The Metaverse explained – Definition, Introduction and Examples
Everyone talks about the Metaverse as the next evolutionary step of the internet - But what is it?
What is the Metaverse? Why should you understand it, and what use cases does the metaverse even have? Here the Introduction and explanation of the next evolution of the internet.
After Facebook was renamed Meta, there was a new hype around the word “metaverse”, but no one really knows what it means. In fact, there has been a lot of speculation about how the Internet and technologies evolve for many years. Usually we talk about Web1, Web2, Web3, etc. when we talk about the different evolutionary stages of the Internet, and now we have the Metaverse in the discussion.
But let’s put definitions aside and imagine something: Imagine you can create your perfect alter ego in a virtual world where you have control over every aspect. You can do whatever you want, you can own whatever you want, and you have almost limitless possibilities.
Such a scenario has often been depicted in science fiction movies or series. But it could soon become a reality, as there is a lot of hype in the business world about getting all levels, technologies and protocols ready for the “metaverse.”
What is the Metaverse?
The Metaverse is a massively scalable, persistent network of interconnected virtual worlds focused on real-time interaction where people can work, interact socially, conduct business, play, and even create. It uses advanced virtualization and technologies (AR, VR, haptic sensors, etc.) to fully immerse the user in the virtual world. This means that the user can interact live with a world that is always there and can be accessed whenever they want.
Many proponents believe that the perfect futuristic version of the “metaverse” would be a single platform where you connect your persona, your identity, and the platform services under which create many worlds that you can access. Like a world with many sub-worlds that you can join, leave or even create yourself. Importantly, there is a definition for a digital identity, digital ownership, digital currencies, and universal transferability of digital assets – making a fully functioning economy in a virtual world possible.
In this way, the metaverse could replace various aspects of how tourism works, what it means to go to a concert, how to discover art exhibitions, but most importantly, how people learn, study, interact, and even meet friends.
Different Meanings of “Metaverse”
The term “metaverse” originated in science fiction and has evolved in various fields. There is no perfect description of the term and the concept, as different actors try to shape it according to their own ideas. So depending on the topic, the meaning of metaverse changes and so does the concept that surrounds it. So let’s look at how the meaning differs in different areas and “expectations”:
- In science fiction: the metaverse is often depicted as a fully immersive virtual reality space. Humans are just avatars interacting with each other in real time. A world is often depicted where life takes place virtually.
- In the tech industry: the term is used to describe a network of virtual 3D worlds. Companies like Facebook (Meta) envision a future version of the internet where 3D worlds are used for more interaction, more experiences and also the extension of our existing world through virtual or augmented realities.
- In blockchain/crypto: the metaverse often refers to decentralized virtual spaces or universes built and owned by their users, with economic systems supported by blockchain technology. In this context, it can include anything from virtual real estate to digital goods and services, however, the trend is flattening out again as it does not make sense per se to limit digital goods as daruch one of the great benefits of Digital Worlds.
- In games: In the gaming industry, the metaverse refers to a shared space where multiple players can exchange or interact in a virtual persistent space. It thus encompasses a universe of digital worlds that are all connected, as in games like Fortnite or Roblox.
- The Futurist Perspective: Some futurists and thinkers speculate about the Metaverse as a new stage of the Internet that could have profound implications for society, business and culture. There would be an alternative economy, paralel societies and norms, as well as effects on birth rates, taxes, legal systems and cultures.
History of the Metaverse
The name and concept of the Metaverse first emerged in science fiction works such as the novels “Neuromancer” by William Gibson and “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson.
The concept has continued to evolve over the years as technology advanced, leading to the development of online role-playing games like Ultima Online (1997), and Second Life (2003). Second Life allowed users to create virtual worlds, interact with them, and exchange virtual goods.
The Metaverse gained renewed interest outside the gaming world in 2014 when Facebook acquired Oculus, a company that developed low-cost 3D headsets for the masses. This acquisition signaled Facebook’s interest in virtual reality and the potential for a fully immersive digital world. In 2016, Pokemon Go, a mobile game that combined augmented reality and real-world gaming, became a massive hit with over 1 billion downloads.
In recent years, the development of the Metaverse has continued to progress, with the introduction of Microsoft Mesh in 2021 and Facebook’s rebranding as “Meta.” Facebook Worlds and Microsoft Mesh are designed to bring virtual reality and the Metaverse into the business world, offering immersive virtual meeting and collaboration spaces.
Read the full article: History and Evolution of the Metaverse Concept
Evolution from Web 1.0, Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 and the Metaverse
While there is no clear consent about the definitions of Web3 and the difference of the Metaverse, there is a lot of discussion. A lot of crypto enthusiasts like to believe that crypto is the next stage of the internet, while others argue that after the social interaction based Web2 we will see the jump into the immersive Internet called “Metaverse”.
