What is the Metaverse? It is coming and it’s a very Big Deal

 It may look like some type of Virtual Reality (VR), but many tech companies think that the metaverse could be the future of the internet and the next big thing. Instead of being on a computer, in the metaverse you might use a headset to enter a virtual world connecting all sorts of digital environments.

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What exactly is this metaverse?

The term was coined in Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional virtual space that uses the metaphor of the real world. The metaverse in a broader sense may not only refer to virtual worlds, but the Internet as a whole, including the entire spectrum of augmented reality.

Till now, there’s no universally accepted definition of a real “metaverse”. Wikipedia defines metaverse as "future iteration of the Internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe." Venture capitalist Matthew Ball, author of the extensive Metaverse Primer define it as "an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence”.

In layman's terms, Metaverse generally refers to shared virtual world environments which people can access via the internet. Instead of being on a computer, in the metaverse you might use a headset to enter a virtual world connecting all sorts of digital environments. Most tech people envision that you would have a 3D avatar - a representation of yourself - as you use it. Unlike current VR or AR, which is mostly used for gaming, this virtual world could be used for practically anything - work, play, concerts, cinema trips - or just hanging out. It’s not a single product, it’s not a game, and it’s not being created by one company. Rather, it’s akin to a 3D world wide web, where businesses, information and communication tools are immersive and interoperable.

What will people be able to do in this metaverse?

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Fans of the metaverse see it as the next stage in the development of the internet. There's also a feeling that for the first time, the technology is nearly there, with advancements in VR gaming and connectivity coming close to what might be needed. At the moment, people interact with each other online by going to websites such as social media platforms or using messaging applications. The idea of the metaverse is that it will create new online spaces in which people's interactions can be more multi-dimensional, where users are able to immerse themselves in digital content rather than simply viewing it.

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People will be able to both Work and play in the Metaverse. For example, “ Alice” creates a 3D avatar within Facebook or Microsoft Teams and uses it in virtual meetings. After work, she attends a virtual music show with friends and their avatars appear among the hundreds of little heads in the audience. The music finishes and the band says “don’t forget to buy a T-shirt!” Jane browses the designs at a virtual stall just as she would on Amazon, Asos or Taobao today, pays for one with cryptocurrency and wears it at the next day’s virtual meeting. A colleague asks to borrow it for his daughter to use that evening inside a Roblox game, and she lends it to him easily. This simple scenario involves corporate communication tools, live-event streaming, e-commerce and sharing something of value.

Which companies are in this metaverse game?

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Image: Facebook

Computer-graphics chipmaker Nvidia Corp. wants its Omniverse platform to power some of the underlying framework, as does software-maker Unity Software. Zuckerberg sees great promise in the metaverse, and it’s a factor behind his company’s investment in products such as the Oculus virtual-reality headset. He said in July, 2021 that the company will try to transition from being a social media company to a metaverse company in the next five years or so. Video-game developer Roblox Corp is also in China through a joint venture with Tencent Holdings Ltd., which launched a parallel platform that follows rules set by the Chinese government’s censors. There are even specialist consultancies such as U.K.-based Dubit to help companies move into the metaverse. And don’t forget payment providers and cryptocurrencies because someone’s going to need to facilitate those cross-virtual-border transactions.