Mark Zuckerberg helped elevate the hype around the metaverse and how it will be a part of Facebook’s future. The company hopes to use the technology to create a completely different social media experience. The name of the company has changed to “Meta”.
Zuckerberg seeks to bring together all its apps and technologies under this one company brand. Meta will focus on bringing the metaverse to life, as well as helping people connect, find, and grow businesses.
Other brands and businesses need to also consider the ramifications of a future of virtual spaces that will make up the metaverse. The concept of the metaverse is still difficult to digest in the reality of today. We will talk about the metaverse, the major players who are are part of it, and much more in this article.
What is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is described by Meta as “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.” The word doesn’t refer to a certain type of technology. Rather, it’s a shift in how we interact with technology.
The way that Meta will use its social media platform is just one way to interact with the metaverse. Virtual reality makes up part of the technologies that may be involved with the metaverse. We see examples of this through VR experiences like aspects of the video game Fortnite. Computers, game consoles, and phones can be used to access this metaverse experience.
Another example is the digital economy. Users can use it to create, buy, and sell goods. In the real world, if you buy a pair of shoes from a store, you can wear them when you head to the grocery or out to dinner. Today on many platforms you can create virtual avatars, inventories, and identities.
These personas exist solely on that platform. However, in the future, the metaverse will make it possible to create a persona that you can take on multiple social media networks.
The metaverse is not just about new types of video games. We’ll talk later on about the players and applications of the metaverse that are in the works.
Where did the concept of the Metaverse come from?
Let’s start with the basics first and build from that. The term metaverse is traced back to the cyberpunk novel called Snow Crash. Neal Stephenson was the author of the novel which was released in 1992. In the novel, the metaverse is described as a 3D virtual space that can be accessed through personal terminals and virtual reality goggles.
There are similarities between the goggles lens described and real-life devices such as the Oculus Quest. In Stephenson’s world, the virtual metaverse is an ad-fill, hierarchical society. The people who had more expensive VR technology available to them were able to fully immerse themselves in the world. For example, they could create lifelike virtual avatars and give themselves rare digital items.
Other people who could only access the world via a public terminal were largely ignored. They had stigmatized black and white avatars.
This 3D space is called the Street, which is an urban environment that is made up of a single hundred-meter-wide road. Users can develop their small streets off this main one and build things like buildings, signs, and more. There are also neighborhoods that exist within this space where the rules of the 3D spacetime are ignored, allowing people to kill one another.
Stephenson’s world is probably familiar to those who have played massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs, or MMOs). Many of the same concepts are shared between the novel and this genre of games.
For example, there is the MMO called Second Life that was released in 2003. Users can create and customize avatars, meet up with other layers, create virtual items, exchange goods and services, and own virtual real estate.
The types of experiences that games like Second Life provide are described as protometaverses. It is given this prefix because they exist in isolation. Each being that inhabits this digital island can’t leave it or take its virtual assets elsewhere.
Players in the Metaverse
Meta is not the only company that is bringing the metaverse to life. It’s definitely the most well-known and has made the term popular. Let’s talk about Meta and the other companies that are working on technology that be taking us into the future.
We have to talk about the company that was formally known as Facebook when discussing the players in the metaverse. Chief Executive Officer, Mark Zuckerberg talks about its initiative into the metaverse as going far beyond its current project of building sets of connected social apps and hardware that supports them. Zuckerberg seeks to build out a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences by leveraging the metaverse.
To realize his vision, the company will focus on products for communities, commerce, virtual reality, and creators. There’s no set timeline on when this metaverse will launch and it will not be a traditional product launch by any means.
New VR/AR products that Meta plans to release will enable the concept and technology to become possible. Social and multiplayer elements will be incorporated into these products. By Zuckerberg’s estimates, the technology and metaverse that he describes are still five to ten years away.
Google arguably has had the most successful VR project to date. Google Cardboard was launched in 2014 when the company asked people to use a piece of cardboard to strap their smartphone on their face. According to Google, they shipped tens of millions of these foldable headsets to users. Its Google Cardboard app was downloaded more than 160 million times.
The experience wasn’t built on the most cutting-edge or highest-resolution technology. But it allowed the experience to be introduced to a slew of students and aspiring developers to this virtual reality. Google Cardboard also enabled the company to pivot from Glass, its previous augmented reality experiment.
Google Glass was basically a smartphone that had a small camera that could be mounted on the frame of non-prescription glasses. The project launched with high expectations but flopped miserably. Today, Google Glass is marketed as a tool for enterprise businesses.
This company makes graphic processing units that are mainly used for gaming. Its use care for the metaverse has industrial applications. Last April, the CEO announced the company will build a digital replica of the real world that allows them to test different tools and devices.
This will allow Nvidia to potentially save money on research and development before making the decision to build a real physical product. BMW signed an agreement with Nvidia to have one of its factories recreated as a virtual copy.
