The Metaverse! A metaverse?
Do we even know how to describe it yet? Is the "A Metaverse" or "The Metaverse" or a bunch of "Metaverses"? After all "The Internet" is definatly a place, but "The Metaverse" doesn't quite mean the same things yet.
There isn't "One Metaverse" where you can go with your VR headset and explore. The Metaverses of today are walled gardens where only inside do you get to experience what it is. This is similar to how the Internet worked in the early 90s. AOL, Compuserve, Newgroups were all network enabled applications, but they were also walled gardens. It was until http / tcp ip / dns came along until the Internet because more os a place instead of a thing.
Still, the Metaverse has been called a lot of things by a lot of different people, but what is it really? It’s fair to say that no one is exactly sure what the metaverse will look like in 10 - 20 years or if we will still call it that? The concept is still emerging and evolving similar to how the internet itself was born as a series of connected software apps like BBS boards, ftp, newsgroups, etc. Plenty of people have got their own ideas about what makes a metaverse.
At it's core though "A Metaverse is a place where you can go to experience a 3D scene." Going there might involve strapping on a VR headset or an application on your computer.
“The people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the metaverse." Neal Stephenson, Author.
Neal Stephenson is indeed the author credited with popularizing the term "metaverse" in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash. In the book, Stephenson envisioned a virtual reality-based metaverse where people could interact with each other through digital avatars and engage in various activities, including commerce, socializing, and entertainment.
The concept of the metaverse has since gained significant attention and has been further developed by various thinkers, technologists, and corporations. While Stephenson's vision served as a foundational concept, the current idea of the metaverse being discussed by multinational enterprise companies, such as Facebook (now Meta) and other tech giants, extends beyond the specific elements outlined in Snow Crash.
"Metaverse isn't a thing a company builds. It's the next chapter of the internet overall." Mark Zuckerberg, Meta.
In the context of today's discussions, the metaverse represents a comprehensive and interconnected digital universe that goes beyond traditional virtual reality experiences. It aims to create a shared space where users can engage in various online activities, including socializing, gaming, commerce, education, and more. The metaverse being sold to us today often involves merging elements of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other technologies to create a seamless and immersive digital environment.
The concept of avatars and multi-user experiences remains an essential part of the modern metaverse vision. Users are expected to have personalized digital representations (avatars) that can navigate and interact within the metaverse, fostering social connections and enabling virtual interactions. Additionally, the metaverse aims to provide a substitute arena for real-world interactions, allowing users to participate in events, explore virtual worlds, and engage in activities that mirror or extend their offline experiences.
It's still a work in progress
It's worth noting that the development and realization of a true metaverse is still a work in progress. While various companies are actively investing in metaverse-related technologies and initiatives, the full realization of the metaverse as envisioned by Neal Stephenson and others is yet to be achieved. The metaverse represents a complex and evolving concept, with numerous technological, social, and ethical considerations to be addressed along the way.
But what is it, Really?
It's really whatever we make it, fundamentally, it's just a 3D scene, a 3D environment to visualize things. It's a lot like a game or a Pixar movie. But instead of it being rendered and produced where people "watch it" - they can instead walk around in real-time. Think of each user as a "floating camera" that can freely navigate this world and explore it.
Social vs Industrial Metaverses?
Facebook rebranded as Meta to pursue development of the "Social Metaverse",
What good is having a Metaverse?
While there is power in meeting people or avatars in a virtual space to communicate. In my opinion, the true power of Metaverse technology is the ability to see, explore and interact with a 3D world that simulates, emulates or is synced with the real world. "Digital Twins" is the term for a place or thing in a metaverse that is synched with or represents a place or thing in the real world.
Is the Metaverse Dead?
Metaverses are flopping – hard – says Gartner - Clunky, costly, literally sickening data silos just aren't better than the real world. - June 2023
Like most new technologies, sometimes we take the wrong approach. Remember the first "Palm Pilot"? it was a portable handheld computer embraced by thousands of people, but it wasn't until the iPhone came along that millions of people started using held held computers and the world went more portable. It wasn't just the device getting better, but software, connectivity, electronics, batteries, and more.
The same thing is happening in the Metaverse. VR headsets, Hololens, Apple's new Vision Pro. Each new iteration makes these devices faster, lighter, more useful than the last. 10 years from now we might finally have a light weight, long lasting, high fidelity device that will make the Metaverse easily accessible just like the iPhone did for mobile applications and the internet.
The current incarnation of the Metaverse is indeed "flopping" - but that's just because it's clunky, slow, and who wants to wander around as an avatar chatting with strangers anyways? The value you can get from that is pretty limited and it really shows that people aren't spending 8 hours a day there yet.
Digital Twins bring the Metaverse to life!
Eventually, the Metaverse will be more, much more! A fully immersive, high-fidelity digital world where we can actually interact with 3D objects, synced with the real world. The early internet was really just a novelty, a lot like the Metaverse today. You couldn't order pizza, trade stocks, do online banking or share photos with friends, you just looked up mundane information. As time goes by and the technology that powers the Metaverse gets better, the Metaverse will become more useful, more prevalent and more intertwined with reality.
Digital Twins are the building blocks of that connected, useful Metaverse where things aren't just games, but an interactive, bi-directional world. Imagine a 3D world where you can do things that today require your physical presence. Imagine going shopping in a virtual store while sitting in your living room, while a robot or virtual shopper actually fulfils your order in a real store?
Imagine scanning your body and going clothes shopping in a store where everything already fits? You can try on clothes in an instant, see what they look like from different angles or with different hair-styles. Then put them in your virtual cart and have them delivered all without ever needing to go to the store. No more "Dressing rooms" or trying things on, you'll know they will already fit!
The Journey's Not over!
We are still in the early stages of the Metaverse, I'm excited to see what the future brings and how technology can change the way we experience, plan and understand the things around us!