If you hadn’t noticed, Mark Zuckerberg can be easily distracted, and get caught up on the latest trends.
Part of that is a business imperative – if Meta loses touch with key shifts, it risks falling out of favor completely. But part of that is also just who Zuckerberg, and by extension Meta, is. Stories becomes the hot social media thing, so Meta copies it, Instagram gains traction, to Meta buys it before it becomes a rival, TikTok gets huge, so Meta replicates its features, then praises the success of Reels.
Again, business imperative, and a means to quell competition. But there are also other whims, like the metaverse and VR, which haven’t become significant elements as yet, but Zuckerberg just thinks are cool, and are likely to be big.
AI seems to fall somewhere in between, and with hype around tools like ChatGPT rising, Meta is now looking to jump aboard the AI bandwagon, before it leaves the station.
As Zuckerberg announced on his new Instagram Channel yesterday:
“We’re creating a new top-level product group at Meta focused on generative AI to turbocharge our work in this area. We’re starting by pulling together a lot of the teams working on generative AI across the company into one group focused on building delightful experiences around this technology into all of our different products.”
This actually reads like it was written by an AI itself. Who says ‘delightful experiences’?
“In the short term, we’ll focus on building creative and expressive tools. Over the longer term, we’ll focus on developing AI personas that can help people in a variety of ways. We’re exploring experiences with text (like cat in WhatsApp and Messenger), with images (like creative Instagram filters and ad formats), and with video and multi-modal experiences.”
So, essentially, Meta is exploring AI integrations like Microsoft is with its various tools, and Snapchat is now doing with its ‘My AI’ feature, which will integrate conversational AI elements, like ChatGPT and DALL E, into Facebook and Instagram.
Which makes sense, and there will be interesting, creative ways to incorporate these tools into Meta’s various apps and processes. But it is interesting to see Meta continue to chase down the various shiny objects as they come along, while it also looks to build its broader metaverse vision, which it’s still struggling to build momentum with.
Because no matter how many times Meta tells us how cool the metaverse will be, it just doesn’t seem to resonate the way it hopes.
This is Meta’s latest metaverse promo spot, which merges various AR and VR experiences into its ‘metaverse’ umbrella. But it’s all just talk, and heavily produced examples, which are so far from what we’re seeing in Meta’s VR space. I mean, avatars still don’t even have legs (though that are, apparently, coming).
Given the stale pace of the metaverse shift, Meta needs to keep investing in the latest things – and to be fair, it has been developing its own generative AI tools for some time. But it still feels like a disjointed strategy, at least from a consumer-facing perspective, with a range of trending functions and long-term bets that feel largely derivative, and don’t mesh together.
Maybe this is all part of Zuck’s grand vision, and we just can’t see it yet, and maybe, all of these disparate elements will come together at some stage, and we’ll finally see the integrated metaverse vision that remains hazy at this stage.
Till then, however, what we do see is a company that looks like it’s constantly playing catch-up – what once was the innovative leader of the social media pack is now trailing along, while also telling us how cool it still is, and will be in the future.
I’m hesitant to bet against Zuck’s broader vision – and it’s not like Meta has any concerns in terms of popularity or usage, with 3.7 billion people still logging into its apps every month. But it just feels like Meta has lost is groove, which it needs to get back, in order to usher in the metaverse era.
I suspect, at some stage, VR will evolve to a point where Meta becomes a more critical leader once again, but right now, it’s hard to see when that’ll happen. And till then, we’ll get copycat tools and options like this – which will engage Meta’s users, but could also see it lose cultural relevance.