These days, it seems like everyone and their parent company is talking about the “metaverse” as the next big thing that’s going to revolutionize our lives online. But everyone seems to have their own idea of what “the metaverse” means – that is, if they have a real idea of what it means.
The term “metaverse” was originally coined in Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel in 1992, Snow accident. In the book, the metaverse (always capitalized in Stephenson’s fiction) is a shared “imaginary place” that is “made available to the public over the global fiber optic network” and projected onto virtual reality glasses. In it, developers can “construct buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in reality, such as vast overhead light shows, special quarters where the rules of space – three-dimensional times are ignored and free combat zones, where people can go hunting and killing each other. “
Meta (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues mentioned the word “metaverse” more than 80 times in less than 90 minutes during Facebook Connect’s main presentation last week, where the company announced its new name. But Stephenson has was very clear that “there was no communication between me and FB and no business relationship”. This means that Facebook’s interpretation of the “metaverse” could end up being very different from what Stephenson originally described.
While Meta’s rebranding has been the root of most conversations about the Metaverse these days, nearly 30 years since Snow accident have emerged have seen many online networks that embody some or most of what Stephenson’s book describes. These efforts to create “the Metaverse” have included many online games and gathering places that have captured some of the most important concepts of the Metaverse without ever using the term.
“But here we are,” as Oculus CTO John Carmack recently said. “Mark Zuckerberg decided it was time to build the metaverse, so huge wheels are spinning and resources are flowing and the effort is definitely going to be made.”
So is the Metaverse the next big step that will revolutionize the way we all connect to each other? Is it just a repackaging of existing technology into a new catch-all concept? Or is it just the latest buzzword in marketing?
The answer to that depends on what you mean by “metaverse”.
Define the metaverse
In his opening speech on Facebook Connect last week, Zuckerberg said that “the best way to understand the metaverse is to experience it yourself, but it’s a bit difficult because it doesn’t fully exist yet.” . From where we are, asking people to try something that isn’t there doesn’t seem like the best way to convey a full understanding of your bold new direction.
Elsewhere in the speech, Zuckerberg described a grand vision of the metaverse as an “even more immersive and embodied Internet” where “you can do almost anything you can imagine – get together with friends and family, work, learn, play. , buy, create, as well as whole new categories that don’t quite match our view of computers or phones today. ” It helps a bit, but any description that includes the words “almost anything you can imagine” is so broad that it almost makes no sense.
After breaking down Meta’s vision and examining the history of the Metaverse both as a concept and as embodied by multiple, distinct online spaces, we identified the following that, taken together, seem to define a Metaverse . Anything that has an activity using the term will include any or all of the following:
This basic building block of the concept of the metaverse is what Zuckerberg is talking about when he calls for a more “embodied” Internet. On a website or social media network, you may be represented by a username or a thumbnail image. In the Metaverse, you are represented by a customizable avatar who can move, speak, and / or perform animated actions.
These types of avatars have been common in all kinds of online games and social spaces since the 90s (anyone remember Habbo Hotel?). But the loyalty and abilities of an avatar can vary greatly from department to department. Recent advances in virtual reality have allowed users to truly embody their fantastic avatars, see through their virtual eyes, and use manual tracking controllers to gesture and interact with virtual objects. Spaces like VRChat show just how elaborate these VR avatars can now be.
A persistent “world” in which avatars can inhabit and interact with
In some cases this means a virtual world that mimics the space constraints and land scarcity of the real world, as seen in Second lifediscreet plots of land. In other cases, it just means that users share spaces specially created for a particular game or urgent special event, like the recent multimedia concerts held in Fortnite.
In an idealized metaverse, each user shares a single virtual world, where items and properties persist for everyone between online sessions. For technical reasons, however, many modern metaverse-style spaces end up dividing users into partitioned servers where a small subset of users can interact.