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Mark Zuckerberg, speaking to reporters in a VR meeting using Facebook's Horizon Workrooms software. Photo: Axios screenshot

Facebook is pitching a new option for distant coworkers who want to gather and regain some of the spontaneous creative space lost in a world of Zoom meetings: Strap on a VR headset.

Why it matters: Facebook is debuting Horizon Workrooms, a free app that is part of the company's effort to create a broad "metaverse" in which physical distance is removed as a barrier for those who want to interact with one another.

How it works:

  • The app, being released in beta form today, allows people with an Oculus Quest 2 headset to gather in a conference room-like space using the headset's internal cameras to replicate hand motions and other visual cues.
  • It also uses spatial audio to link each person to their physical spot in the virtual room, another way to make it feel more like a real gathering.
  • Participants can collaborate on a shared whiteboard as well as bring in photos and other documents.
  • People can also bring their PC or Mac screen into the experience and take notes on the keyboard, using the device's pass-through camera to see their fingers typing.
    • Doing so allows people to take notes as well as do the other things they would at an in-person meeting — like surreptitiously surf the web when the boss starts yammering on. (Others can't see what you are doing on your virtual computer.)
  • Participants without headsets can also join in Workroom gatherings, appearing as a video chat on a large display within the virtual conference room.
  • In a briefing with reporters this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dropped in, first via video chat and then in VR using his avatar. "We shouldn't really have to physically be together to feel present or collaborate or brainstorm," Zuckerberg said. "We think it is going to be a big use case for VR."
Participants can bring a virtual version of their computer screen and keyboard into a meeting, allowing for note-taking and web browsing. Image: Facebook

Between the lines: The technology is clearly in beta for a reason. When Zuckerberg initially entered the VR meeting, his mouth wasn't moving, which another Facebook executive said was creepy. He encouraged his boss to exit and re-enter — which he did, solving the problem.

  • Battery life remains a significant issue for VR headsets, with my demo unit down to a quarter of its charge by the end of the hourlong meeting.
  • On the other hand, it does serve as an effective way to prevent long meetings.

The big picture: Facebook sees office meetings as just one type of social interaction that will move to the world of mixed reality, with entertainment and other personal activities being as much or more of the company's focus when it comes to the "metaverse."

  • Zuckerberg said he now thinks of Facebook as more of a metaverse company than as a social media business.
  • Nor is Facebook alone in seeing the potential of VR to improve remote meetings. We've written a bunch about Spatial, a startup taking a similar approach to meetings. Its platform supports Oculus Quest, Microsoft Hololens and other headsets, as well as those joining from a phone or PC. (Here's a video of me trying out their technology.)

Go deeper: Here is a video of Zuckerberg showing off the technology and touting its promise.

Go deeper

Nov 15, 2021 - Technology

Ohio AG sues Facebook for misleading the public

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Ohio attorney general Dave Yost filed suit against Facebook parent company Meta, alleging it misled the public about the potential harm its products can cause.

What's happening: Yost filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) and Facebook investors, citing the Wall Street Journal's reporting and internal documents leaked by former employee Frances Haugen, according to a release from Yost's office on Monday.

Why it matters: It's the latest legal salvo against Meta, which is facing multiple federal, state and international investigations. This one comes on the heels of Haugen testifying to a U.S. Senate subcommittee and the European Parliament about Facebook's internal research and decision-making.

  • Facebook knowingly made false statements about the safety, security and privacy of its platforms, the suit, filed Friday, argues. It says those revelations caused Facebook's stock to lose value, costing the investors and OPERS more than $100 billion.

What they're saying: "Facebook said it was looking out for our children and weeding out online trolls, but in reality was creating misery and divisiveness for profit," Yost said in the release. "We are not people to Mark Zuckerberg, we are the product and we are being used against each other out of greed."

  • The suit seeks to recover the lost stock value and demands Facebook make changes to guarantee it does not mislead the public.
  • A spokesman for Meta said the suit is "without merit" and that the company will defend itself "vigorously," per CNBC.

It's official: Stock market having worst start to year ever

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

It's been a decidedly ugly start to the year for the stock market, with particular pain in the tech trade.

State of play: As of the end of trading Tuesday — the 16th session of the year — 2022 is now, officially, the worst-ever start in the history of the S&P 500, according to data from Ned Davis Research, a stock market research shop.

Surprising pandemic side effect: Soaring trade deficits

Source: Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis; Chart: Axios Visuals

Inflation and jobs may get all the economic headlines, but meanwhile a big shift is taking place in the underpinnings of the world economy: The U.S. trade deficit is soaring.

What's happening: Americans' spending on imported physical goods has gone through the roof, while exports are growing slowly, making the U.S. the world's consumer of last resort.