phone, it’s something that accompanies you in the real world, as opposed to being immersive and you go somewhere else. That always seemed like a valuable and important part of technology, but sort of a different road.
I do have to say, the last couple of years, particularly the COVID era, has changed my perspective a little bit as there does seem to be more and more of sort of a bifurcation between your online reality and your offline reality. It’s something I wrote about in the context of work, where people call it working from home, but I actually think that’s a misnomer: it’s actually working online, and you can work online from anywhere but when you go online, you’re in a different place cognitively speaking than you are when you’re at home or playing with your kids, or you’re seeing your friends or whatever it might be.
As I’m thinking through this, if there is this sort of bifurcation, is it possible that VR actually does end up becoming more important and more meaningful in this future then AR, where AR is a way to keep in touch with the virtual world when you’re out and about, but actually you’re going to want to spend more and more time actually fully immersed and withdrawn from the real world because they really are two different places?
MZ: I think that it all kind of fits together as one platform, but I’ve been more optimistic about virtual reality than most other people have. I think in the tech industry, there’s been this view that VR is sort of an entrée to this, but really augmented reality is going to be the big thing. I’ve always been a little more balanced on that, where I think augmented reality will be very important so I certainly wouldn’t discount that.
But if you think about the analogies to our current screens, augmented reality glasses are probably most like your smartphone. It’s a mobile product, you take it with you where you go places, and I think VR is somewhere in between your computer that you sit down for a session and you’re doing it, or it’s even more immersive like your screen and your TV. I think it’s easy for a lot of people, especially in the tech industry, to lose sight of the fact that I think most Americans spend almost as much time on their TV as they spend on their phone. And then, of course, if you added the computer in then it would probably be at least half the time.
I do think you’re potentially right, that I think virtual reality is going to be very important, but I also don’t think that they’re completely separate. Part of what we tried to outline in the film are experiences where you have people who are in augmented reality interacting with people who are in virtual reality, and then also having those people interact with people who are in these 3D spaces on their phones or on their computers, because I just think that this is going to need to be something that spans all these different devices, and I’m pretty optimistic about that too.
What’s the limiting factor in this vision? Obviously, you do a lot of pitching in this presentation about bringing developers on. As I noted before, a lot of the stuff still needs to be built, foundational stuff, and so some of the things like marketplaces and selling avatars and all that sort of stuff, none of that is really available yet. Is it just getting that ready and the developers will come and users will follow? Or is it getting users on board and convinced of this vision?
I think the big advantage that mobile had is the use case of carrying a phone with you was already present, and so the smartphone was just replacing a mobile phone, and it made the go-to-market much easier, whereas this feels like it’s something fundamentally new where we have to teach people new ways to work and operate and convince them why the old way is wrong. Or do you think there’s just going to be a way to seamlessly transition from where we are to where we want to go? Basically, I can buy your vision of the mountain where we’re trying to get to, and we’re on this hill here, but how do you get from here to there?
MZ: Yeah, that’s what we tried to lay out in the film. And you’re right, I think it’s not just one challenge. I think that there’s aspects of the technology that need to get built that just don’t exist today. We just can’t build yet the augmented reality glasses in the form factor that we want, and that’s still at least a few years away, that’s just to get to the starting line. Usually, it’s not the v1 product that’s the blockbuster. Even with something like the iPhone, it wasn’t really until v2 or v3 that it really took off in a major way. Certainly, we’ve seen that with Quest 2, where the original Quest I think had got the form factor right, but then it was Quest 2 that really took off in a major way. There are technological aspects of this and then there are use case aspects.
You asked earlier, who is the film for? I don’t know that it was specifically for any one of those audiences. I think it’s just to put our stake intellectually and philosophically around what we’re trying to build out there, and I think that there are elements of it for all of the audiences that you said. Partially it’s to put our stake in the ground around how we think this stuff should work for developers, some of it is certainly for employees or recruits. I want to establish our company as, if you want to work on this stuff, I think we’re going to be the most exciting place to go do that. For partners, I think I want them to know where we’re going so that way we can make the partnerships that we need to, and so on.
For consumers too, I think understanding the use cases is a really important piece. Gaming I think makes a lot of sense to people, people are used to buying an Xbox or a PlayStation, and I think quickly Quest is reaching the scales where I think in the not so far off future it’ll be at least as big as those platforms if we keep doing well. But then I think you’re getting new use cases like fitness that are really exciting to people. You have a Peloton bike I think in the back there — the vision of basically you have this $300 device and it’s now your workout device and you can take it with you to places, I think is going to increasingly resonate more as these different apps can add more different activities like boxing and dancing and different types of cardio or adding tracked weights so you can do resistance training. I think that that’s just going to be a completely new use case.
