First, let us ask you a question. Have you ever encountered the term “metaverse”? You've probably heard the hype: the metaverse is going to change the way you live. Everyone has been scrambling to comprehend what a metaverse is since Mark Zuckerberg said in 2021 that the future of Facebook would be in the metaverse. The tech industry was gripped by metaverse fever after Facebook relaunched as Meta in October 2021.
Every corporation has suddenly entered the metaverse market, from Microsoft to Nvidia.
But, what exactly is the metaverse? What is the significance of this, and who should be concerned? If the metaverse is actually "the next chapter of the internet," as Zuckerberg claims, understanding and defining it is important to prevent being caught off guard when the metaverse tsunami hits.
First, a bit of back story. The term ‘Metaverse’ was first coined by writer Neal Stephenson in 1992 in his science fiction novel ‘Snow Crash’, where people use digital avatars to discover the online world as a way of escaping a dystopian reality. The idea of the Metaverse was further explored by Ernest Cline in his 2011 book "Ready Player One", which was also made into a film by director Steven Spielberg in 2018.
Simply put, a metaverse is an embodied internet at its core: a social place where people may communicate via individualized avatars that make them feel more present than a traditional video conversation. It's synchronous, thus it more closely resembles real life than today's feed-based social media. Instead of watching what others are doing, you'll be able to communicate with them in real-time.
It will also, like the rest of the planet, be persistent. You will not have to start over when you return to a metaverse space. And, just like in real life, it will have several activities that you may want to do with other people, such as attending concerts and other events, playing games, socializing, dating, and, yes, working and shopping.
To be clear, at this time, the metaverse does not exist.
We do, however, have a couple of forerunners:
Finally, there is one major reason why the metaverse has yet to emerge:
The metaverse is organized in the form of a network. It is a collection of services that are loosely linked, both by firms building dedicated highways between their services and by individuals carving their paths between destinations.
That's also why the initial avatar-based services, like Second Life, aren't self-contained metaverses. The metaverse is made up of a slew of interconnected services, just as the mobile internet isn't made up of a single app and none of your phone's apps would exist without the presence of a slew of other apps and services.
The idea behind the deluxe Metaverse – the one that requires a headset – is an immersive, 360-degree digital world. You'll have your own avatar, which you'll be able to design, and you'll own digital assets, the titles of which will likely be recorded on a blockchain. Some think you'll buy plots of digital land and build online houses, in which you can entertain your friends (or at least their avatars).
That may sound fantastical or absurd, but bets on the value of digital land have already started. Tokens.com, a Canadian company, spent almost $2.5 million on virtual property in Decentraland, a 3D world platform that is a spiritual descendant of Geocities or Second Life. (Purchases in Decentraland are conducted with an Ethereum blockchain token.)
All the things we're already doing on the internet point to how the metaverse may grow. It will be a bit of gaming, some Zoom telepresence, splashes of VR and AR, and plenty of social media. Expect many attempts to pull it all together so that it's fun or useful.
Metaverse technology as outlined by Zuckerberg is years away from being realized; however, he has said that he believes the Metaverse will be fully available by the end of the decade. The existing infrastructure and tech are already impressive, but they will need to evolve further to support the Metaverse industry that experts foresee.
In an interview with Forbes in November 2021, deVere CEO and founder Nigel Green said that Facebook will hire a reported 10,000 people in the European Union to develop Zuckerberg’s Metaverse on its Horizon World platform. “Facebook’s announcement once again underscores that the Metaverse is not being seen by those-in-the-know as an ‘extension’ of the internet but as its successor,” Green said.
The rush to the metaverse did not begin with Zuckerberg's fascination with virtual reality, believe it or not. Rather, it is influenced by a wide range of factors. People are flocking in droves to avatar-based social gaming platforms; the pandemic has driven us all to seek out new types of real-time engagement; and tech giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Meta are all on the lookout for the next big thing after the smartphone. And, even as these patterns emerge in real-time, a few key questions remain unsolved.
Whether the metaverse takes a decade or a century to develop, immersive hardware will undoubtedly play a key part in popularizing it. That is why the race to produce augmented reality glasses amongst Meta, Apple, Snap, and Microsoft is so important. Whoever wins this tournament will not win the metaverse, but they will undoubtedly have a considerable home-field advantage.