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Facebook goes ‘Meta’: what does it mean in practice?

Dr Carina E I Westling and Dr Hongchuan Yu write about Facebook’s recent announcement and what the ‘Metaverse’ will entail… 

Facebook’s recent announcement about its new focus creates more questions than clarity. The new brand name suggests a desire for greater confluence which, in line with the legacy business model inherited from Facebook, means closer meshing with the totality of our personal and professional lives. How this will manifest is yet to be seen but the devil will be in the detail, as Meta will create both challenges and opportunities for innovation in design and policy. With close attention to emerging technologies and the policy frameworks that support their implementation, researchers and educators at the Faculty of Media and Communication at Bournemouth University are collaborating with industry advisors to make our new programmes BA Immersive Media and BSc Virtual and Augmented Reality crucibles for responsible creative development.

The ‘embodied internet’ is an oxymoron, but virtual (VR) and to some extent also augmented (AR) and mixed reality (XR), technologies seek to produce an approximation of physical experience. With 5G, many scenarios of real-time interaction based on cloud computing can be fulfilled. This offers new possibilities to the creative industries through VR/AR/XR technologies, ostensibly to realise the ‘metaverse’; the convergence of our physical and digital lives. However, you cannot accelerate connectivity without proportionate risks of exposure.

Effective storytelling will need to be ethical 

Our research and teaching programmes are geared towards development of the human skills that drive excellent storytelling in and beyond games and experience design, and we are keenly aware of the changing policy landscape that is sure to follow in the wake of interactive VR/AR/XR. Since 2015-2016, the management of and risks associated with the type of personal data that is the bread and butter of all free-at-the-point-of-use, audience-facing digital platforms is a top priority, and the opening up of VR/AR/XR technologies to real-time interactivity will raise the stakes further.

Meta’s vision, or rather proposition for a technologically convergent interactive and social space is broad, meaning that audiences will comprise naïve users in everyday situations as well as seasoned users in professional situations, and every type of audience in between. At scale, services, social spaces and interactive storytelling designed for this virtual milieu will present new challenges to research and development, including known and ‘unknown unknown’ problems with data management and security. Delivery of complex interactive media environments with default open web connectivity will create a host of new attack surfaces for cybercriminals and digital mavericks. Public appetite for more exposure – particularly of children and vulnerable adult populations – to malign actors is about as great as their trust in the brand that Meta seeks to leave behind.

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Broad adoption, sustainable development and effective storytelling in this domain will require that research, design and production are framed in a clear commitment to ethical principles and mitigation of risks to privacy and data security. Early publicity materials indicate their awareness of this, but Zuckerberg & co. still have to regain the trust of peers and public. That is not to say Meta is doomed to join Second Life – its reception in the industry press may have been on the chilly side, but the rebrand presents an opportunity to be more than a clean slate. We will need to see unflinching recognition of past errors and genuine steps taken to integrate data security with appropriate risk modelling and attention to scaling effects. But if Meta walks the walk, it may come to play a part in, and perhaps even lead the ‘coming of age’ of social media.

High stakes 

As Meta, Facebook are planning to spend at least $10 billion on metaverse-related projects this year. Bloomberg Intelligence further predicts “The global metaverse revenue opportunity could approach $800 billion in 2024”. Whether we greet such developments with enthusiasm or trepidation, it is clear that social media will see a step change even if we cannot be certain of its nature.

Original VR technology was derived from computer graphics and relied on specialist hardware to deliver expert applications such as surgery training and planning, high-end games and flight simulators. In addition to 5G, recent advances in computer vision and machine learning (sometimes called AI) technologies applied to VR/AR/XR technologies may help realise their broad adoption, which is the Meta vision for a 3D, virtual, social space where you might share, in real time, experiences that aren’t feasible in the physical world.

Technology marketing has not always delivered on its promises but innovation has created real change, and content producers will need to be aware of developments in this domain. As Cathy Hackl says: “If the internet and social media changed your business or changed the way you interact with people, then you should be paying attention to what 3.0 and the metaverse will do, because it will change those things as well.” We might speculate about effects on how we tell stories and socialise remotely, but we will almost certainly see this type of platform used as a productivity tool, made more relevant by imperatives to reduce travel and carbon footprints.

As with most predictions, the actuality is likely to be more prosaic than any utopias or dystopias we conjure up, but probably not unimportant. In the past decade and a half, social media have become a critical concern with real-world impacts. It will be interesting to see if Meta can finally shed Facebook’s unfortunate association with FaceMash, Zuckerberg’s jockish student experiment. Growing up is overdue.

By Dr Carina E I Westling and Dr Hongchuan Yu, Bournemouth University

This piece was originally published on BU’s LinkedIn page

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Using Facebook to collaborate

facebookAs a social networking tool, Facebook provides an interface for groups of people to to meet one another, communicate, store details about each other, and publish information about themselves in the form of a profile.

Facebook can be used as an academic collaboration tool for:

  • identifying potential collaborators
  • posting photos and files to share with others and inviting others to comment on them
  • commenting on other people’s photos and files
  • engaging in one-to-one private conversations
  • engaging in many-to-many conversations
  • creating private and public spaces (groups) for themed discussions

Facebook has been set up to suggest to users links and people they may know or be interested in, based on their interests, common goals, friends, etc. It is these serendipitous connections that help Facebook bridge the gap from social networking tool to academic collaboration tool.

BU Research Group, FacebookBU has recently set up the BU Research Group as a private Facebook group. This is a closed group that only members of BU staff can join. As such this provides a collaborative e-working environment for BU staff to:

1. discuss research ideas safe in the knowledge that all discussions will only be visible by other group members, i.e. BU staff only
2. make contact with one another, to search for one another, to identify colleagues with particular skill sets, etc.

You can also use Facebook to set up your own private collaborative work space for themed discussions (for example to discuss ideas for a multidisciplinary bid) – you can select who to invite (this could be anyone, providing they have a Facebook account) and only those who are members of the group will be able to access the shared information.

Setting up a private group is really easy, you just need to:

  • log in to your account in Facebook
  • from your News Feed page, click on ‘Create Group’ on the left hand menu
  • a pop-up will open asking you to enter the name of the Group and to select from your friends list who should be invited to join the group
  • ensure the privacy is set to ‘closed’ to ensure that only those invited to be members of the group can access the information
  • Facebook will then send the invites and your private group space has been set up

A number of guides have been published about how researchers can use social networking tools to collaborate. The best two we are aware of are:

RIN logoSocial Media: A guide for researchers, published by the Research Information Network in February 2011

Collaboration Tools, published by Educause Learning Initiative in August 2008networking

Join the BU Research Group on Facebook!

facebookAs well as the recently launched BU Research Blog, BU Research has established a Facebook group to allow those of you on Facebook to have a private shared area to discuss research!

The BU Research group is a closed Facebook group which only BU members of staff can join.

The purpose of the BU Research group is to provide a collaborative working environment for BU staff to:

  • discuss research ideas safe in the knowledge that all discussions will only be visible by other group members, i.e. BU staff only
  • make contact with one another, to search for one another, to identify colleagues with particular skill sets, etc.

To get started, join the group and post a message to the wall!

We aim to use the BU Research group on Facebook to promote research opportunities for multidisciplinary calls, such as joint Research Council calls.

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“Blogging is using a new medium for what it is good for – connecting and interacting” (George Siemens)

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