What a difference a year makes. Last October, Facebook supremo Mark Zuckerberg could barely wait to show the world what he was up to. “Today, we’re going to talk about the metaverse,” he enthused in a slick video presentation. “I want to share what we imagine is possible.” Transitioning almost seamlessly from his real self into a computer-generated avatar, Zuckerberg guided us through his vision for the virtual-reality future: playing poker in space with your buddies; sharing cool stuff; having work meetings and birthday parties with people on the other side of the world; customising your avatar (the avatars had no legs, which was weird). Zuckerberg was so all-in on the metaverse, he even rechristened his company Meta.
This month, we saw a more subdued Zuckerberg on display: “I wanna say upfront that I take full responsibility for this decision,” he told employees morosely. “This was ultimately my call and it was one of the hardest calls that I’ve had to make in the 18 years of running the company.” Meta was laying off 11,000 people – 13% of its workforce. Poor third-quarter results had seen Meta’s share price drop by 25%, wiping $80bn off the company’s value. Reality Labs, Meta’s metaverse division, had lost $3.7bn in the past three months, with worse expected to come. It wasn’t all bad news, though: Zuckerberg announced last month that Meta avatars would at last be getting legs.