Facebook’s recent announcement of rebranding its corporate parent company to Meta Platforms Inc has sent, not just the tech industry leaders, but every investment institution and news outlet into a spiral trying to understand what exactly the Metaverse is. The question on everyone’s minds is will Meta revolutionise the way we live our online lives.
What is the Metaverse?
The author Neal Stephenson originally coined the term ‘Metaverse’ in a cyberpunk novel titled ‘Snow Crash’ that was released in 1992. In the novel, Neal expressed that the Metaverse was a public shared space available over the worldwide fiber-optics network that was cast onto virtual reality goggles. In the dystopian novel, developers built parks, buildings and special neighbourhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored.
CEO of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg described an elaborate vision of the Metaverse as “a set of virtual spaces” where “you’re going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine, like get together with friends and family, work, play, shop, create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you” in an “even more immersive and embodied internet”.
This description may sound broad, but ultimately the difference between the Metaverse and the websites or social media networks we may be more accustomed to is that in the latter you may be characterised by a user handle or a user profile picture. While, on the other hand, the Metaverse would more than likely characterise you using a customizable avatar that may be programmatically animated to move, speak, and perform certain behaviours.
These types of avatars are more common-place in online gaming communities – you may be aware of Roblox, World of Warcraft or Second Life – but from service to service, these avatar’s abilities can vary greatly.
Tim Sweeney, CEO of Fortnite, has said that they – as well as Meta – are building one piece of a larger interconnected Metaverse, similar to any single social media platform on today’s internet. Microsoft has also announced that it too will launch into the Metaverse space, focusing specifically in the realm of the virtual office for now. In essence, the Metaverse can broadly be understood as a perpetual, shared virtual realm where items and property persist for everyone between online sessions.