Facebook’s rebrand to Meta gave the idea of a metaverse mainstream appeal. However, the metaverse (or, at least, what we currently call the metaverse) has been around for some time (to an extent).
What the Metaverse is Now
The metaverse isn’t as elusive as you may think. Nor is it something that’s set to release at an undisclosed date in the future.
Right now, the metaverse is a collection of virtual reality, augmented reality, and Web3.0/Web3 technologies. Granted, Web3 typically refers to blockchain implementations. However, many virtual worlds (although not all) have assets that exist on the blockchain. They also typically set up their in-world currency as a cryptocurrency. Undoubtedly, it will play an important role as Web 3.0 technologies expand and advance – which includes expanding this definition.
So, it’s comprised of the cryptocurrencies, NFTs, virtual worlds, and mixed reality experiences (including V/R and A/R) that have existed for some time. They have been used for a variety of purposes, from business meetings and education to research and gaming.
In recent years, the practical uses of the metaverse have been realized well beyond entertainment. Most of this flew under the general public’s radar until Meta revealed its plans to build the metaverse.
Here’s a quick look at some of the technologies that comprise our current iteration of the metaverse.
The current state of the metaverse is largely comprised of virtual worlds. These include (but are not limited to) the following platforms:
And many others. We use the term “platforms” because users in each are free to set up their own virtual space, create items and art for that space, and share their creations with the world. So they’re not just interacting with the world, they’re using it to create (and socialize with others).
Immersion is an important aspect for the metaverse’s success, and it’s hard to beat the immersive experience of virtual reality. Recent technologies have made smooth, real-time virtual experiences more affordable than ever. V/R headsets are also getting lighter even as their storage capacity increases.
Most of the virtual worlds currently comprising the metaverse either offer V/R exploration or plan to do so. Meta considers it vital for the success of the metaverse. Many now believe that’s one of the reasons that Meta (then Facebook) bought out Oculus in 2014.
For a few hundred dollars, consumers can now purchase V/R headsets that offer a seamless experience between their movements and the digital environment around them. Even better, virtual reality allows users to socialize and collaborate in a space that’s much less isolating than video conference calls. Many users actually report feeling real social connections in virtual reality.
Just as virtual reality brings you into the virtual world, augmented reality brings virtual objects into the real world. You’ve probably noticed this if you’ve ever had a video conference with someone while filters altered your look.
But A/R does much more than that; it can, for example, allow you to place a piece of decor in your home to see what it looks like – long before it ever arrives.
It does this by overlaying the object over a real-time image of the room. For example, an A/R app can use your phone’s camera to make it look as if a virtual object is sitting on your dining room table.
Of course, it’s only visible through your phone’s camera (we’re not talking about holograms…yet), but it offers a real-time view of what that piece of decor would actually look like.
Smartphones are the most commonly used A/R devices, but they aren’t the only ones. Microsoft and Google have developed their own A/R glasses to provide a more immersive experience. However, they are currently beyond the reasonable price range of most consumers. As with most technologies, we hope to see this change over the next few years.
NFTs have become an interesting addition to the metaverse in recent years. The basic, simplified idea behind them is that they function as the artist’s original work, thus giving them the value of scarcity. To help describe this context, we’ll use a real world example: The Mona Lisa.
Right now, anyone can go online and purchase a copy of the Mona Lisa for around $30. However, these copies are just duplicates; you certainly won’t find the original Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo DaVinci selling online for $30. As of 2019, its value is estimated at $660 million. Why is that? Among other reasons, because it is the original painted by the famed artist.
Similarly, NFTs are considered valuable by collectors because each has a unique encoding identifying it as an original work of its artist. That’s why they’ve sold for such high numbers. Yes, anyone could save a screenshot of an image NFT as a copy, but it’s not the original NFT minted by the artist.
There is certainly much more to understand about NFTs. We invite you to review our complete guide to NFTs for more information.
You may be familiar with the concepts of Web 2.0 and The Internet of Things. The technologies we’ve discussed here are building the foundation for the Internet’s next iteration, Web 3.0. Basically, Web 3.0 is the real-time blending of our world with the virtual world.
For example, earlier, we discussed A/R’s ability to make virtual objects appear as if they’re already placed in your home. We also discussed how some V/R headsets can overlay user interfaces with a video feed of your surroundings. These are the initial integrations of our real world with the computer generated world, or Web 3.0.
Right now, now all of these technologies are necessary to “enter the metaverse,” so to speak. In fact, most of them are easily accessible with a personal computer or mobile phone. But that does remove much of the immersion that sets the potential of Web 3.0 apart.
While Web3 is expected to be part of Web 3.0, there are some important differences between each.
What a True Metaverse Looks Like
While the technologies that we currently refer to as the metaverse have come a long way, we’re not quite at a true metaverse just yet. So what would that look like?
Imagine if the Internet were three-dimensional and responded to your gestures just like A/R does. You could “walk” around the internet rather than browse it. Rather than flat websites, businesses could create computer generated environments showcasing their products, services, or venues.
Each environment could contain a variety of interactive features designed to immerse you in the brand’s offerings before ever making a decision to buy. They could also allows visitors to socialize and make recommendations as they shop, a feature that is certainly missing from websites. That’s what a true metaverse would look like.
At first, this may sound like some of the virtual worlds and A/R technologies that we mentioned. However, there’s still one more important difference that sets our current iteration of the metaverse apart from the internet: the virtual worlds listed here are owned and operated by an entity. The internet is not. Yes, we use ISPs to access the internet, but they do not own the internet. No one does.
Anyone is free to create a website, blog, or application and distribute it online. Anyone is also free to set up a server and allow others to host these properties online.
A true metaverse would have to follow this same decentralized principle. That may sound like Decentraland at first glance, but you still can’t click a link to travel from Decentraland to MetaRuffy. You’ll have to log into each separately since they exist in their own ecosystems.
A true metaverse will allow users to jump from one world or experience to another on the same platform, much like clicking on one website’s link to visit another. It’ll also allow users to travel free and seamlessly from one experience to the next if they wish. There won’t be a need to jump from platform to platform.
The Implications of the Metaverse
Since the metaverse idea started gaining steam a few months ago, everyone seems to have a strong opinion about it. Some believe that it’s a fascinating concept, while others thing it’s just a silly trend.
There are also those who think that it’s just another weird outlet for people who have no lives, while others are afraid that it’s a dangerous place that will cause them to lose their grip on reality. Oddly enough, many of these claims are similar to what people were saying during the Internet’s early days.
Granted, some of these concerns might be valid. But in a more general sense, the metaeverse has already proven to be a place where:
- Artists can create: Artists and musicians who couldn’t gain a foothold in the mainstream have built a following in the metaverse.
- Safer training: The metaverse is already being used to provide safer training for dangerous situations. As technology advances, imagine learning how to repair a car in the metaverse rather than risk damaging your own car.
- Businesses can collaborate: The Wall Street Journal expects the metaverse to “significantly accelerate product-development cycles.” Employees using virtual reality work spaces also feel more connected to those around them.
- Research and development: Scientists can make exciting new discoveries in a safer (and more affordable) environment. They can also collaborate with other scientists in real-time.
- A Venue for the Disabled: It has allowed the disabled to experience hiking excursions and doctors to develop new treatments.
Like any tool, the metaverse’s implications can be good or bad. It’s all about how we as individuals choose to use it. We’ll discuss more implications in future blog posts.