“Metaverse” has been the buzzword in Silicon Valley for some time, with big techs and investors getting excited about being part of the futuristic idea. Facebook changed its name to Meta Platforms to rebrand itself as a company with its reach beyond social media into areas like virtual reality.
The tech giant also said it would generate 10,000 jobs in Europe to develop the "metaverse". Microsoft has also spoken about converging the digital and physical worlds. The question, however, remains: What does metaverse mean?
What is the metaverse?
Metaverse is an idea and hence there is no single definition of it. The word was coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel "Snow Crash" and reimagined in Ernest Cline’s novel “Ready Player One”.
Broadly, metaverse refers to online spaces that allow people to interact in a more immersive way than traditional websites. In simple words, it is like the internet brought to life.
In the metaverse, you may use a headset instead of a computer to enter a virtual world connecting all digital environments. It is different from today’s virtual reality, which is mostly used for gaming.
Instead, the metaverse could be used for work, play, social gatherings, or even hanging out with friends. It is touted to become massive communal cyberspace where augmented reality and virtual reality converge, enabling avatars to move from one activity to another seamlessly.
"It's the next evolution of connectivity where all of those things start to come together in a seamless, doppelganger universe, so you're living your virtual life the same way you're living your physical life," analyst Victoria Petrock told Associated Press.
What can you do in a metaverse?
With the metaverse, you can take a trip online, listen to a virtual concert, create artworks, meet and interact with people or even shop digitally.
At work, you could join your colleagues in a virtual meeting room to interact instead of seeing them through the video call grid.
Facebook’s software for companies called Horizon Workrooms uses Oculus VR headsets to conduct virtual meetings. These headsets allow the user to flit between virtual worlds created by the companies through their avatars. The headsets are priced at $300 or more.
"A lot of the metaverse experience is going to be around being able to teleport from one experience to another," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.
Is it a big deal?
For the first time in the digital world, the excitement about the metaverse and augmented reality does not seem to be fleeting hype. With advancements in virtual reality gaming and connectivity, it seems like the technology is almost there.
Apart from Facebook, Microsoft and chipmaker Nvidia are also talking of the metaverse. “We think there's going to be lots of companies building virtual worlds and environments in the metaverse, in the same way, there's been lots of companies doing things on the World Wide Web,'' Richard Kerris, vice president of Nvidia's Omniverse platform, told AP.
Fortnite video game maker Epic Games has raised $1 billion from investors for building the metaverse. Game platform Roblox is also drafting plans for the metaverse where people would interact “to learn, work, play, create and socialize”.
The metaverse would require standardisation and cooperation among tech giants to help them connect their online platforms to each other. This is going to pose a challenge for competing for technology platforms.