Following Facebook's announcement of its rebrand to Meta Platforms Inc. or 'Meta', the internet has been flooded with articles and opinions on the 'metaverse' - but what actually is it and how might it be used?
What is the metaverse?
At present, the metaverse is a bit of an abstract concept as it doesn't fully exist yet. The idea is it will be an alternate immersive 3D reality, where every part of your life could be replicated in a digital universe. This could be made up of one or multiple worlds that collaborate and interact, allowing your avatar, or 'digital twin', to work, play, socialise and shop, all in a virtual or augmented reality.
The metaverse is not a concept unique to Facebook, other companies, such as Microsoft, Zoom and Nvidia, are also looking at how they can be part of it. The term metaverse itself originally comes from the 1992 sci-fi novel, Snow Crash. The book is set in a bleak dystopian future where the main character lives between his normal reality and a metaverse, fashioned as an urban environment that users experience from a first person perspective.
The metaverse in our reality though is being touted as a successor to the internet as we know it, made up of shared virtual 3D spaces to create a parallel universe. The gaming world in particular has already dipped a toe in the metaverse with Roblox, Second Life and Fortnite immersing players in shared, customisable worlds. However, the metaverse will go far beyond this to introduce a fully customisable experience that links digital platforms from all areas of your life, such as work, retail and social. VR headsets are also likely to play an important part in bringing this new world to life.
How could the metaverse be used?
If the vision of a seamless replication of our real world into a digital version could be achieved, the metaverse creates almost limitless possibilities!
- Social - connecting with friends and family could evolve from 2D video calls, comment boxes and media sharing on a screen, to a place where you can meet and talk in 3D using your digital avatar. This could involve having a group of friends over for a takeaway in the digital replication of your living room or taking your partner to the cinema without actually leaving your house.
- Business - virtual office platforms could simulate the office environment with colleagues meeting 'face to face' through VR headsets from anywhere in the world. People would no longer be restricted geographically and the experience would be as if the person is right there in the room with you. Retail outlets could also take the next step from online shopping, where avatars could browse high street shops digitally and purchase items for their digital world, or order items for delivery to the physical world.
- Branding/advertising - just as in the physical world, the metaverse could provide a myriad of advertising opportunities; from the branded clothes you might buy to dress your avatar in, to the virtual billboards in popular real estate areas.
- Real estate - virtual tours on a screen are already gaining popularity in the real estate sector, but the metaverse could allow you to take a full tour of a house several hundred miles away, including everything from strolling around the local town to sitting in the garden as your avatar.
- Education and tourism - if travel times and restrictions are not an issue in the metaverse, theoretically you could visit a digital replica of any place in the world at your leisure. Imagine taking a trip to ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico, or walking across a volcanic lava field, all whilst sitting in the classroom or your bedroom.
These are all still mostly just ideas though and the metaverse will not be built overnight. A huge amount of investment is needed into both the technology and the concept, and it will undoubtedly encounter a range of legal and ethical issues. Whilst there are elements of the metaverse that already exist, they operate on their own independent platform, with their own currency, content and rules - in the metaverse these would need to be integrated. It would also need a huge number of people using it to help build the data and create a meaningful replication of the real world online. However, the metaverse is estimated to be worth around $82 billion by just 2025 so it is definitely an interesting prospect for businesses of the future.
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