Facebook’s October 28th 2021 rebranding as Meta has been hotly debated.
It may appear that the metaverse is an outcome of Meta’s crazy ambition, but that’s not true. Some argue that the metaverse Mark Zuckerberg talked about at the Connect 2021 conference keynote does not exist, while others consider it the next evolution of the internet known simply as Web3 or Web 3.0.
This is partly because the metaverse has different meanings to different people. However, the lines between reality and the virtual world are blurred beyond recognition.
What Is the Metaverse, and Where Did It Come From?
The origins of the term metaverse can been traced back to Neal Stephenson, who wrote Snow Crash, a dystopian cyberpunk book. The book was published in 1992. It is considered a canon of this genre. William Gibson’s Neuromancer also describes a virtual reality dataspace called “the matrix”.
The Snow Crash metaverse can be accessed using personal terminals and virtual reality glasses. This space is similar to the Oculus Quest or other VR headsets. It appears to its users that this 3D space is an urban environment, created along one hundred-meter-wide street, the Street. Stephenson writes
Like all places in Reality, the Street can be developed. Developers can create their own streets, which feed into the main one. They can also build signs, parks and buildings.
Stephenson’s visions of the metaverse may seem familiar to you, as many multiplayer online games (MMOGs or, more commonly, MMOs), share many of their properties. Second Life was launched in 2003 and allows users to customize their avatars, interact with other players, create and manage virtual properties, and trade goods and services.
Second Life and other virtual experiences can be called protometaverses. Why the prefix? Because they exist in isolation. Each is a digital island, whose inhabitants and virtual assets never leave it. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t trying to create a metaverse, but it’s the next internet.
“We’ve moved from desktop to mobile, from text to photos and video to the web; from web to mobile to desktop.” Zuckerberg recently wrote to employees that this wasn’t the end. “The next platform will offer an immersive experience that allows you to be in the experience rather than just looking at it. This is what we call the metaverse and it will touch all products that we make.
Is the Metaverse a Reality?
If the metaverse wants to become an embodied web, then it must possess certain properties which distinguish it from virtual reality experiences like Second Life.
Matthew Ball, Venture Capitalist, describes them in his website:
The metaverse can be described as a vastly interconnected network of 3D virtual reality worlds that have been rendered in real time. Users can experience them synchronously and continuously by an almost unlimited number of people with an individual sense or presence. There is continuity of data including identity, history, entitlements and objects.
To get a better understanding of the metaverse, let us list its properties:
3D virtual worlds
Individual senses of presence
Continuity and integration of data
Meta: A Futuristic Retail Exemple
In practice, the metaverse exists when a user can visit a large virtual shopping center that can be enjoyed by as many people possible. They can then purchase a unique item digitally and then sell it a few weeks later on a completely new virtual world or perhaps on Twitter, eBay, OpenSea.
Some might respond, “Wait, I’ve seen that movie.”
Steven Spielberg directed Ready Player One. This movie, which was the first Ernest Cline book to be published by Random House in 2011, is probably the best visual example of what the metaverse might look like.
However, the movie has fundamental differences from expert views about the soon-to be metaverse. For example, there is only one major platform in this movie, the Oasis. It makes up the metaverse that Gregarious Games created. The movie’s main use of VR hardware to interact with the metaverse is another major difference. Experts believe VR will have less use than AR hardware, which is not emphasized in this movie.
What Will Power the Metaverse’s Future?
Different types of technology will be used to drive the metaverse, including cloud infrastructure, software tools platforms, applications and user-generated content. Beyond the technical requirements, the metaverse includes a range of user experiences such as entertainment, gaming, commerce and social interactions.
When will the Metaverse appear?
Now the question is, how long does it take for us to move beyond various protometaverses into the grand metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg believes it will be before the end of the decade. But, because the foundational elements are in place, it could be even sooner.
The internet today allows huge numbers of people to connect in virtual environments. This was evident when over 12.3 million people tuned in to Fortnite’s VR concert with Travis Scott. The current infrastructure is quite impressive but it will likely need further development to support the metaverse industry experts.
We also have the hardware needed to render 3D avatars and virtual environments in 3D. Oculus is the largest producer of virtual reality headsets. Meta is its owner. Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed realities smart glasses has been used by many enterprises since its launch in 2016. Apple is also expected to release its AR headsets and VR headsets in 2022. Pico and MagicLeap are among the many manufacturers that are quickly developing hardware platforms. Cascade technology architectures allow for shifting computational loads between back-end server infrastructures and edge devices through cascading technology architectures. Unity’s Furioos shows how streaming interactive 3D environments can be done in real-time. This is thanks to their GPU server infrastructure that automatically scales. Metaverse will provide a ubiquitous computing experience for users that can use their mobile devices and also incorporate emerging immersive AR/VR wearables.
Finally, the same innovations that disrupted financial services industries since the Bitcoin network was created in January 2009 can be used for the continuity of data within the metaverse. Nonfungible tokens, also known as NFTs or nonfungible tokens, are a great example of how blockchain technology could be used to verify digital asset ownership. They are already available on 3D virtual reality platforms.
Marc Petit, EPIC Games vice president and general manger of Unreal Engine, stated recently in an interview that the metaverse will require “shared virtual universes that incorporate persistent” which means that users should be able move between universes with their digital belongings. This could be illustrated by a user’s NFT sneakers purchased from Nike. These shoes will be available to avatar use in Meta’s Horizon platform as well as other virtual worlds, such Fortnite and Minecraft.
Decentraland, another example, is a decentralized world with no central leadership. The Ethereum blockchain is the foundation of the world. It’s managed and controlled by an autonomous, decentralized entity. With the help of voting and this organization, players have the ability to control how the world behaves. Decentraland also has MANA, its decentralized currency that can be exchanged for other currencies on cryptocurrency exchanges.
Decentraland could one day be a decentralized world that flows digital assets and currencies in the future. This would allow for the exchange of fiat money as well as physical goods between people who live in different parts the real world.
The metaverse would not be owned by anyone, much like the internet isn’t owned today. However, there will still be many players in the space. Companies such as Meta, Microsoft, Epic Games and Roblox want to be part. This is why they have invested billions of dollars in making sci-fi a reality.
The metaverse was just an idea that Neal Stephenson first mentioned in his book Snow Crash. Many large technology companies bet that the metaverse will soon become a reality. If you don’t want to wait to see individual virtual experiences form one large world, then join platforms such Decentraland or Horizon Workrooms to get an idea of what the future might look like.
Facebook’s October 28th 2021 rebranding as Meta has been hotly debated.