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What is the Metaverse?

There is a new buzzword in the market. If you’re invested in the latest tech news, you’ll know it is the “metaverse”. You might have heard that Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, is changing his company’s name to Meta Platforms Inc. to align with the company’s ambitions to build the metaverse. And they announced they are going to hire 10,000 people in Europe to build it. So, we know it’s the next big thing. But what exactly is it? How does it work and what changes will it bring to the internet? We will talk all about it in this blog.

Understanding the metaverse

Much like VR, in the metaverse, you can use a headset to enter a virtual world connecting all sorts of digital environments. Unlike VR, you can interact with other people in the virtual world, go to concerts, plays, games, shows, work, or just hang out. As Zuckerberg put it in his ‘Connect 2021: our vision for the metaverse’ video essay, the metaverse could be the successor to the mobile internet. It is what is next for the internet. Often called “extended reality (XR)”, the metaverse will combine augmented, virtual, and mixed realities to become a medium for social and business engagement.

There have been many forms of content throughout the evolution of the internet, from texts to images, and now videos, which are the primary form of content we consume. In the metaverse though, instead of sharing a video, you are sharing an experience. Instead of looking through a screen, the metaverse aims to provide an experience. You can be in a social setting making eye contact with people, shaking hands with their metaverse avatars, exchanging ideas, and even things. Everything you do on the internet on a daily basis, video calls, sharing pictures/videos on social media, online concerts, classes, shopping, even virtually travelling the world, you’ll experience it firsthand from anywhere in the world, anytime.

The metaverse will provide a seamless, impersonated universe where you can live your virtual life the same you live your physical life.

Evolution of the metaverse:

Source: The History of the Metaverse

In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee posted the very first public invitation for collaboration on the World Wide Web (WWW). A year later, in 1992, Neal Stephenson, a science fiction writer coined the term “metaverse” in his book Snow Crash. In this humans, as avatars, can interact with other avatars, fighting with villains, all in a three-dimensional virtual world.

The history of the metaverse spans the 21st century touching all big technological advancements like multi-player games, blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs. Pokemon Go was the very first game to overlay a virtual world into our real world; implementing what we know as Augmented Reality (AR). Games like Roblox, and Fortnite are what the metaverse will look like, except that we can engage with other people in a more realistic way and for reasons beyond gaming.

Decentraland is a virtual reality platform introduced in 2015, where you can buy virtual real estate with its native digital currency Mana, and invest, sell, trade, and interact with others. People have bought lands and houses worth hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Decentraland saw a real boom in popularity when NFTs became a big thing in 2021. Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs) represent a unique thing; an art piece, a picture, in-game assets, and even tweets that are not mutually interchangeable.

When the world got turned over by COVID in 2020, people found a way to connect with others and work or study through the internet, games, and the virtual world. In fact, Travis Scott and Marshmellow played the very first online concert in the metaverse in Fortnite in April 2020. The concert was attended by just shy of 30 million people worldwide.

The evolution of various technologies in the metaverse has been very exciting. But more exciting things are only coming. There will be new aspects of our society including government, business, churches, entertainment, dating, politics, and maybe even wars, that will be reflected in the metaverse.

How would the metaverse work?

The metaverse doesn’t exist- at least not yet. The internet will eventually evolve into the metaverse. An easy way to understand metaverse is as the internet brought to life. Here’s what the metaverse will incorporate.

Avatars: This is you. As Zuckerberg said in the Connect 2021 live, your avatar is like your profile picture on social media. But instead of static images, your avatar will be the virtual you. It will have the same personality and physical features as you, you can interact with other people’s avatars through gestures, shaking hands, going together somewhere, and all that exciting stuff. Again, your physical life is in a digital world. You could pick your outfits from your closet, change your hair, or get a tattoo. The clothes could be made by a brand or a person much like in the real world. You could buy things from others and sell them.

In short, you will enter the metaverse and engage with it as your avatar.

Environment: By environment, we mean the actual metaverse. This could be your home, your office, a coffee shop, or any other place in the metaverse. You could buy a house or land. You could design your own personal space. You could shop for furniture again made by designers and companies like in the real world. You would pay them for their service. You could store your digital pictures and files in your metaverse to personalize them to your liking. You can invite your virtual friends to hang out in your home or host a party. Your friends could invite you over, you could go out for drinks, go to concerts, visit a mall, and whatnot. The metaverse will allow all of these things. The possibilities are truly endless.

You can also teleport in and out to other places in the metaverse. Compare it to clicking on a link on the internet.

Metaverse will be interoperable: What makes the idea of metaverse more intriguing is its interoperability. You would be able to take your avatar and digital items across different apps and experiences. This interoperability and teleporting across different platforms would require building different never-ending ecosystems and APIs to connect them. Everything you buy and create on the metaverse must be compatible and relevant across multiple platforms. And that requires a digital medium for trading and transacting.

Trading and transacting: Your items in the metaverse will be useful in many different contexts and worlds. For that, you would need proof of ownership that can be stored digitally. This is where cryptocurrencies and NFTs come in. Only through a truly digital and peer-to-peer network, trading anything on the metaverse would be possible.

Rules and norms: Of course, if we are going to talk about our real-world made digital, we must talk about a body of governance, social norms, and rules. Our privacy on the metaverse must be the topmost priority. We must be allowed to set boundaries, keep our data private, block people from appearing in our spaces, choose things we buy, and take a break when we want.

Real-world aspects: We would be able to bring our real-world aspects into a metaverse. Anything that can be represented digitally, your house, furniture, art, photos, videos, music, books, games, clothes, everything can be projected into the metaverse as holograms and augmented reality.

The premise is to enable us to move across different experiences and platforms seamlessly and make them all relevant in context to each other. Like teleporting from Fortnite to another such game, but of course, the reasons will go beyond just gaming. You could use VR headsets to be fully immersed in an experience, or partially through AR technologies, using different devices. To make the metaverse fully public and commercial, we must be able to interact with it on devices we already have like phones, laptops, tablets, etc., and jump from one to the other easily. There will be lots of companies building virtual worlds in the metaverse the same way many companies do different things on the WWW.

Some argue the metaverse is a disguise to get more data from a general user. When social media platforms haven’t solved all issues related to privacy, misinformation, and online harassment yet, why should we expect that in the metaverse? The concern is real. However, the metaverse is only an idea as of today. There is nothing that can be legitimately called the metaverse yet. Leaving all issues behind, this is sure an exciting time to be alive. The metaverse could become the next hub for digital interactions and reality. The only thing we can really do is wait for experts to give us this thing called the metaverse. Only then can we decide if it sounds as good as it does or is a total dystopian nightmare.

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