Beam me there, Scotty – users now have another reality to escape to and explore, and this time it is a reality that promises to engage with you in meaningful and responsible ways.
The metaverse can be defined as a simulated digital environment that uses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and blockchain, along with concepts from social media, to create spaces for rich user interaction mimicking the real world.
Think Ready Player One, but more accessible and pragmatic. Think social media as it exists today, but more integrated and immersive. The notion of the metaverse – recently propelled into the mainstream by Facebook’s rebranding as Meta – will transform how we inhabit the world around us.
This has several implications:
- In addition to two-dimensional digital spaces, users will now have an immersive reality that they can occasionally inhabit.
- Content creators and designers (especially 3D modelling and VR world-building experts) can expect new opportunities on the road ahead.
- The metaverse opens up a new economy where wealth can be created, traded, and enhanced using a currency distinct from but related to the real world.
- The metaverse necessitates the evolution of new technologies for its execution. For example, you need a “Digital me” or the digital twin of a person to simulate real-world presence.
- There are concerns around data privacy, security, diversity, and ethical behaviour – problems of the real world that may take on a new dimension in a virtual one.
How does Facebook plan to address and act on these challenges and opportunities as it invests in the metaverse in a big way? To understand this, let us know more about the metaverse in detail.
The Origins of the metaverse
While the term metaverse may be new to some, it has been around as a concept for nearly three decades. American science fiction author Neal Stephenson introduced the metaverse in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash. In the novel (like others in its genre), users use metaverse as an escape from a futuristic, largely dystopian world.
Over the last 30 years, the industry has laid the foundations for a non-fictional metaverse brick by brick. Virtual reality headsets have become more ergonomic and affordable. Global internet penetration has steadily risen. The popularity of online gaming, often reaching tournament levels, has made it possible to envision and execute sophisticated digital avatars, tradable digital assets, and even digital real estate.
Indeed, Facebook isn’t the first company to think about the metaverse. In March, we wrote about the 2017 startup Decentraland, which works on virtually the exact same premise.
Decentraland is backed by $25.5 million in funding and provides users with a VR environment builder, customisable avatars, a crypto-enabled marketplace, digital wallets, and a governance system. Facebook is looking to build a similar experience, but one that intersects with pre-existing, non-AR/VR social media. It announced its pivot into AR/VR in September 2021, along with launching its own take on the metaverse.
What Does the Metaverse Mean for Facebook?
Facebook only teases the notion of the metaverse in its press release, explaining that:
“The metaverse is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create, and more.”
From this definition, it would appear that most of us are familiar with the metaverse in a way and we interact with metaverse-ian elements when we spend prolonged amounts of time online.
It’s for this reason that New Yorker came out with an article aptly titled “We Already Live in Facebook’s metaverse,” which argued that the new AR/VR-leaning concept is an extension of Facebook’s entrenched presence in our digital-social lives and builds on the same principles.
The metaverse by Facebook is expected to evolve over the next 1-2 decades, relying heavily on global partnerships. In the last two months, Facebook has teamed up with Colorintech in the UK for a metaverse content creation competition.
In Germany, it is working with Alte Nationalgalerie on inclusive XR experiences and it has also launched an AR/VR startup growth program in Israel in conjunction with the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
This is on top of Facebook’s extensive technology and hardware partnerships that will inevitably fuel metaverse’s growth.
Answers to Your Top Metaverse FAQs
If you aren’t completely sure of what the metaverse is and how it affects you, here is some more information.
Q. How do you access the metaverse?
A. Facebook’s metaverse is yet to exist. When it does, it will be accessible via VR headsets, augmented reality smart glasses like Ray-Ban Stories, and on desktop and mobile apps in a limited way.
Q. Are there any regulations around the metaverse?
A.While the metaverse is too young to come under the jurisdiction of traditional regulations, Facebook is looking to get a headstart on compliance. It is working with several educational and legal institutions to make sure that they tread carefully.
Q. What are the defining features of the metaverse?
A. As an excellent essay by Mathew Ball explains the metaverse will be persistent, real-time, infinite, interoperable, and self-sustaining.
Q. Who will run the metaverse?
A. Mark Zuckerberg commented in an interview with Verge that the metaverse will be like an “embodied internet,” operated by multiple decentralised players. Facebook will not be running the metaverse.
Q. What are the business opportunities around metaverse?
A. The metaverse would be a massive economic engine. Facebook expects demand for 10,000 highly-skilled jobs in the EU alone, mainly comprising content creators and AR/VR startups. In the future, users can expect to earn money in the metaverse as well.
While many are sceptical about a bigger, more sophisticated version of Facebook’s popular social environment, we must note that the timing makes sense. Cryptocurrency is now extremely popular worldwide, and large-scale video gaming universes like Minecraft or Fortnight have prepared a generation of users for more immersive experiences.
Over the next few years, we can expect increased industry consolidation so that the metaverse is realised as a singular, decentralised entity, and not another technology segment with many competing players.