Internal memos from Meta’s VP of Metaverse to employees working on the metaverse app highlight concerns that it has too many quality and performance issues — and that employees don’t appear to be very engaged with it.
The memos were obtained by The Verge’s Alex Heath and were written by Metaverse Vice President Vishal Shah. In them, he informs the team that they will be in “quality lockdown” for the rest of the year in order to fix the issues before more users gain access to the app.
The memos paint a bleak picture for a key component of Zuckerberg’s metaverse bet. The emphasis on improving existing features over introducing new features comes as the CEO grapples with a massive company pivot to the metaverse, a change that comes as Facebook faces a slowdown in its core advertising business and the departure of his top lieutenant, Sheryl Sandberg.
A noted technology analyst told Insider that Meta is experiencing a “midlife crisis,” implying that the Mark Zuckerberg-led parent company of Facebook and Instagram may increasingly rely on an old strategy when competing with younger upstarts: copying them.
Facebook is still the most popular social media site in the world, but recent trends indicate that user growth is slowing. TikTok and other social media apps popular with younger users are threatening the company’s throne.
When Zuckerberg and company have faced competition in the past, they have used the “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” principle, frequently attempting to replicate competitors’ popular features in Meta’s own apps.
This appears to be a continuing practice: Instagram has recently announced a number of changes that are strikingly similar to TikTok’s format, such as a greater emphasis on video Reels content and AI-powered recommendations.
However, TikTok is not the only social media app from which Instagram has taken inspiration. The app debuted a dual-camera feature last month that appears to be a near-clone of the French social media app BeReal, which is currently the top free app in Apple’s app store, followed by TikTok and Google in third place.
According to Insider, Meta is testing a standalone app called Super, which appears to be inspired by Twitch, Amazon’s live-streaming platform.
Whether or not Meta “wins against TikTok” by investing in Reels and AI, its return on investment in competing technology will be attacked by competitors “until one day Meta won’t win,” Laura Needham, an analyst at Needham with a negative outlook for the company, recently told clients.
In an interview with Casey Newton’s Platformer two weeks ago, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said, “I’m glad we took a risk — if we’re not failing every once in a while, we’re not thinking big enough or bold enough.”
Horizon Worlds, the app, was released last December on Meta’s Quest headset and is expected to have a mobile and desktop web version soon. The app allows users to create avatars and interact with one another in a virtual reality world. In a May shareholder meeting, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that the company’s metaverse project will lose “significant” money for the next three to five years.
According to The Verge, one of the problems with Horizon World is a “confusing and frustrating” onboarding experience. He also told employees that they were not being flexible enough and that they needed to collaborate more effectively.
The fact that the app “has not found product market fit” is perhaps the most telling.
In his memos to employees, Shah also inquired as to why the app’s development team was not devoting enough time to it.
Another memo from Shah stated that Meta intended to have managers require their teams to use the app at least once a week.
Horizon Worlds’ overall quality and graphics have previously been criticized.
In August, Zuckerberg was mocked online after sharing his Horizon Worlds avatar with users in France and Spain, with the quality drawing comparisons to 1990s video game graphics. Later that week, he made another post with a different avatar to show off unreleased graphical improvements.
“The graphics in Horizon are capable of much more — even on headsets — and Horizon is improving very quickly,” Zuckerberg said in response to the criticism. He went on to say that more app updates and avatar graphics would be revealed at Meta’s annual Connect conference on October 11.