Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced his company's new name - Meta.
"I am proud to announce that, starting today, our company is now Meta," Zuckerberg said during the Facebook Connect conference.
"Now we have a new North Star to help bring the metaverse to life, and we have a new name that reflects the full breadth of what we do and the future that we want to help build. From now on, we're going to be metaverse first, not Facebook first."
The metaverse, according to the company, will be a social, 3D virtual space where people can share immersive experiences with others, even when you can’t be together in person, as well as doing things together you can't do in the physical world.
New Zealand could be at the very forefront of the technology that will drive the metaverse, said Will Easton, Meta's managing director for Australia and New Zealand said.
"Facebook isn’t going to build, own or run the metaverse on its own, we will be collaborating at every stage with policymakers, experts and industry partners.
"There are already a wealth of New Zealand companies and creators working in this space, including fashion designers, gaming and VR experience creators, academics and marketers experimenting with new immersive formats," he said.
"The metaverse will help us get closer to feeling that in-person presence through sharing a space rather than a screen."
The rebrand comes amid growing scrutiny of the social media giant's power, with particular focus on its algorithms, how it deals with abuse and its impact on children.
Last month it put plans for Instagram Kids on hold after the Wall Street Journal reported the company knew it caused some teen girls in particular to feel badly about their self-image.
Frances Haugen, the whistleblower who provided internal company documents to the WSJ, also testified to a US Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee, saying the company's products "harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy".
The company put profit over any kind of moral responsibility, she told the Senators.
Haugen's testimony prompted White House press secretary Jen Psaki to say Facebook should face reform over privacy and trust concerns, with much more needing to be done.
Earlier this month the company's independent oversight board also demanded more transparency from the social media giant, saying the company was not "fully forthcoming" on how it deals with certain high-profile user accounts.
The company's popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, will not change names.
Zuckerberg said the drastic change for the company was necessary as it is too "tightly linked to one product" - Facebook.
"I'm proud of what we've built so far, and I'm excited about what comes next - as we move beyond what's possible today, beyond the constraints of screens, beyond the limits of distance and physics, and towards a future where everyone can be present with each other, create new opportunities and experience new things," he said.
"It is a future that is beyond any one company and that will be made by all of us."
"Over time, I hope that we are seen as a metaverse company," Zuckerberg said. "It is time for us to adopt a new company brand to encompass everything that we do, to reflect who we are and what we hope to build."
Facebook had announced on Monday it was investing billions in metaverse efforts as its ad business slows.
The social media giant said it will start publishing the financial results of its augmented and virtual reality labs as a separate unit, where it is investing billions in its ambitions to build the 'metaverse' and as it reported that its main advertising business faces "significant uncertainty."
It had previously committed to creating 10000 jobs in the European Union to supports its efforts to build the metaverse.
WHAT IS THE METAVERSE?
Metaverse is a broad term. It generally refers to shared virtual world environments which people can access via the internet.
The term can refer to digital spaces which are made more lifelike by the use of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR).
Some people also use the word metaverse to describe gaming worlds, in which users have a character that can walk around and interact with other players.
There is also a specific type of metaverse which uses blockchain technology. In these, users can buy virtual land and other digital assets using cryptocurrencies.
Many science fiction books and films are set in fully-fledged metaverses - alternative digital worlds which are indistinguishable from the real physical world. But this is still the stuff of fiction. Currently, most virtual spaces look more like the inside of a video game than real life.
WHY IS IT TAKING OFF?
Fans of the metaverse see it as the next stage in the development of the internet.
At the moment, people interact with each other online by going to websites such as social media platforms or using messaging applications.
The idea of the metaverse is that it will create new online spaces in which people's interactions can be more multi-dimensional, where users are able to immerse themselves in digital content rather than simply viewing it.
The accelerated interest in the metaverse can be seen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more people have started working and going to school remotely, there has been increased demand for ways to make online interaction more lifelike.
WHO IS GETTING INVOLVED?
The idea of the metaverse is attracting a lot of interest from investors and companies who are keen to be part of the next big thing.
Zuckerberg first said in July that the company will try to transition from being a social media company to a metaverse company in the next five years or so.
The term is popular in Silicon Valley, with Microsoft also having mentioned converging the digital and physical worlds.
The popular children's game Roblox, which had its New York Stock Exchange debut in March, describes itself as a metaverse company. Epic Games' Fortnite is also considered to be part of the metaverse.
Musicians can do virtual concerts within these platforms. For example, in September millions of people watched the singer Ariana Grande virtually perform in Fortnite, Epic Games said.
The world's biggest fashion companies have also experimented with making virtual clothing, which people's avatars can wear in metaverse environments.