Then you can just go through these one by one. I think there’s a bunch of work things. There’s a bunch around training and education, certainly a bunch around commerce, and I think you’ll just layer those in over time. But you’re right, I do think that this is more different of a thing than smartphones were to phones before it. By the end of this decade or even by the middle of the decade, I would guess that we’re going to reach a point where our VR devices will start to be clearly better for almost every use case than our laptops and computers are. So I think at that point, that replacement will start to really make a lot more sense even just for day-to-day productivity. But yeah, I think it’ll be one use case at a time for a lot of people.
I will admit, I’ve been very impressed with Workrooms. I’ve actually been using it with my team that’s been working on Passport for meetings once a week, and your focus on presence I think — it’s one of those things you talk about it a lot but until you actually experience it, it’s hard to articulate why it is valuable.
It’s very interesting, you talk about there’s this distinction between people versus apps that we talked about. Is there a similar distinction between presence versus asynchronous communication? Because I think that’s one of the things people like about messaging, for example, is you don’t necessarily have to be right on top of it, it can be an ongoing conversation over days and weeks and months. Whereas the good thing about presence is it is quite tangible, I have to say, I’m very impressed by it, on the other hand, you do have to sit down, you have to put on the headset, you have to log in. There’s a very deliberate part of that, that feels very different than where we’ve been.
MZ: Yeah. I mean, I think you’ll get both sides of this. I think that there’s a clear arc of technology where — when I got started with Facebook, most of the content online was text, and that was for a bunch of technological reasons. And then we got phones that had cameras and the Internet became a lot more visual, and then the Internet connections got a lot better to the point where now the primary way that we share experiences is video. But at each step along the way, it’s not like text went away. You’re going to have a lot of that, but I do think that now what we’re enabling is a new level of immersion and experience.
I certainly don’t think you’re going to put on a VR headset in order to have a quick message thread. Although I do think that for augmented reality, for example, one of the killer use cases is basically going to be you’re going to have glasses and you’re going to have something like EMG on your wrist and you’re going to be able to have a message thread going on when you’re in the middle of a meeting or doing something else and no one else is even going to notice. Think about what we’ve had over the last couple of years during the pandemic where everyone’s been on Zoom, and one of the things that I’ve found very productive is you can have side channel conversations or chat threads going while you’re having the main meeting. I actually think that would be a pretty useful thing to be able to have in real life too where basically you’re having a physical conversation or you’re coming together, but you can also receive incoming messages without having to take out your phone or look at your watch and even respond quickly in a way that’s discreet and private. So I think that there are going to be those use cases. I think that there are going to be easier ways to get in and out of experiences where you’re experiencing that deep sense of presence.
But again going back to one of your opening points today, you were like, “Why did you put together this video?” I think a big part of it is that it has been very hard to explain some of these concepts without people actually experiencing them. You talk about presence in Workrooms, and I think no matter how many times I explain or try to express how profound of a sensation this feeling of presence is, it’s not really until people get into the experience that they actually have a sense of it. And I thought that putting together this film would start to elucidate some of the use cases in a useful way for people. But I think you’re probably right that it’s not until people really experience what that real augmented reality experience is or get a VR headset that fits the use cases that they need that a lot of these things are really going to come to life. I think it’s just going to keep growing because these are very useful use cases to people.
Why now for the vision? There is an aspect of Facebook’s seems very hamstrung as far as acquisitions go, is there really any other alternative for Facebook’s cash flow other than returning it to investors than this all-in bet on the metaverse? I guess, in other words, is Facebook building the metaverse because it is best positioned to build something that is inevitable, or because Facebook needs the metaverse to exist so that it has further growth opportunities that are independent of Apple?
To your credit, you did buy Oculus way back in 2014, so this obviously isn’t a new vision. But to right now reorganize the company, to paint out this vision, to start announcing how much you’re investing and to what degree, obviously there’s the news cycles going on, why now? Why in October 2021 is this the time to paint this vision and be super public and upfront about it?
MZ: Well, I think there’s a few things. There’s all the business reasons and product reasons. I think that this is going to unlock a lot of the product experiences that I’ve wanted to build since even before I started Facebook. From a business perspective, I think that this is going to unlock a massive amount of digital commerce, and strategically I think we’ll have hopefully an opportunity to shape the development of the next platform in order to make it more amenable to these ways that I think people will naturally want to interact.
