Is it a good sign when you change the name of a major project mid-development?
This week, Facebook has announced a name change for its Calibra cryptocurrency wallet, a key part of its Libra payment digital system. Facebook is renaming the wallet "Novi", which is the latest move in its various ongoing shifts in relation to its crypto push.
As explained by Facebook:
"Novi was inspired by the Latin words "novus" for "new" and "via" for "way". It's a new way to send money, and Novi's new visual identity and design represent the fluid movement of digital currencies. We've also included a nod to the Libra icon in the brand logo to underscore our commitment to the Libra network."
But rest assured, Novi will work the same way as Calibra does. Or doesn't, at least not at present:
"While we've changed our name from Calibra, we haven't changed our long-term commitment to helping people around the world access affordable financial services. Whether you're sending money home to support the family members who supported you, or you're receiving money from your friends no matter where they are, the Novi wallet will make money work better for everyone."
The idea of Libra, and Novi, remains solid - Facebook wants to build a secure, digital payment system, which will enable users to exchange funds within Facebook's apps, free of regular bank charges, while also facilitating rapid transfer between users and businesses."
The idea is good. The execution - still problematic.
As Facebook notes in its announcement, Novi will be available "when the Libra network is available". Which could be soon, could be never - no one really knows for sure.
Facebook has faced varying levels of opposition to the project, with most of the initial Libra launch partners pulling their support over issues with regulation, data security and local government opposition. Indeed, various governments have raised concerns, and even flagged outright blocks of Facebook's proposed payment network, to the point where it has seemed, at times, like Facebook would be better off simply letting it go entirely.
Most notable on this front is India, where Facebook is working to increase its market presence. Indian citizens transfer more funds through remittance (sending money back to family) than anyone else in the world, and a fee-free process to facilitate such could be huge, and could provide a significant boost for Facebook's broader ambitions in the region.
But that's not happening. At the Libra launch event last June, Facebook confirmed that India would not be part of its initial rollout plan for the project, due to concerns around cryptocurrency, in general, among Indian regulators.
So, with more partner organizations re-thinking their support, and more governments calling for more scrutiny over Facebook moving into payments, maybe Libra won't work - maybe Facebook should just move on from the project now and avoid any further complications, at least for the time being.
Clearly Facebook still sees potential in the project, and while it may have lost big name, reassuring supporters like MasterCard and Visa, it announced in February that Shopify has joined the Libra Association, the support group that will oversee Facebook's crypto governance.
Partners like Shopify could also help Facebook as it moves to make eCommerce a bigger focus in its apps, and if it can make Libra work, and people can pay via Novi while shopping in the new and improved Facebook and Instagram stores, that could still be a big thing. But there remains many 'ifs' here.
But still, Facebook is moving ahead, and they wouldn't be doing so if all avenues were closed off. Facebook's aiming to launch Novi "in an initial set of countries" some time in the near future.