When Mark Zuckerberg announced in October 2021 that Facebook would now be known as “Meta,” many people fell for several astonishingly obvious lies. As I said:
Zuckerberg has absolutely no clue what he is building and you are a fool if you think otherwise. This is not a plucky startup founder or a journeyman finding his feet, but a guy who has the majority of voting power in a publicly-traded trillion-dollar enterprise who is giving a “forgot to prepare for this meeting” style speech.
Months into 2022, the media had become fully consumed in the metaverse hype cycle, platforming “metaverse experts” and heralding that virtual worlds would be our future. McKinsey predicted that the metaverse market “had the potential to reach $5 trillion in value by 2030.” CNBC’s Jim Cramer — the magreaux dog of finance — happily nodded along as Mark Zuckerberg claimed that Meta hoped to get a billion people into the metaverse and have them spend hundreds of dollars each without asking, say, where they might spend it, or on what, or why they would do so.
In February 2022, I wrote that Zuckerberg was a liar - and that reporters covering the metaverse were “more worried about not being right than they were about being wrong”:
And yet the media seems genuinely scared of calling out Zuckerberg’s extremely public fibbing. The Wall Street Journal - the same one that exposed the fraud of blood testing starting Theranos - is desperate to tell you that the metaverse will change the world of work. The New York Times along with every other outlet has a quizzical “hmm, what is the Metaverse?” piece that gives air cover for Zuckerberg by saying that “the biggest ideas in tech often lurch into the lexicon before they are truly coherent.” As I mentioned above, the Verge totally failed to hold Zuckerberg accountable in their interview, accepting his worldview as if it was reasonable and acting as such.
And when I said Zuckerberg would kill his company in October 2022, I described Zuckerberg as a “crazed, failed steward of a company….acting based on magical thinking and desperation to save a series of business models that were predicated on conning users”:
He is a liar and has created very little. Every major product that Meta sells (other than Facebook itself, and even then…) was acquired - FriendFeed, Friendster, Beluga, Instagram, Oculus, Face.com, every part of this company is some taped-on acquisition. It worked for a while, but no part of this narrative suggests Zuckerberg is the true architect of this company’s success.
And now, less than two years after the name change, Meta is pivoting again, with Zuckerberg saying that Meta’s “single largest investment is advancing AI and building it into every one of [their] products].” What happened to “the next frontier of connecting people?” What does artificial intelligence have to do with “bringing people together,” or “designing technology around people,” or “dedicating more energy to the metaverse than any other company in the world?” What happened to the “successor to the mobile internet” that would bring about an “exciting new chapter” for the company formerly known as Facebook? What happened to Zuckerberg’s big plans for AR glasses? Oh, that’s right, they canceled them to save money that I assume is now being put into artificial intelligence. And they’ve stopped pitching the metaverse to advertisers, replacing it with their TikTok clone (Reels) and, of course, an artificial intelligence-based advertising product called Advantage+ that “uses machine learning for targeted ads.”
I’ll get right to it: Mark Zuckerberg is an ineffective, incompetent, and directionless executive, one bereft of complete or concrete ideas. He has entirely failed to innovate since the very beginning of Facebook — a product that he never envisioned as a business — and nearly 20 years later, he appears completely and utterly out of ideas.
Facebook and Instagram have become significantly worse products that are engineered to help cram advertising into users’ feeds over actually connecting people. Meta’s Portal products — smart displays with cameras built into them — are arguably great devices that Meta has decided to kill because they didn’t sell very well, possibly because Meta may be one of the least-trustworthy companies in the world. Facebook’s major innovations were specifically about making the ability to connect to and interact with others better (from the like button to the concept of the social graph).
Yet it’s not immediately obvious what Facebook or Meta has done in the last 10 years that has positively benefited their users. In fact, a great deal of Zuckerberg’s splashy product launches failed. They outright conned multiple media outlets with fake metrics to convince them to “pivot to video,” leading to hundreds of people losing their jobs, and starting in 2017, user engagement with Facebook — such as likes, shares and comments — started to fall, in part because of a prevalence of more professionally-produced video content rather than posts from people they knew.
In 2014 they launched an instant messaging app called Slingshot to compete with Snapchat, which they killed several years later, along with their “Rooms” app. The “Moves” app they acquired in 2014? 2015’s “Hello” app? “TBH,” the “anonymous teen compliment app” they acquired in 2017? All are dead due to “low usage.”
Facebook’s 2020 Gaming App that they said would rival Twitch? Dead. Hobbi, their app for “documenting personal projects?” Dead in less than 6 months. Campus, Facebook’s college-student-focused app? Dead in two years. Live-streamed shopping events? Facebook’s live-shopping feature? Dead. Instant articles, a product for publishers to publish directly on Facebook that attracted Buzzfeed, The New York Times and National Geographic? Dead. Facebook’s “Personal Assistant” M? Dead. Groups app? Dead. Notify? Dead. Facebook Lite, their app for low-speed and low-spec phones? Dead.
Facebook also had two other Snapchat clones that I had never heard of before today — Poke and LifeStage — both of which are dead. Up until today, I had also forgotten about the HTC First — the Facebook phone — and you will be unsurprised to learn that it is dead.
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Meta Is Zucked
Mark Zuckerberg’s legacy at Facebook is failure — a failure to successfully capture a moment in time, a failure to create anything of worth, and a failure to meaningfully grow his business outside of advertising. Facebook’s advertising makes up around 97% of its revenue, and Zuckerberg has categorically failed to grow the company otherwise.
