What is the metaverse?
Sometimes when things come along that are brand new and generating quite a buzz, like the metaverse, it’s often as useful to know what they aren’t, to begin to understand what they are.
Is it real or is it the Metaverse?
The metaverse is not a virtual world. You will not wander about inside, just to see what is there, like exploring a render of a world heritage monument. The metaverse is not a virtual space as we saw in previous iterations of 3D experiences. It will be much more than a simple enclosure in which stuff will be represented or staged.
By the same token, it is not just virtual reality. While there will be a virtual element to it, it will be beyond any one of these things to be greater than the sum of those parts. It will not be a game, though it will contain them. While it is useful to evoke examples like Fortnite and Minecraft, it will be like those experiences, but more.
It won’t be a theme park or an app store or a stadium. It’ll have elements of all those things but combined in ways that are interoperable, transferable and secure. So, here we go on a trawl of some of the best current information, interpretations and speculation available.
The Metaverse: WTF? What the fungible is going on?
So, what is the metaverse? The metaverse is a digital universe in which multiple, combined services create a platform in which people can socialize, play, learn and interact in 3D, combining everyday life with the online in a seamless, immersive, persistent way.
Who is behind the metaverse?
Facebook’s new branding Meta is the current key driver of the metaverse, but it is a collaborative effort, with hardware, gaming and other tech vendors all expressing ambitions. Much like the WWW itself, at its core, the metaverse is likely to be a set of protocols from agreed standards that result in a platform accessible by all, decentralized, with no one owner.
Where is the metaverse?
It doesn’t exist yet, or at least not in a finalized form. Bits of it exist, but elements still need to be developed to make it usable by all. This extends from 3D visualization and modeling to human interface devices and many of the services that bring these elements together. It requires some of the best bits of content streaming, massive multiplayer games, video conferencing, stock trading platforms and new network architectures. And it requires these things to be blended with as yet unwritten standards and protocols. It will be persistent, responsive, synchronous, and pervasive.
When will the metaverse be ready?
The timeframe is likely to be driven by demand, but within the next 2-3 years or so, there should be demonstrable versions, as opposed to just simulations.
It is unlikely we will get a metaverse switch-on date, rather it will come into being gradually, in bits and pieces, as developments are combined. The underlying infrastructure technology of the metaverse, as it currently stands, is not designed to provide the kind of experience that is envisaged, for tens of millions of users, simultaneously, and so there are fundamental issues to work out with the very basics of networking, addressing, protocols and standards. However, there are already projects underway for the SDK approach, whereby standardized development kits will allow companies to develop content and services to fit within the metaverse. These will evolve rapidly as infrastructure is developed to support and proliferate services.
Who is the metaverse for?
The idea is that it is for everyone. Anyone who currently uses the WWW for work play or education would be a potential user.
From a business perspective, the same thing applies. If you currently do business in any digital form, the expectation would be that the same would apply in the metaverse. The vision is for it to become the ubiquitous digital platform.
What will the metaverse cost?
The costs to end-users will likely be some kind of subscription, as well as whatever costs come with the access technologies, such as VR/AR headsets, controllers, processors, GPUs, etc. Subs are likely to be quite affordable to encourage adoption with ramping costs, depending on service levels.
The various developers behind the metaverse are already spending billions to develop the technologies and deliver the experience. Metaverse will likely become a significant development cost for many technology companies.
To put the task in context, just for one small aspect, the human-computer interface (HCI). A headset to engage with the metaverse would ideally feature a weight of less than a kilogram, have a powered duty time of at least 3 hours (battery-powered or not), be able to represent at least 90 frames per second as a minimum, while having a minimum of 1Gbps wireless connectivity with single-digit millisecond latency. That spec does not currently exist.
So, is the metaverse just the WWW in 3D?
No, it is much more than that. The metaverse is aimed to incorporate all the current features of the WWW, with a 3D experience and more.
All the features of digital identity, digital property and decentralized finance (DeFi) will be combined with other emerging services to provide a deep, rich digital experience. It will be like real life but enhanced.
The metaverse is being developed from Web3 technologies and architectures to be decentralized and democratized. It will be built around blockchains and will be able to accommodate cryptocurrencies, digital property and the likes of NFTs in easy-to-access and utilize ways. It will combine the best of digital currencies, digital marketplaces and new financial services.
An example might be that you enter the metaverse, as you might log into a chat room, except your 3D avatar is in a fully rendered world. You meet your friends outside the shopping mall and find you need to give one of them money. You take a virtual coin from your crypto-wallet and give it to them in the 3D metaverse. The metaverse connects all the services necessary to transact this for you.
You then go into the shop and customize a set of trainers and pay for them with whatever currency you fancy. The retailer gives you an NFT for your unique pair of trainers.
Three hours later, the actual, physical trainers are delivered to your front porch via delivery drone.
The vision is that the very fabric of the metaverse will allow every aspect of these, and more, experiences to be connected, interoperable and seamless, applying as easily to a pair of trainers as an artwork or a piece of real estate.
Why is the metaverse important?
The metaverse has the potential to be as much of a revolution as the world wide web was back in the 1990s. It is envisioned as an entirely new platform for human interaction. It is likely to be a starting point for the next generations of digital interactive technology. It has the potential to revolutionize commerce, recruitment, entertainment, education, and several areas that will only emerge as the technology is realized.
Where can I find out more about the metaverse?
Facebook, or Meta now, has its own page on about.facebook.com/meta/ with a lot of basic information, but various trusted sources have their own take, from The Verge and Ars Technica to Forbes and CNBC, everyone interested in business, tech, culture or commerce is already giving a take on it, with multiple definitions, interpretations and predictions. One good source is a piece by Matthew Ball, a writer, analyst and VC with insights across many industries.