One of the things that I’ve found in building the company so far is that you can’t reduce everything to a business case upfront. I think a lot of times the biggest opportunity is you kind of just need to care about them and think that something is going to be awesome and have some conviction and build it. One of the things that I’ve been surprised about a number of times in my career is when something that seemed really obvious to me and that I expected clearly someone else is going to go build this thing, that they just don’t. I think a lot of times things that seem like they’re obvious that they should be invested in by someone, it just doesn’t happen.
I care about this existing, not just virtual and augmented reality existing, but it getting built out in a way that really advances the state of human connection and enables people to be able to interact in a different way. That’s sort of what I’ve dedicated my life’s work to. I’m not sure, I don’t know that if we weren’t investing so much in this, that would happen or that it would happen as quickly, or that it would happen in the same way. I think that we are going to kind shift the direction of that.
Let’s come back to the timing because I think this is actually a really, really interesting point. You said something in the introduction to the video, to the effect of “I believe we’re put on earth to create”. Technology can make our lives better and the future won’t be built on its own. And there is this very “We have to go and seize the day” point of view to it that I agree with.
It does though seem to be somewhat in conflict with the narrative though, that many of Facebook’s challenges that you’re obviously dealing with in the real world right now are Internet challenges, right? Where when you get all of humanity online, you’re going to have these bad outcomes because humanity does a lot of bad things, and that suggests that these would exist even if Facebook didn’t exist.
How do you balance this idea — how would the world be different today if Facebook had never existed? And to your point that were driving at, how would the metaverse be different if Facebook doesn’t try and build it in your vision? Where’s the balance there?
MZ: I think it’s hard to answer the counterfactuals on some of these because I’m not sure who else would’ve filled whatever gaps or what time period, what would’ve happened. I can tell you one of the biggest lessons that I’ve taken away from the last five years is I do think that we’ve built up a lot of programs around basically fighting against harmful content in different ways, really strengthening our privacy program. Our programs around elections that I do think in retrospect it would’ve been better if I had invested in those a lot earlier in the company.
To some degree when I was getting started in my dorm room, we obviously couldn’t have had 10,000 people or 40,000 people doing content moderation then and the AI capacity at that point just didn’t exist to go proactively find a lot of harmful content. At some point along the way, it started to become possible to do more of that as we became a bigger business, and I do think taking some of those lessons and building it in up front, as which I care a lot about doing with our metaverse work, like building in privacy and safety from day one as well as interoperability, open standards, I think certain integrations with decentralized apps in the crypto community and supporting some of those projects, I think that’s going to be really important stuff to build in from day one.
Ogden Morrow says in Ready Player One, speaking of OASIS [the virtual world], which famously Oculus had everybody read Ready Player One, I’m not sure if that’s still the case for workers now, but he said that one of the reasons he was a little skeptical of what they had built was “It had become a self-imposed prison for humanity, a pleasant place for the world to hide from its problems while human civilization slowly collapses primarily due to neglect.” And it’s a very insightful passage in that the harm here is not OASIS per se, it’s that OASIS was so awesome that people no longer felt the need to invest and take the time to deal with the real world.
I think that’s one of the reasons why we talk about why do entrepreneurial innovative people want to work in tech? Well, because you can actually work in the virtual world. You don’t have to deal with all the real world regulations and gunk and political problems and all those sorts of things, and it’s very attractive because you can just build. But is that an affirmative vision? Is there a worry that at the end of the day we do still have to eat? We do still have to get energy, that we lose sight of the real world, or is this a thing where we’ll look at all the people that have terrible existences right now and if they can enter a metaverse and they can learn and they can experience new things, it’s actually a net uplifting of humanity? Where do you think about these bigger picture impacts of this vision?
MZ: So, a couple of thoughts. One is that I think that the phrase “the real world” is interesting. I think that there’s a physical world and there’s a digital world, and increasingly those are sort of being overlaid and coming together, but I would argue that increasingly the real world is the combination of the digital world and the physical world and that the real world is not just the physical world. That, I think, is an interesting kind of frame to think about this stuff going forward.
My grounding on a lot of this stuff philosophically is that human connection and relationships are one of the most important things in our lives. I kind of think that our society systematically undervalues that. I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up and my parents kind of told me, “Okay, go do your homework and then you can play with your friends.” I actually think in retrospect, those friendships were probably more important than the homework, and I think that that’s pervasive to our society, and I think is also one of the reasons why people to some degree think that social apps are sort of frivolous, and I think in a lot of ways, undervalue a lot of the day to day value that gets created there and why it’s so important. Then there’s that disconnect between some of the broader narrative and then how much billions of people around the world care about using this stuff. So, that’s all important too.
