7 Jan 2022
M is for Mediocrity
Adam Sefton explains in Transform why Facebook's rebrand to Meta reveals the mediocrity of the social media platform.
So, Facebook has become Meta and is going to lead the charge into the Metaverse.
Tech company rebrands are always a dangerous game, particularly the naming process. Trapped between the desire for something better than you have but the need for something suitably corporate, companies seem to stumble and end up lost in the middle.
The last tech company that did this was of course Google, who created Alphabet back in 2015. You might remember Google, once upon a time, did no evil. It was very proud of this, but at some point, it became something of an inconvenience to its plans of world domination.
'But how can we agree to censorship in China and grow our business there if we do no evil?' its executives cried.
Thus, the solution: Alphabet. Corporate Google can go off and lobby whoever it needs to from behind the relative secrecy of its bland, corporate identity. And Google can carry on being loveable Google, with the quirky angle on the 'e'.
So, the idea is to rebrand the corporate structure and let it operate quietly in the background, doing all the things that need to be done to be a successful global success, whilst your consumer-facing brands can continue to operate unabated in the limelight. Seems perfectly sensible. However, Facebook - sorry, Meta - has been running brand advertising campaigns of late. This isn't the sort of thing you tend to do if you want to stay in the background.
There is one important difference between Facebook (the social network) and Google though. Google is good at what it does. Its search engine is still clearly the dominant search solution. Its mobile phones compete well with Apple's iPhone. At the end of the day, it's a verb. Facebook on the other hand has a dirty secret it doesn't want to tell anyone - it's not actually very good.
Facebook has been in the news a lot recently for creating the sort of post-truth world that spreads misinformation and interferes with the popular vote. It is most certainly very bad, and Facebook is deserving of all the criticism coming its way, but the posts that contribute to this misinformation are not the most popular content posted on Facebook. They're quite niche. So, what's actually popular on Facebook these days?
Well, it turns out that now Facebook is happy to tell us. Their transparency report is full of detail on their most popular content. Would you believe that over the last three months, the most popular link, with an incredible 92.7m views, is a Green Bay Packers Alumni site. The next most popular? A CBD site with 64.9m views. Charlie Warzel does an excellent analysis of what all this means in his superb Galaxy Brain newsletter. The really short version: most of the popular content on Facebook is dull, clickbait-y, uninspiring spam. Not quite lawsuit bad, just depressingly below average. When it's bad, it's really bad. But the rest of the time? It's just not very good.
These days there are better ways to connect with your friends. WhatsApp is more secure and personal, Instagram is more visual. Both are already owned by Facebook. And Facebook the social networking site is facing a secret mid-life crisis: it's not a lot of fun anymore. Perhaps Zuckerberg would actually like us to forget about Facebook for a while.
And in that case, rebranding to Meta makes perfect sense. If the metaverse is the next stage of internet evolution, what kind of screwed-up, spam-heavy virtual reality hellscape would Facebook force on us? Much better to leave it alone to spiral downwards towards the unwanted but waiting badge of 'Myspace2.0' and launch afresh. Goodbye tedious social networking site with limited interest and value! Hello Meta, you blue breath of virtual reality fresh air!
So, who cares if it might have stolen its logo from a German start-up? So what if we can't even decide what the metaverse actually is, let alone what Meta's contribution to it might be. At the end of the day, Meta is moving on because Facebook just isn't very good anymore, and it's hoping to move before anyone notices.
First published in Transform.