Web 1.0: The Early Days of the Internet
Web 1.0 refers to the early stage of the internet, when websites were primarily used for providing information and were not very interactive. During this time, websites were static and content was mainly created by professional publishers. Web 1.0 was characterized by a one-way flow of information, with users mainly consuming content rather than creating it.
Web 2.0: The Rise of User-Generated Content and Social Media
Web 2.0 marked a shift towards a more interactive and participatory internet. With the advent of platforms such as blogs, wikis, and social media, users were able to create and share their own content online. Web 2.0 also saw the rise of personalization and the use of data to tailor content to individual users.
The Future of Web 3.0: The Spatial Web and the Immersive Internet
Web 3.0, also known as the “Spatial Web,” is expected to bring about a more immersive and interactive internet experience. With the proliferation of virtual and augmented reality technologies, Web 3.0 will allow users to interact with digital content in a more realistic and spatially aware way. Some experts also predict that Web 3.0 will bring about the rise of “smart spaces,” in which physical and digital worlds are seamlessly integrated. This is the Metaverse description of persistent worlds where user is not only creating and sharing information but literally experiences this information and is “right in the digital information world”.
Currently, there is no example of a large metaverse. Various companies, especially game studios, claim to have created a metaverse, but there are only a few small beginnings that are still far from a true metaverse, by definition.
- Meta Horizon Worlds – Facebook launched a virtual meeting room environment which can be accessed via the company owned Oculus VR headsets and the Horizon Worlds. It allows interacting with peers in virtual meeting rooms with your own avatar but in future it should be also the basis for more offerings coming from Oculus and Meta.
- Microsoft Mesh Platform – Microsoft is also pushing into the mixed and extended reality space (XR). Therefore, they are trying to launch mixed-reality elements into Teams in 2022. This should allow avatars and holograms to be at events, meetings and even use it in future for retail experiences and gaming.
- Roblox – Roblox started as a gaming world where you can create your own games as a user and give others access to them. After the IPO, they are more pushing towards creating their own metaverse. Teaming up with brands like Vans and Gucci, they offer now also exclusive assents to buy for your virtual self.
- Minecraft – Over 140 million users are regularly playing the Lego like game world Minecraft. The company was bought from Microsoft where players create their character, a creation of unlimited virtual worlds on their own incl. digital assets and more.
- Second Life – Already founded in 2003 it was one of the first virtual realities where the player could create an own identity in a virtual world. After many years of development, Second Life is also now expanding with own marketplaces, digital assets and more.
6 Foundations of the Metaverse
Before we go deeper into the technological details, let’s examine what kind of different elements and foundations need to be in place to enable a metaverse. Creating a virtual world where you can control every aspect and also feel like you are directly in this world has many challenges.
Hardware & Infrastructure
Due to the massive amounts of data, 3D processing and also live interaction, there is a huge need for the right IT infrastructure. This includes network technologies from 5G and future 6G networks, cloud computing and super specialized virtualization hardware with GPU, TPU and CPU development for the server-side hardware requirements.
The second part is the consumer side, where special hardware is needed for the immersive experience. Virtual and augmented reality smart glasses, haptic feedback devices (gloves, suites, etc.) and even mobile phones with better processing powers are needed.
Tools & Standards
To make the metaverse really interactive, there need to be common standards and tool sets in place. This includes computer languages, easy to use design tools, commonly used 3D engines, VR/AR/XR standards, asset marketplace standards, transfer protocols, security standards but also more technological standards like geospatial mapping.
Payment & Transactions
An important aspect of every metaverse is a functioning ecosystem. In order to make this work, a universal mode of transaction and payment need to be found. This has challenges on several levels as every ecosystem might have their own modes of payment, transaction and makes it then difficult to connect different worlds together.
Regulatory Frameworks and Rules
Like in real world, we require regulatory frameworks and social rules in place. Managing and enforcing these rules in a virtual world could be one of the biggest challenges to solve. In order to make users feel safe, we need to think about global rules and even laws that govern the virtual world.
Identity Management & Avatars
A virtual world with a virtual identity might sound good, but to make sure that it’s also safe and not a “outlaw” world, also the verification of the real identity is a must. For this to happen in many worlds, there would need to be a common protocol and something like a meta-identity that can be linked to the own avatars and therefore be able to use avatars and identities in many virtual worlds.
In order to make different use cases work, there also needs to be a functioning digital economic ecosystem. From Ad networks, to stores, virtual jobs and payment for games, Social Interactions, eSports and even online shopping. Creating this economic universe is very important to give more users and companies an incentive to participate, create and share.
