On October 28th, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally made an official announcement about his long-term plans for Facebook, which have been speculated on since this summer: he renamed the company Meta and aims to become one of the leaders in building what is known as the metaverse.
The announcement, however, left us with a great many burning questions. So we decided to sit down and answer these questions as best we can.
What the hell is the Metaverse?
The term “metaverse” was most likely coined in “Snow Crash,” a 1992 cyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson, where people had access to a fully fleshed-out digital world, that acted as an extension of the physical world. This isn’t too far from what Zuckerberg envisions as the metaverse:
“[…] you can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it,” he said in an interview with Casey Newton of The Verge. “And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness.”
In short, it’s a digital world that acts as an extension of our physical reality.
Will there be more than one Metaverse?
The short answer is that we’re not sure yet. The long answer is that there will probably be one metaverse, but it will be built on a decentralized system that will be interoperable. This means that while many different companies, creators and even governments will build their own metaverse experiences, people will be able to crossover from one corner to the other along with their avatar, all their digital possessions and anything else which might end up defining one’s experience in the metaverse. To set an example, today’s social media apps are barely interoperable; TikTok might allow you to share videos directly to Instagram, or Facebook might allow you to respond to your Instagram page’s DMs through their dashboard (which makes sense since they’re essentially the same company), but that’s pretty much where it ends. Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for Meta and – by extension – the metaverse is that everyone will collectively contribute and help build a system that is universal. So, in the morning you could be going to work on a corner of the metaverse developed by your employer as their virtual office, and later in the day attend a virtual concert in another corner of the metaverse created by an event promoter.
Will there be a collective metaverse, spearheaded by Facebook, or will each company host their own version of the metaverse with limited interoperability? Only time will tell. One thing is for certain however; the metaverse is here to stay, and is the future of technology and so much more. Multiple tech and entertainment giants have set their eyes on riding the metaverse train, with Disney and Microsoft being just two of them, so we expect developments on all fronts to become public over the next years.
Why have a Metaverse in the first place?
The Metaverse, believe it or not, isn’t just a cool concept, but actually offers solutions to a number of problems that we as a global community have been experiencing recently.
Global real estate prices have been soaring in recent times and many analysts indicate that real estate in the Metaverse will follow this trend. While the Metaverse certainly doesn’t offer a solution to the global (physical) housing crisis, it does provide Millennials and Get Z’s with an alternative investment opportunity.
With interest rates at all time low and inflation going through the roof, younger generations have the chance to invest in the Metaverse and the tech behind it, just like the baby boomers had the chance to sit on 10% interest rates back in the day. And whilst it may be heard to believe at this early stage, the demand for virtual real estate is already seemingly there, as we are seeing an upsurge in Metaverse casino usage, accessible to players across the globe, no longer limited by geography. Furthermore, building in the Metaverse allows for new possibilities in architecture, with designers no longer bound by physics. Thus, people can host the party of a lifetime in an anti-gravity dream skyscraper apartment that they’ve always wanted!
Currently, 64% of the 32 billion material fashion garments produced each year end up in landfill, a shocking statistic. With the metaverse, comes the widespread adoption of personalised avatars (like snapchat’s bitmojis), customisable through unique, digital NFT attire, and thus a thirst for digital fashion. Furthermore, because the Metaverse doesn’t need to adhere to real world physics, this opens up even more possibilities for limitless creativity within the world of fashion and personal expression. Think flaming Nikes (with actual, burning flames), or airborne jackets that allow your avatars to fly. Now imagine being able to share these garments on your Instagram story, through a seamless user integration. Pretty cool, right? The result – an impending boom in digital fashion.
It’s no secret that the world has been socially isolated for well over a year now. The thirst for real world, human-contact is stronger than ever and the Metaverse, whilst strictly speaking not “real world”, is the next best thing and subsequent step in social interaction online. This is because of its potential to provide a fully immersive user experience.
Where are we at with it now?
Unfortunately, you can’t fully enter the Metaverse now. However, tech and gaming companies have been contributing and building small metaverse-like experiences for some time now. This can be seen in what gamers experience while playing Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox, or how Sony and Facebook have developed their own VR headsets for a more immersive gaming experience. Technically and conceptually, these ventures are still in their early phases, yet make up the first step towards a fully functional metaverse within the years to come. Depending factors like how quickly the tech moves and mass adoption happens, as well as long this global pandemic may drag on for, we may see ourselves entering the metaverse sooner than we think.