The third thing that I’d say is, I think it’s really important that the metaverse works for people, not just as consumers, but as creators, and that people economically have a stake in it as well. This is one of the lessons that I’ve taken away from the last five years of some of the issues that we’ve struggled with as well, is that it’s not enough to just build a product that people love. There needs to be an ecosystem that’s built around it where a large number of people have a stake in the success of that thing, and are benefiting not just as consumers, but also economically as it grows in order for it to be a sustainable enterprise in the world at the scale that we’re talking about. For Facebook and Instagram, I think a lot of that has been, there have been creators on the platform, there are advertisers who are part of that, but I think for the metaverse, the creator economy is just going to have to be a very fundamental thing to it. My hope for this is that it’s not just primarily a consumption oriented experience, like what I think the allusion that you were making to Ready Player One, but that this is something that a lot of people, millions of creators and developers will be active participants in and have an active stake in how it gets developed.
How does Facebook make money in this world? I mean, is there an app store fee? You’re proposing to spend over time, hundreds of billions of dollars, where does that return on investment come from?
MZ: I think at the end of the day, there’s going to be commerce, and I think commerce and ads are kind of closely related, because if there’s not any commerce, then there’s not much for people to advertise for. I think the first job that we need — well, I guess the first job is getting the foundational technology to work. Then after that, our next goal from a business perspective is increasing the GDP of the metaverse as much as possible, because that way you can have, and hopefully by the end of the decade, hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce and digital goods and digital clothing and experiences and all of that. And I think the best way to increase the GDP of the metaverse is to have the fees be as low as possible and as favorable as possible to creators.
I know this is a very different approach that we’re taking than what the mobile platforms today have taken. It’s much more similar to the approach that we’ve taken with our apps, right? Where the apps have been free, our ad auction gives every advertiser the lowest price that we can. For when we build commerce tools, we generally offer them either at no cost or at cost to us. And then the idea is you build as big of an ecosystem as possible, and then some things have to be scarce, right? So, whether that’s people searching for something at an app store or a limited number of ad units and a feed, and then you basically have a markets set the pricing there.
That’s basically the approach that I want us to take in the metaverse too, which is we’re going to build devices and we’re either going to subsidize them or offer them at cost. We’re going to make the app store model, I think, dramatically more open than anything that you’ve seen on mobile today, where we already do side-loading on Quest and we do App Lab and we do Link so you can have stuff running on your PC, and we’ll keep on doing that because I think the choice for consumers is important and for developers, and we’re going to try to make it so that the commerce tools that we build have as low fees as possible.
At the end of the day, I think that there are going to be some things that are scarce around attention, maybe when you’re searching for something in the app store or a billboard and when you’re in the metaverse. In those things, I think when the volume gets to be big, that’ll be a meaningful business for us. We’re certainly willing to invest dramatically ahead of the business opportunity in order to help create and sort of enable this whole ecosystem.
Where is your time going to be? I mean, so NewCo, I’m calling it NewCo as I don’t know the name yet, but presumably you are going to be the CEO of that. Is there going to be a new Facebook CEO, like a Sundar Pichai? I’m an analyst, so re-organizing your financial statements is a huge deal to me, I think maybe that hasn’t yet percolated out to the real world, the implications of this, but is there any insight on how you think your role might shift because of these changes?
MZ: I spend a lot of time on all the different parts of our business, more on the product parts, right? Sheryl [Sandberg] and other folks have always focused a little more on the business and the ad side of things and that’s never been the main part of what I’ve done. But I care deeply about the social media part of what we do, and I care deeply about the future platform work and what we’re doing there and I think my time has ramped up on the future platform work as the scale of that investment has grown, and most of what we do is still social media, so I still spend a lot of time on that.
I thought a bit about this, because one of the, I think, intellectual temptations is to assume that all the metaverse work is actually just the FRL — the Facebook Reality Labs part of what we do, the kind of VR and AR, and it’s actually not true. I think it’s going to be really important that you’re going to build up your avatar and your identity and your digital goods, and you’re going to want to use that in Instagram or in Facebook or when you’re making a video chat in Messenger or in WhatsApp. You’re going to want to be able to jump into different 3D games or experiences from your feed on Facebook or these different experiences. So I actually think a huge part of this vision for the metaverse, it’s not just about the Reality Lab stuff and the future platform, it’s weaving all of the new technology that we’re building and these products into the experiences that we build today to help advance and accelerate the coming of this and build some great new products along the way.
Are you sure about that, though? Because it seems that people increasingly want different personas for different scenarios. One of the things you mentioned in the video is people don’t always want to use their Facebook Login for everything. Do you regret forcing all Oculus users switch to their Facebook login? Sometimes you have a work persona that’s different than your social life persona, it might be completely different than some of your online personas. To what extent do people really want everything brought together?
