What is Facebook's metaverse and why is the social media giant so focused on it?

Facebook will soon have a new name and a whole new focus - the metaverse.

Earlier this week the social media giant announced it will hire 10,000 people in the EU to build said metaverse - a grand, new vision for how we could interact with each other online.

But what actually is the metaverse, what will it look like, and why is Facebook so focused on it?

What is the metaverse?

The metaverse refers to new plans for shared online spaces where people can interact with each other.

It is a place which hopes to join the digital and physical worlds through technology.

The word itself comes from: "meta" (meaning "beyond") and "-verse" (from "universe").

Although there is no single, agreed definition of a metaverse, it often refers to an internet environment people can access and enjoy using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology.

This could mean logging on to the internet and wearing virtual reality equipment to speak, meet, and play with other people online, all around the world.

How will it work?

Facebook has already invested in technology that could help make the metaverse a (virtual) reality.

A few months ago, it launched Horizon Workrooms - a virtual reality meeting service where people use headsets to meet in an online space as if they were in a real office.

The social media company - which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp - has also brought out a range of smart glasses. Ray-Ban Stories devices have two cameras, a microphone, speaker and voice assistant.

Microsoft has also said it is investing heavily in metaverse technology.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said the metaverse will be a place that "you are in", rather than a place where you just view content Credit: Reuters

What is Facebook's vision for the metaverse?

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has described the metaverse as a place where rather instead of simply viewing content, "you are in it".

He used the example of watching a concert video on a smartphone, but then jumping into the metaverse to feel like you are actually there at the concert.

The 37-year-old (who co-founded Facebook in 2004) said earlier this year that he sees the metaverse as a place that could take over from ordinary phone calls: "In the future... you’ll be able to sit as a hologram on my couch, or I’ll be able to sit as a hologram on your couch, and it’ll actually feel like we’re in the same place, even if we’re in different states or hundreds of miles apart."

Virtual reality headsets could be one way we interact in the metaverse Credit: REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Four years ago, Mr Zuckerberg laid out a vision for new technology that would allow people to take virtual holidays with relatives who lived overseas, and a space where people from across the world could socialise.

He also imagined technology where users could use a smartphone camera to virtually improve the experience of living in an apartment.

Although these ideas haven't quite materialised yet, they are the foundations of Facebook's vision for its metaverse.

Who will run the metaverse?

Facebook has said the metaverse will not be owned or run by one company.

It wants the metaverse to be an open internet where different companies work with each other to offer different experiences and services to users.

How will Facebook build its metaverse?

The tech giant plans to hire 10,000 people from EU countries to build its metaverse. It is especially keen on recruiting workers with high digital engineering expertise.

Facebook recruiters are targeting Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland for the hiring drive.

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who is now Facebook's vice president of global affairs, said in a blog post: “As we begin the journey of bringing the metaverse to life, the need for highly specialised engineers is one of Facebook’s most pressing priorities."

Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, will recruit 10,000 people from EU countries to build the metaverse Credit: Press Association Images

Will the metaverse be safe for users?

There are concerns that Facebook and a handful of other Silicon Valley companies could end up dominating the metaverse. There are also questions about how safe our personal data would be in the metaverse.

Professor Robin Mansell, professor of new media and the internet at the London School of Economics (LSE) said checks on transparency, data protection, harms to children should be carried out before companies are allowed to contribute to the metaverse.

This comes after a former Facebook employee claimed recently that Facebook's products "harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy".

Facebook said the allegations were "inaccurate".

Last month, Facebook announced it would fund $50 million in global research for the metaverse. It has said it will partner with civil rights groups, NGOs, governments and universities to develop products responsibly for the metaverse.

When will I be able to use the metaverse?

Mark Zuckerberg said he wants to transform Facebook into a metaverse-based company within five years, but Facebook has insisted it is only at the start of the journey to build the metaverse.

The company also said it would take around ten to 15 years to fully develop its metaverse products.