Meta’s Virtual Reality division lost almost $14 billion in revenue in 2022, with net income dropping 41%. Their $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 was considered a landmark deal at the time, but it’s still not immediately obvious how much money it’ll ever make the company. Instagram — acquired for $1 billion in 2012 — may be the only truly “smart” move that Zuckerberg has made.
And let’s be honest, nobody really likes any of their apps. Instagram and Facebook have billions of users, meaning that you sort of have to use them at some point. However, I don’t remember the last time someone showed me a great Facebook or Instagram post, or something they enjoyed seeing like you’d see something good from TikTok, or a funny tweet. Zuckerberg created one and fostered another of the world’s largest social networks, only to destroy the experience using an algorithm that makes them less effective as a social networking tool. Users aren’t excited to use Instagram or Facebook. They check them like one might check a bank account or a calendar.
Meta’s earnings are next week, and it’ll be interesting to see exactly where the “Year of Efficiency” (a ghoulish euphemism for mass layoffs that, to date, have shrunk the company’s headcount by roughly a quarter) has taken the company. It’ll also be interesting to see how user growth — both daily and monthly active — has changed. The real problem that Meta faces is that their only profitable products appear to be slowly running out of users to acquire — and young people are beginning to abandon the platform entirely.
Ultimately, Meta/Facebook is not an innovative company. They do not have world-changing ideas, and Meta’s position as an “innovator” is only buoyed by access journalists and futurist simpletons that would believe the sky was green if Zuckerberg said so. They have spent almost 20 years trying to build increasingly more convoluted ways to trick a user into seeing or interacting with advertising, all while failing to create an experience that users enjoy interacting with.
Mark Zuckerberg is the problem. He renamed his entire company based on a vague concept that has (and will) cost the company tens of billions of dollars. He has spent hours of interviews vaguely mumbling about how the metaverse would change everything, only to give up on the idea the second that artificial intelligence became the new big thing.
If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is. Remember Diem (formerly Libra), the stablecoin that Facebook announced in 2019, when the hype surrounding crypto was at its most insane? That project officially died in early 2022, although the final nail in its coffin came mere days after its initial announcement, when Facebook realized it would have to abide by anti-money laundering and banking law.
Fintech is a notoriously tough business, and Diem was arguably the most ambitious project that the social media space has ever seen. It was this ambition that ultimately doomed the project. Diem would transform Facebook into a Web 3.0 central bank — issuing money, managing inflation and exchange rates through a basket of fiat currencies and bonds, and providing the infrastructure for cross-border money transfers.
Facebook wanted to replace — or, at the very least, substitute — a core function of the state. Naturally, governments and central bankers weren’t particularly pleased about potentially losing monetary control, and so they fought vociferously against it.
This weathervane approach to running a company, where Facebook tries fruitlessly to ride the coattails of every passing fad no matter how ill-advised, should be enough to begin some sort of succession plan. Zuckerberg has stated previously that he knows he would’ve been fired if he didn’t have absolute power — because, as I’ve said, Mark Zuckerberg will kill this company.
Let’s put it very, very simply: Meta makes the majority of its money from advertising, one under threat from both Apple and Google’s Privacy changes and the European Union’s GDPR. Other than Facebook and Instagram, Zuckerberg has no other viable long-term options for revenue or user growth, even if he had kept his eyes on the metaverse prize.
Despite tens of thousands of employees, Zuckerberg has failed to create anything of note outside of his core products, and also failed to meaningfully improve or innovate within his core products.
While Zuckerberg may pretend that he was a proponent of moving fast and breaking things, he has (outside of “Meta”) failed to create anything particularly interesting. His product launches have almost exclusively been trying to make versions of other people’s products — at least three Snapchat competitors, a Clubhouse competitor, a Twitch competitor, a TikTok competitor — and none of them have ever succeeded at actually competing. He is a walking refutation to the famous (though, admittedly, misattributed) Oscar Wilde adage: “Talent borrows; genius steals.”
Meta is the most at-risk company in tech’s rot economy — adored by Wall Street for eternally-growing revenues while experiencing a slow-motion car crash of product saturation. There are only so many people on Earth left to join Facebook and Instagram, and very few reasons to do so other than “everybody seems to use it.” Meta has — much like Twitter, but to a much worse extent — failed to understand that people want to see stuff they actually like on the platform, and that catering to user preferences over what we would like the user to see is a losing proposition as a social network.
Meta is entirely beholden to user growth, because there are only so many more ways in which one can advertise to or monetize the users they already have. And every attempt to monetize users on a free website is one that is naturally antagonistic unless you find ways to make the platform more enjoyable to use — something that Meta has proven fundamentally incapable of doing.
Meta — and its products — are stagnating, and they are doing so as a result of an executive team that has continually shown that they cannot innovate. Facebook and Instagram currently print money, and yet Meta has spent over a hundred billion dollars exclusively on metaverse research and development over the last decade to produce very little of note. Despite having access to the world’s top engineers and an overstuffed war chest, Mark Zuckerberg is arguably one of the least-innovative entrepreneurs of all time. And Facebook and Instagram are significantly worse as a result.
As long as Mark Zuckerberg is CEO of Meta, this company will continue to stagnate and die a slow, exhausting death. While it may seem strange that he’d drop his metaverse idea at the first sign of something more perceptually interesting to Wall Street, he has a proven track record of chasing other people’s ideas and failing to compete. It has been twenty years since his last good idea, and he is still getting credit for it as if he hasn’t fundamentally destroyed the user experience and weakened the company with his awful decision-making.
Mark Zuckerberg is a glorified management consultant — an ineffectual ideas man with a resumé of bad ideas and worse execution. While it may seem impossible to drive a $500 billion company into the ground, I firmly believe he’s the man for the job.