MZ: This is an important point. I’m not suggesting that you’re going to have the same identity everywhere, but I think the basic technology around having an avatar system and being able to communicate across these things, I think that that’s going to be very important, so I’m saying that there’s a difference between those two layers.
In terms of the experience having people sign into Quest with Facebook, it’s not the direction we’re going to go in going forward. The feedback that we got on that was one of the things that made me actually feel a sense of urgency that we did need to make it so that people had a different brand relationship with the overall company than the Facebook app. Right now I think that there’s just some confusion where when you sign into Quest with Facebook, are you signing in with the social media app, or are you signing in with your relationship to our company overall?
It was not as clear as it should have been before and I think because of that, people had some concerns of, “Hey, if I’m signing in with a social media app, does that mean that my data from what I’m doing in VR is somehow going to be connected or is going to show up on Facebook?” or like, “If my Facebook account gets deactivated or I want to stop using that, does that mean my device is going to stop working?” I think that from a brand architecture for the company, that perspective, I think it is just very valuable and useful for people to have a different relationship with the company than with each of the specific apps. It’s sort of why in the same way that you have a Microsoft account or an Apple account that’s different from any of the specific products that you have there, I think that that’s a useful thing in terms of the universe of products that we’re trying to build out.
Is there a worry that Facebook is a liability for this future you want to build?
MZ: Are you talking about the app Facebook?
You can interpret that any way you want to. There’s the company, which is obviously valuable because of the cash it throws off that can fund this. There’s the social network, there’s the app, and there’s the brand.
MZ: I think that these things are all combinations of different equities. Clearly there’s a lot of scrutiny that comes because of the social media aspects of what we do, I think some of that is because we’re a big tech company, and I think some of that is because of specifically how controversial social media is compared to some of the other big tech businesses. There are certainly challenges that come with that scrutiny, I think that that’s what you’re alluding to, and I spend time working on a lot of improvements or solutions.
It could be positive or negative, right? I mean, it kind of raised the question if you’re maybe forcing everyone on Oculus to use the Facebook Login might not have been ideal for these various reasons. But that also kind of teases into, why Facebook? Why should Facebook build this? There’s a lot of investors that are like, “I wish Facebook would just invest in their core business. And it’s frustrating, they’re killing their margins by spending all this money on something that we don’t know if it’s going to exist.” Why Facebook? You got to it a little bit about it’s your vision, and it’s something that excites you and you’ve always wanted to build, but when you step back as not just a founder, but also as a manager, why is Facebook the company to do this?
MZ: Well, I think at the end of the day we’re the social company. All of the other tech companies basically are designing ways for people to interact with technology. We’re the one that looks at these problems from the perspective of designing technology so people can interact with each other. And I get that that’s not the only thing, there are going to be a bunch of use cases that you do by yourself or with an AI, but I think that’s a much bigger part of our lives than, I think, sometimes we give it credit for.
To the extent that the metaverse ends up being largely a social set of experiences, whether that’s just hanging out, or going to concerts, or working together, going to meetings together, or working out with friends, just all these different things, to the extent that this ends up being a largely social experience, I think that this is the clear extension and the ultimate expression of a lot of the social experiences that we’ve been trying to build. From that perspective, it’s hard to imagine what other company would even approach building this from the perspective that we will. I’m not saying that that’s the only perspective that matters going into this, but I think that it’s an important one for helping to shape the next platform.
If you look at it from that perspective of the user experience, delivering that real sense of presence is, I think, the ultimate expression of that kind of digital social experience. If you think about it from the business perspective, enabling creators to be able to create this massively larger digital economy of goods and people to use them in a lot of different ways, I think that all makes sense.
Then strategically, I just think we have a very large stake in helping to influence the development of technology platforms, because I think we’ve almost uniquely had this vantage point among the big tech companies of basically having to live under the rules of the other ones and deliver our services through competitors rather than getting to set what that frame is or the experiences that we can build ourselves.
That’s why we’re excited about it and why we’re focused on this. And I think that there’s just a lot that needs to get built. So I think we’ll have to play this forward a bunch of years and I’m pretty excited about everything that we can bring to the space.
Well, I look forward to checking in in a decade and seeing how it went.
MZ: (laughing) All right.
Thanks for talking, Mark.
This Daily Update Interview is also available as a podcast. To receive it in your podcast player, visit Stratechery.
The Daily Update is intended for a single recipient, but occasional forwarding is totally fine! If you would like to order multiple subscriptions for your team with a group discount (minimum 5), please contact me directly.
Thanks for being a supporter, and have a great day!