The Metaverse… ever since Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed Facebook (now meta) is going to be a “metaverse company” the term is the all the buzz. This is a description of the Metaverse in 5 minutes. You don’t even have 5 minutes? Here is the Metaverse in one sentence:
The Metaverse is a collection of open, persistent, interconnected virtual worlds, objects, and real-time simulations, where people can meet, work, play, trade, or learn together, with an individual sense of presence.
And like the universe, it is expanding.
Faceb… meta did not invent the Metaverse, neither did Microsoft or Intel, although they all hurriedly announced their own version of it. The truth is, parts of the Metaverse are already here and have been for many years. And the full-blown version that has been shown in movies like Ready Player One is still a couple of years away. So what is it? And where is it? Here’s the slightly longer version.
What the Metaverse is and why it matters to you
89% of businesses expect hybrid working – split between home and office – to become permanent after the pandemic, prompting investment in new technology, and offices that can offer more to staff than a desk and a wifi signal (PwC 2021). Studies have shown that companies who give their employees the option of working from home have boosted their productivity significantly, and feeling the presence of your colleagues in VR conquers Zoom fatigue. The Metaverse is nothing short of your future workplace, game room, laboratory, and university.
The Metaverse is a network of persistent virtual worlds and simulations, where people meet, play, build, design, trade, or work together, experiencing a sense of presence, represented by avatars or even holograms. An avatar can be your digital look-alike or a simplified cartoon-like character, or even an imaginary fantasy creature. It all depends on your taste, budget, and the platform you are using.
I follow Tony Parisi and his 7 Rules of the Metaverse, that there is only one Metaverse, as there is only one Internet, and nobody controls it. There is no owner, and at the moment there is very limited interoperability. What does limited interoperability mean?
You need a different login and avatar for every world you want to enter, and you can’t take your assets with you. But that is going to change soon, as many metaverse pioneers are already working on open standards.
Some people are talking instead about many metaverses or multiverses — the definitions vary and only time will tell. Some of these virtual spaces are open or even decentralized, where the users have a say in governance, and some are walled gardens, with no means for exchange.
The Metaverse is not sci-fi anymore: games like Minecraft and Fortnite are just as much a part of it as blockchain-based vast virtual worlds like Decentraland or pax.world. Companies and communities already meet in corporate headquarters in virtual reality or they create games and immersive learning spaces, where your teacher appears as an avatar. The Covid pandemic boosted the adoption of virtual meeting spaces in 3D and VR like never before, and it feels remarkably similar to the frenzy about the WWW in the mid-nineties when everything was still so undefined.
Not a game: Networking at the InnoHub Learning Programme in summer 2021, organized by Evenness. There is a real human being behind every avatar and everyone remembers “having been there”, even without a VR headset, in a browser (platform: metameet/Fruss).
Virtual art galleries are selling digital artwork for millions of dollars as we speak (using NFTs). Virtual property sells for millions as well: patches of virtual land are in high demand, and first movers are making sure they own their piece of the future internet. It is like in 1995 when some companies were still arguing that the WWW is just a fad, and others claimed their virtual domain spaces, literally. The Metaverse now is what the web was back then. This is only the beginning.
Instead of a web page, you’ll be expected to have three-dimensional, beautiful company headquarters where people can meet and mingle, have chance encounters and workshops, or work on new products in a virtual space that feels just like being there with your colleagues.
Sometimes even the borders between the digital and the physical world blend into another: Augmented Reality brings digital experiences into our living room.
Engineers working together in a virtual space. The woman on the right wears VR/AR goggles and sees the engine in her physical office. The woman in the centre joined in via web browser and webcam, and the one on the left is working inside a VR environment with her VR headset (Spatial)
The Metaverse is the next stage in the evolution of the Internet: while the Internet enables the exchange and linking of data, information, and documents, the future Metaverse is an open universe of virtual worlds, decentralized data, and experiences, a meeting place where we have access to everything from the flat Internet, plus real-time data from the physical world (IoT), and continuity of assets, objects, and identity, presented through avatars.
At the moment the Internet is mobile, we use our smartphones all the time and everywhere. You’re probably reading this on your phone right now, glaring at your tiny screen.
Now imagine you would instead don some fancy glasses, jump into a three-dimensional space that looks like your company’s headquarters or a space station, or like something completely different, without physical limits.
You would run into your colleagues, friends, or random strangers, some look exactly like in real life and others like fairies, cartoons or robots, and you start working together, shop, play, teach or you learn something new. All that with other human beings, also standing in their living room, home office, or sitting in a train, but on the other side of your city or the planet. The best part: you don’t even need those clunky VR headsets. Some metaverse worlds work in your browser, today.
Meeting in VR with my colleague @Florian to brainstorm ideas for a lecture
That’s a glimpse into the Metaverse in 5 minutes. It’s not just virtual reality, augmented reality, or mixed reality, it involves the Internet of things (IoT), blockchain, NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), and Artificial Intelligence, especially Conversational AI (you’ll need embodied tour guides, tutors, and receptionists everywhere). And the best thing about it: you can start experiencing the early tentative manifestations right now, right here, with your browser, VR headset, or even your smartphone. The future is now.