Rumors have been circulating for years about Apple releasing AR glasses. The ARKit was released in 2017 for Apple devices with iOS 11. This is a developer framework for creating augmented reality applications.
In 2019, Apple held a 1000 person meeting to talk about AR on the iPhone. The N421 smart glasses and N301 VR headset were discussed during this meeting. There is speculation that Apple plans to release AR products this year.
Among the gaming companies that are furthest along with building the metaverse is Roblox. Presently, the company caters to most kids and teens. Roblox allows users to build virtual works that people can socialize, play, and take part in a digital economy. There are even some participants who make a living inside these metaverses by selling digital wares.
The next challenge for Roblox is how to attract older users to adopt these experiences. According to Roblox’s Chief Business Officer, Craig Donato, “I think that this shift to the metaverse is very generational.” Younger users have grown up with interactive gaming experiences so it offers familiarity.
In recent years, Roblox has developed more features that are targeted at older audiences. For example, there are parts of the metaverse that are age-restricted. This enables users to host content for adults. Roblox employees have even created a virtual version of its headquarters over the pandemic. Using the app, employees can host meetings that include whiteboards.
In 2021, Microsoft launched a mixed reality software called Microsoft Mesh. It allows users to share experiences from any device from anywhere. Elements of AltspaceVR, which is a virtual reality social platform that the company acquired in 2017 are incorporated in it.
Upsides and Downsides of the Metaverse
Allows the Growth of Social Media beyond 2.0
Current platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok only allow digital human interactions to occur within a two-dimensional plane. For example, if you want to access these social media platforms, you need either a computer or mobile screen. With the shifts that Zuckerberg wants to accomplish with Meta, these platforms will allow for a more immersive experience.
The applications of the metaverse go beyond social media and Web 2.0. It allows users to create and share digital information and content. This marks a huge leap from the text messages, photos, and videos that are being shared today. The content becomes the users themselves.
Will enable Innovations in Communication
We saw the world move to digital technologies and online-enabled forms of communication with the Covid-19 pandemic. Work moved from high-rise offices to remote or telecommuting options. The education sector was also forced to use these technologies to allow for remote or distance learning.
Zoom Video Communications, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet all became more popular as a result of the pandemic. These interactions are still limited to screen-to-screen real-time audio and video. However, the metaverse will enable more engaging interactions among participants with its immersive and graphically-rich virtual experience.
Supplements Applications of Blockchain Technology
The blockchain is the main technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ether, and Dogecoin. It is also used specifically as a decentralized database that’s used to act as a ledger of transactions. Another use of its applications is creating and distributing digital assets, called non-fungible tokens.
More widely known as NFTs, the creation of them is moving towards a new trend in gaming attempts. These applications seek to promote the concept of play-to-earn where players can earn an income and also acquire in-game digital assets.
These assets can in turn be traded or used in other game titles or platforms. The metaverse is all about a shared digital realm of virtual space. Applications of the blockchain like these games and cryptocurrencies are only possible through the participation and collaboration of digital users.
Potentially Erode Human Relationships
The advantage of how the metaverse can improve social media and online communications can also be looked at as a downside. By creating an immersive way to interact and socialize with people online, critics say that it could take away from real, human connections.
Artificial intelligence is one of the underlying technologies that is used to design and run the metaverse. These relevant technologies could create an unhealthy relationship. For example, an AI-enabled friend that looks like a person could lead to a parasocial relationship.
Privacy and Security Concerns
We’ve witnessed security issues with social media platforms and online-enabled communications applications today. For example, users who create false accounts of real people then try to steal information from friends of the real person. Or what’s been dubbed, “Zoomboming”, where unwanted intrusions by mostly Internet trolls happen on a video-conference call.
The companies themselves have been criticized because they collect a lot of data from their users. This has raised privacy and security risks. Additionally, this data has also been sold and used for ads and more nefarious reasons like cyber-related crimes. This includes identity theft.
What does the Metaverse mean for today’s Businesses?
The metaverse offers several opportunities for businesses in the future that must be considered in the present day. Here are just a few of the potential opportunities that the metaverse will create:
- Digital-only products – Developing products that only exist in the digital world is a huge opportunity for the metaverse. These products could be anything that someone in the real world might want to buy right now. Cars, homes, clothes, and things that don’t even exist today are among the possibilities.
- Event and Concert sponsorships – The metaverse will be increasingly used to hold special events and concerts. This gives businesses the opportunity to partake in possibly profitable sponsorships.
- Process manufacturing – Metaverse applications are being used by Anheuser-Busch InBev to improve its operations. Using an application called Azure Digital Twins, they have created a completely digital model of their breweries and supply chain. This syncs up in real-time with the physical environment. Brewmasters can adjust the brewing process and complete quality control using it.