In October, when Facebook announced that it was transitioning to Meta Platforms, it created quite a buzz. Today, as the company is on the way to carve out an exclusive spot for itself in the vast virtual world, Ajit Mohan, vice president and managing director of Meta India, talks about the transition, the role India will play in this journey and whether hardware is going to take centre stage in the new world. Edited excerpts from the interview:
From Facebook to Meta
As a company, we can play a helpful role in shaping metaverse over the next 10 years in the transition from the internet that we are familiar with—the way you look at mostly only a mobile screen—to a more immersive, embodied version where you feel like you are in it rather than staring at it. In the long evolution of technology, from print to radio to television to mobile, there is no way to look at this as anything but a big-step change in the evolution of the internet. Therefore, as a company, we are clear that we are making a big bet on this.
We are doing that in two or three different ways. One, in terms of the hardware and the access devices that we are building. We are going to invest disproportionately in building access devices that allow people to experience the 3D version of the internet. But, it is not just about the hardware. I think it also requires a lot of foundational work in defining and building standards like what the 3D version of a GIF means, how you build toolkits for other developers and creators, etc.
But, we are not building metaverse. It will be just like the internet that was built by multiple companies—small and large. We want this to be interoperable; we do not want an Apple metaverse, a Google metaverse or even a Meta metaverse. We want metaverse to be a place where consumers and businesses can freely move around and interoperate across spaces that may be defined by individual companies and, here, we think we can play a material enabling role.
The interesting thing is that this has become quite a live conversation in the last six months since Mark’s (Mark Zuckerberg) big announcement about the change in the identity of the company. It is exciting to see that companies around the world are embracing it, and the power of it is very clear. We have been making investments into this for the long term, into the fundamental research on motion.
The idea of metaverse is to make you feel like you are in the same space as someone even though the person might be thousands of miles away. When you use one of the Quest 2 devices and go into a virtual meeting, the hand movements that you make in the physical world show up on your avatar. My facial expression shows up as a facial expression on my avatar. It is solving the idea of presence. That is the result of a lot of work that has been done over a long time. The idea is to make the experience intuitive.
India’s role in it
As a country, when the last big shift happened in terms of the rise of the internet and then the mobile internet, we were at a very different place. If we look at our fundamental tech capacity, it looked dramatically different in the ’90s. Now we have the ability to shape what the next version of the internet could be. I think entrepreneurship is on fire, capital is coming in and we fundamentally have a large tech base. It looks like the opportunity of a lifetime.
The other part of it is that we will have the largest developer ecosystem by 2024. In our vision of the metaverse, we are building a lot of the enabling tools and hardware. But, a lot of this would be built by individual developers and companies—partly to bring in economies of scale and partly because of the philosophical belief that when you are building something as expansive as this, it works well when you activate the power of everyone in the world.
These worlds and experiences need to be built—whether it is a game or a brand creating an environment to showcase what they have to offer. Fitness is already becoming a big use case. It is only going to be constrained by the imagination of people who have great ideas. Therefore, you do not want to close it up—that is the philosophy we are betting on. If you look at it in the context of the country that has the largest app ecosystem, all of this comes alive. It is that ambition that we will have articulated of a billion people and their experiences on the metaverse 10 years from now.
Is Meta a hardware company?
[The Quest device] is not the same as putting on a smartphone. This is actually a result of a fundamental improvement in science and research that allows you to be immersed in a 3D world when you wear this device. That is the enabling interface. I do not know whether you can experience that without a device. The hardware is a big part of it.
I do think that when you focus on the ambition of a billion people, it goes back to a core philosophy that was a big part of the company even back in 2004—the idea that we should build products and services that are accessed by billions of people. Even as we invest disproportionately in building these devices and making this world come alive, how we can constantly make it affordable to the extent that a billion people can use it—that is the idea.
I think this question was asked to Mark. If you look at our platforms, more than 3.5 billion people use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. That is a big part of who we are and we continue to innovate and build these products and services. For the metaverse, building access devices is going to be part of it. So, it is not a this or that—it is a this and that.
Meta’s impact on Indian companies
It is happening across sectors. There are two-three different drivers. It is less the sector and more the companies that are understanding the fundamental shifts that are happening and are willing to embrace it.
So, there is a bit of a category [level impact], for example, if you look at ecommerce, travel, fashion or apparel as categories. But the bigger shift is companies fundamentally understanding what change has been unleashed by digitisation and by the fact that so much of the world is online, and then starting to understand how to build affinity and a brand for the long term, and how to understand the idea of moving efforts to online. I think it is people who are embracing change more than the category or industry they belong to.