Meta's latest crisis is tough to watch but might mean we get a good Facebook again

Mark Zuckerberg
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not immune to the crosswinds of a particularly rough economic climate, Meta is in the process of laying off 10,000 employees. It's awful news for those affected, news Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a lengthy employee note that reveals a humbled leader and company apparently ready to do things differently.

It's hard to read Zuckerberg's note and not see glimmers of a new and more positive direction for Meta -- and especially, the social media platforms that helped build the empire.

Gone is the master of the universe. In its place is a company reacting to last year's "humbling wake-up call."

Let's get flat

Meta is in the process of doing some significant restructuring and trimming of "garbage" and low-priority projects.

While the moves are likely necessary on a fiscal level, I think they may have a net positive result on Meta's actions and products.

How do you get flat? As Zuckerberg outlines in his memo, you start by removing management layers and making sure that those managers are contributors. I often call these people player-managers. It's a baseball team term in which the team manager also plays on a base or the outfield. Former Yankee manager Joe Torre started his career that way with the Mets. In baseball, a player-manager might be more deeply invested in the game outcome. Someone who contributes to a project, as opposed to just overseeing it, usually helps produce a product that better aligns with users' needs.

A flatter organization means that bad decisions, including policy ones, might no longer be buried many levels deep. In fact, better visibility into them might mean some never become policy or product in the first place.

It is already clear that this reorganized, leaner, and more plain-like structure is marking a readjustment of big priorities. 

Yesterday, we learned that Facebook and Instagram are done with NFTs (aren't we all?).  While Zuckerberg doesn't say it, it's starting to feel like Meta is taking its foot off the gas on Web3 initiatives. The Metaverse, in particular looks like it's been shifted from steering the company to taking Meta's back seat.

"Our leading work building the metaverse and shaping the next generation of computing platforms also remains central to defining the future of social connection," wrote Zuckerberg in the note. It's one of two mentions of the Metaverse, an idea once so dominant in Zuckerberg's mind that it forced the renaming (and realignment) of the company.

However, now it comes after AI, which Zuckerberg describes like this, "Our single largest investment is in advancing AI and building it into every one of our products."

Priority you

Of course, you could accuse Zuckerberg of once again chasing the latest tech obsession. There is not a single company that isn't talking about AI, baking it into products, or realigning its strategy around it. How Facebook has not launched its own ChatGPT-infused chatbot in at least Messenger is beyond me (I'm sure it's coming).

On the other hand, the days of Meta and Zuckerberg force-feeding the Metaverse to users and partners are probably at an end.

Meta's clarity of focus and realization that the economic forecast won't turn sunny any time soon may shift real-world consumer priorities to the center of focus and push aside moonshots like neural interfaces (to be fair, Meta dropped that idea in 2021), and even wearable technology that no one wants to wear.

That's the hope, at least, that some good can come out of a miserable situation and that, when the dust settles, people find that Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Meta Quest are serving their needs and not a vision of what life will be like in the 22nd century.

On the other hand, Zuckerberg also wrote this:

"One day we hope to enable every person to feel as strong a sense of connection as you feel when you’re physically with someone you love."

So, I guess all bets are off.

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.