If there’s one term that’s reverberated throughout AR and VR circles more than any other in the past year, it’s metaverse. And though it has become co-opted, conflated and clouded through overuse in corporate marketing, it does represent some legitimate principles worth examining.
For example, though it’s often lumped together as a monolithic term, the metaverse could have a few tracks. One track includes purely virtual and immersive worlds, accessed through VR and other devices. Another track involves digital twins of the physical world, unlocked through AR.
But we’re so early that even that framework may be wrong. Indeed, it’s too early to define the metaverse in certain terms because it will be a moving target as it grows into its own skin. Even its naming is uncertain. But we still can begin to conceptualize it as a thought exercise.
And that’s the topic of a recent ARtillery Intelligence report, and an episode of ARtillery Briefs. We break down the latter below, including embedded video and narrative takeaways.
Starting with the first track noted above, it involves digital domains that host time-synchronous interactions among place-shifted participants. Mark Zuckerberg describes it as an “embodied internet,” offering the connectivity, utility, and entertainment of the web, but fleshed out in 3D.
And this is often discussed in VR terms, with today’s exemplars being Altspace VR, Rec Room, and VRChat. But we also have non-VR 3D worlds like Fortnite, Roblox, and even Second Life. These are what our friend Charlie Fink calls “lowercase-m” metaverses versus The Metaverse.
This is just one example of the definitional jockeying around what the metaverse is and isn’t. The truth may be that it’s none of these things….yet. But though we can’t put our finger on what it is or will be, there’s some consensus about metaverse properties that should be in place.
For example, it should be interoperable so that users can move between domains with consistent identities or assets. It should also be open and operate on common standards. When adding up the items on this list, there’s a common model staring us right in the face: the web.
Breaking that down, the web today offers a balance of proprietary business interests and common standards of interoperability. For the latter, it has the browser, and protocols like HTTPS. For all these reasons, the metaverse could stem from today’s web rather than replace it.
As for the second metaverse track – that which synchronizes with the physical world – the thinking follows an existing construct: The AR cloud. This is all about data that’s geo-anchored to places and things to enable AR devices to evoke the right graphics at the right time.
Several tech giants today are building platforms around this vision. Niantic’s Lightship is one example. And then there’s Google, which is working to annotate and index the physical world, just like it created massive value indexing the web 2.0 years ago. We call this the Internet of Places.
Speaking of Google, this real-world metaverse (or metavearth), will need a filtration system that governs the relevance of the 3D content that you’re served throughout the day. In other words, what will be the browser of the physical-world metaverse, and what will be its search engine?
But all of that just scratches the surface and you can read more in the full report. In closing, we’ll reiterate that a fully actualized metaverse could be years or even decades away. And its use cases are still largely unknown or unimagined. It’s like trying to conceptualize the iPhone in 1985.
Or more recently, consider Uber: no one thought of Uber when the iPhone launched. It took a few years of living with the new form factor for native thinking to seep into the developer mindset. The same goes for Foursquare, Spotify, Snapchat, and several other smartphone-native innovations.
So the metaverse could follow that same developmental path. But though it will take a while, there will be meaningful activity along the way, some of which we’re already seeing in AR and VR. Or, as our friend Amy Peck says, the metaverse will be as much about the journey as the destination.