Use Cases of the Metaverse
We have seen before, that most platforms that are created and called “metaverse” are at the moment focused on virtual events, virtual meetings and especially gaming. But there are many use cases for virtual worlds and it an be more than just a hype.
Social Interaction Platform
Like Second Life, it is possible to interact together and create the social interactions through immersion. Users can see others via virtual rooms and worlds, interact with each other, and also have social gatherings. This approach takes social media to the next level as it gets from asynchronous information sharing to a combination of asynchronous and synchronous (live) interaction.
Immersive Video Games
A big use case is of course also the creation of immersive video games. Just think about “Sims” with you as a real character in it. You can play in virtual works, create your own journey, play through your personal quests and much more. The VR technology incl. haptic feedback will allow for even deeper experiences where you can feel the environment and more.
Digital Marketplaces & Digital Business Models
As mentioned before, it is important to have a functioning marketplace and an economic ecosystem. This would also allow creating fully digital marketplaces and purely digital transactions in the metaverse. Auctions could be experienced from anywhere in the world, everyone would have access to all art he wants and much more. Just think about the possibility if you would be able to walk into Amazon’s web shop and experience the Products there as if they were in front of you.
Art and Culture Venues
Corona brought us a lot of virtual events and brought a lot of the art world online. But what about having virtual concerts, where you can not just look at a video stream but be there, interact with people and also meet people online while you are looking at art or listening to music? Creating digital equivalents of events, museums or art exhibitions online might give many more people around the world the possibility to consume art and culture in a completely new way. Seeing the Mona Lisa in the surrounding of a digital Louvre – not just from a picture on the internet.
Digital Art Creations
Roblox and Minecraft are great examples of how users can use a virtual universe to build the own world. Giving the user the freedom to shape, form and create worlds as he likes may give many more people freedom of creation. NFTs might play a bigger role in a environment like this as well as people want to own also digitally created art.
Augmented and Virtual Workspaces
Instead of seeing people on a screen with some video blocks, it could be possible to be in the same virtual room, brainstorm, write on a whiteboard and even change the room according to your needs. Augmented Workspaces would combine these features, allowing people to virtually participate in a physical meeting. This would mean that you have holograms in the room, you would experience the people and the avatars at the same time and be able to interact as if you were there.
Virtual Travel and Tourism
What about traveling the world without ever leaving the living room? In times when traveling is restricted and climate change as a pressing problem, it might be an interesting option to create virtual worlds. Imagine game-like environments where people are experiencing the Swiss alps, climbing the Himalayas or walking on your own through the Istanbul market. In virtual worlds it would be even possible to visit other planets, virtual worlds like Lord of the Rings or many other places we can maybe not imagine today.
Education & Schools
What about a virtual school class? Interactive walls, educational games, virtual experiences and much more? Especially for education and schools, an interactive world can be a big asset. When we teach about our solar system, it would be literally possible to be out in space, zoom to planets, and get data about them by just virtually clicking on them. The more fun it is to interact with your learning environment, the easier it is for children to learn. The metaverse could be also a game changer for rural areas or remote places, as long as they have internet, they could be getting the same elite education as others.
Criticism of the Metaverse
Everything sounds potentially like some overhyped science fiction and there are also many voices out there who see it more critically and point out that we, as humans, are not ready for creating such virtual worlds. The metaverse has several severe problems that need to be solved in order to become a safe place.
Privacy, use of information, mental health concerns and also real-world social implications are just some examples of the many concern areas. Just imagine if someone has a better life online than in real life, why would he want to live in the real world, date in real world, have children, get a real-life job etc. – There are already some series and movies addressing these issues that the virtual world might become more interesting than the real world.
Another issue also comes to the “winner takes it all” effect and the power it could give a single company. This means that literally one corporation could have the power to create a virtual world with its own laws, with an own economic ecosystem, with own identities and evading real world rules and governance. How should such a company be treated? What about taxes? What about real-world economic implications?
Conclusion on the Metaverse
The metaverse is a logical next step from the internet. From the early days when you could only read existing information to the age of social media and creators’ economy to the immersion of the virtual world into our own world. The direction of the internet and information age is clear, we will see virtual worlds popping up and users diving into these worlds.
We as a society still have many concerns to solve as social interaction, digital economy and also the illusion of the perfect virtual worlds will have a lot of implications on our physical daily life.
The development of metaverses is still in its infancy but with accelerating developments, billions being invested into this space and a huge push due to COVID it will be soon a bigger part in our life. Even Bill Gates estimates that in just a couple of years, most of the work and meetings will be done in the metaverse instead of physical meeting rooms and business trips.
We will see what kind of metaverse will take the masses and position itself to create the much needed network effect. The market is all about “the winner takes it all” and the metaverse might be the biggest example of a digital ecosystem.