Cape Town – If there was ever a moment to write a Facebook obituary, it is now. It started with a 60 Minutes Frances Haugen interview on CBS News then was followed by the major outage of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
As if that was not enough, it was followed by the appearance of Haugen (a Facebook whistle-blower) before the US Senate, where she revealed that Facebook has knowingly enabled underage kids on its platforms and has not shared accurate information about its audience numbers.
The final nail in the coffin was the moment Haugen urged Senators to regulate Facebook.
All of this should have been enough to get people to delete Facebook and move over to alternatives. Yet they are not doing that, at least not in numbers enough to bring an end to a platform with billions of users.
This is not to say that blue Facebook is not dead. It’s dying a slow death. Facebook, which includes everything that is not blue, has just been born. What that means is that there's a bigger part of Mark Zuckerberg’s company that has just taken off, while everyone is focusing on the blue social network and trying to fix it.
Here’s the part that most people who care about the subject are missing.
During the same week that everyone thought Zuckerberg’s company was falling apart, it was unveiling its plan to connect the African continent to the rest of the world. Earlier this week, during an event called Inside the Lab, Zuckerberg’s engineers shared the latest developments on some of their connectivity technologies, which aim to improve internet capacity across the world by sea, land and air.
Their first-ever transatlantic subsea cable system will connect Europe to the US. This new cable provides 200 times more internet capacity than the transatlantic cables of the 2000s.
This investment builds on other recent subsea expansions, including 2Africa Pearls, which will be the longest subsea cable system in the world, connecting Africa, Europe, and Asia.
To slash the time and cost required to roll out fibre optic internet to communities, a robot called Bombyx has been developed, and it moves along power lines, wrapping them with fibre cable. Ever since Bombyx was unveiled, it has become lighter, faster, and more agile, and it is believed that it could have a radical effect on the economics of fibre deployment around the world.
Engineers from the company that had hours of an outage this week have developed Terragraph, a wireless technology that delivers internet at fibre speed over the air. This technology has already brought high-speed internet to more than 6 500 homes in Anchorage and Alaska, and deployment has also started in Perth, Australia, one of the most isolated capital cities in the world.
According to engineers behind this project, beneficiaries will be everyone and Facebook. This is important for Zuckerberg’s future plans, which include developing the next computing platform and work across augmented and virtual reality as well as consumer hardware. A big part of this plan is the development of what has been described as the metaverse.
The “metaverse” is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.
You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create, and more.
All of this will require quality connectivity which explains an ambitious plan to connect the world and parts of it that are not well connected.
If this does not make sense yet, have a look at Zuckerberg’s latest project with Luxottica (owners of RayBan). The Ray-Ban Stories project is essentially smart glasses that give you a way to capture photos and video, share your adventures, and listen to music or take phone calls.
The combination of these three projects – subsea cable system, metaverse, and smart glasses – is a clear indication that Zuckerberg is busy building the future and social networking is a small part of his corporation. The sooner this is understood, the better. Society should be less concerned about Facebook as a company, but more concerned about surveillance capitalism which goes beyond just Zuckerberg’s company. We live in a world that is becoming more connected. Big businesses and governments are trying to get our data, and some are doing exactly what Facebook is doing without the same scrutiny.
While there’s a need to correct some actions at Facebook, it’s important to understand that the bus has left the station, and the next area of focus should be on what Zuckerberg is building.
Do we want Zuckerberg-led efforts to be in control of how we connect to the internet? Do we want a company that is led by Zuckerberg to be in control of the metaverse, which will be where we partly live in the future?
* Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of the Fast Company (SA) magazine.