The internet changes all the time, driven by the acceleration of technology and the shifting sands of human culture.
The metaverse represents the latest phase of the world wide web, and according to Facebook, “the next evolution of social connection.” While there are more questions than answers so far, the metaverse will develop existing online spaces and technologies while adding something unmistakably new.
In the most simple terms, the metaverse will be a shared virtual space that users access via the internet. While virtual worlds already exist, they are independent and limited in size. Instead, the metaverse will provide access to the entire internet, as a more immersive and life-like version of the online spaces we already inhabit.
Exactly what is the metaverse?
In many ways, talking about the metaverse is like talking about the internet half a century ago. While the building blocks are in place and the ambition is obvious, no one really knows exactly what they’re talking about.
This includes Mark Zuckerberg, who has placed his company Facebook front-and-centre.
More than a single company, or even a specific type of technology, however, the metaverse will be defined by how we interact with digital tools and fellow human beings — only this time it refers to virtual space.
We are living in exciting times, as internet speeds and network architectures enable the development and connection of virtual 3D spaces. The metaverse could be incredibly beneficial for everyday people, but like all technology, it will depend on what we do with it.
The development of virtual space also brings up many questions around the democratisation of the internet, with people in the developing world unlikely to reap the same rewards as those in Silicon Valley or South Korea.
Let’s review the history of the internet, take a deep dive into the metaverse, and look at the next stage of online evolution.
A brief history of the internet
The internet is an incredibly pervasive force in modern life, and it’s easy to forget just how recently it was developed. It all began in the 1960s as a way for researchers to share information between government facilities. Computers were widely used at the time, but they were huge and unable to share data easily. The Cold War helped to drive the initiative, with the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) program developed to streamline data sharing between academic and research organisations connected with the US Defense Department.
The move from ARPANET to the metaverse has not been linear, with lots of hurdles and casualties along the way. In 1973, the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) was developed to link networks together. USENET was developed a few years later, with this Unix-based system used to transfer data via a standard dial-up connection. Local area networks (LANs) were established in the 1980s, the first domain name was registered in 1985, and ARPANET was decommissioned in 1990.
The 1990s were huge for the internet, with Windows 95, Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, and Google all launched as everyday people finally went online. Everything was in place by the turn of the century, as the 2000s saw the acceleration of existing technologies and the proliferation of networks across the globe. The rise of Wi-Fi defined the first decade of the century, and the growth of smartphones and mobile devices defined the second decade.
Along with technology itself, the evolution of the internet is closely linked with the content created for it. Once the domain of text alone, expanded bandwidth has seen the adoption of digital images, animations, music, and videos. All this time, virtual spaces were slowly being created and adopted, with computer games leading the way along with 3D virtual software like Second Life and cutting-edge hardware like Oculus Rift.
What is the metaverse?
As the internet continues evolving to meet the needs of users, new technologies will rise to the surface. The metaverse looks like the next stage of growth, only this time, it’s a future-focused proclamation that is yet to take shape. The metaverse is not just the focused vision of one person or company, however, but it is an evolving concept that continues to shift in relation to the rest of the world.
The metaverse is not a new construct. In fact, it’s not even a new word. The term was first coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. In this account, a 3D virtual world was inhabited by the avatars of real people, who share a collection of spaces and experiences from a first-person perspective.
Facebook’s metaverse is the latest version of an idealised, persistent, and expansive network of virtual spaces. The metaverse will function as a unified space that allows a wide range of online experiences.
Virtual reality will enable an immersive form of connectivity, with augmented reality also likely to play a key role. Users will access the metaverse via smart glasses and virtual reality systems, although standard non-3D experiences will also be available.
Despite the lofty ideals associated with this concept, Facebook simply describes the metaverse 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.” Simple, right? Well, maybe.
Characteristics of the metaverse
To understand the metaverse, it’s important to distinguish multiple virtual worlds, which currently exist, with the vision of an idealised and unified online space. The metaverse is a single construct, and a universal world accessible to all based on the limits of technology. While it will be facilitated by the use of virtual and augmented reality headsets, the metaverse will be independent of specific technologies, experiences, or individual users.
The metaverse will be experienced in real time and persist in defined space. Technologies will be adopted to connect diverse spaces, with the specifics of navigation and transaction likely to define the nature of the experience. While technologies will be interoperable, pathways need to be formed, maps need to be developed, and digital currency is likely to play a key role.
The following characteristics are key:
- Persistent in virtual time and space
- Fully-functional and self-contained
- Users have their own identity and act on their own behalf
- Multiple platforms can be traversed as one
- Navigation is part of the experience
- Transactions are enabled through digital currency
The evolution of the metaverse: how to move forward
From individual users to local businesses and large multinationals, making sense of the metaverse will be critical for everyone going forward. In one way or another, the metaverse will be a pervasive force in modern life.
From 3D work meetings to weekend gaming and social connections, people will need to integrate this technology with their normal lives. Metaverse marketing will be an essential skill for all businesses, as interactive online spaces provide a renewed opportunity to share ideas and create value.
Businesses everywhere will need to understand and navigate the metaverse in order to unlock new opportunities.
As an agile modern business trying to make sense of this brave new world, we all need to keep up to date with the latest changes and advances.
The digital spaces of the future will allow businesses to extend services and provide new levels of value to customers.
But first, we all need to broaden our horizon to adopt the opportunities that the metaverse opens up, and place our flags accordingly.