The term Metaverse was first used in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in the science-fiction novel Snow Crash where human beings, in the form of avatars, interact with each other in a three-dimensional virtual space. A sort of successor to the Internet-based on virtual reality. Science fiction movies and novels are full of references to the metaverse but to get a more immediate idea just look at Spielberg’s film Ready Player One.
This term is a combination of the prefix meta, which stands for beyond, and the root verso which refers to the universe. Basically, Metaverse means a convergence of physical, augmented, and virtual reality in a shared online space.
The primarily-used technologies to access the Metaverse are virtual and augmented reality, but they are not the only ones. The Metaverse will be accessible through all different computing platforms, VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality), as well as PCs, mobile devices, and gaming consoles.
Venture capitalist and EpyllionCo Managing Partner Matthew Ball has compiled a list of key features that define this reality:
- Be persistent, can’t stop, is constantly evolving;
- Be synchronous and live, real time for everyone;
- Be limitless for users;
- Be a fully functioning economy, individuals and businesses will be able to create, own, invest, sell and be rewarded;
- Be an experience that spans both the digital and physical worlds, with private and public networks/experiences and open and closed platforms;
- Offer unprecedented interoperability of data, digital objects/assets and content;
- Be populated by content and experiences created and managed by an incredibly wide range of contributors, some of them independent individuals, while others groups organized informally or as businesses.
The future of Internet
Ball describes the Metaverse not as a virtual world or a space, but as “a kind of successor to the mobile internet,” a framework for an increasingly connected life. According to the venture capitalist, there won’t be a ‘Before’ and an ‘After’ to the Metaverse, it will slowly emerge over time as different products, services, and capabilities integrate and merge together.
In fact, many companies are already taking their first steps into this world. In the gaming sector, Fortnite, the video game developed by Epic Games and People Can Fly, hosted a concert by the American artist Travis Scott in April 2020. The concert was attended by virtually as many as 12 million people.
Epic Games also declared a few months ago that it had raised about a billion dollars to invest in the creation of a “Ready Player One” metaverse.
Recent news is the announcement by Facebook patron Mark Zuckerberg that places the digital giant as a Metaverse company. In a long interview on The Verge Zuckerberg explained his vision:
“no company will manage the Metaverse – it will be an ’embodied internet’ managed by many different actors in a decentralized way.”
Instead of seeing the content, users will experience it directly, with an increasingly immersive service.
This is exactly why Facebook has drawn up an agreement with the giant Ray-Ban Luxottica for the development and creation of a smart glasses model. The features of the new Ray-Ban Stories include a dual camera, touch control, openair speakers and Facebook View, the operating system that integrates the social network. The launch of this new product has obviously animated a strong debate about privacy, despite the fact that during filming the smart glasses will show a spy light.
The Ray-Ban Stories are just one of the latest steps that the company has taken Facebook, think of all the uses of Oculus 3D viewers, which in addition to the gaming world are opening up to the business world. Facebook has in fact recently announced Horizon Workrooms, a shared virtual environment in which colleagues and collaborators can work and interact through avatars.
NFTs & Virtual Lands
In a future in which the offline and online worlds will be inextricably intertwined, NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens) will be our way of expressing ourselves and differentiating ourselves from others. Thanks to their uniqueness and exclusivity they will become a status symbol to be worn by our avatars like a luxury watch or jewel.
In early September, Vignesh Sundaresan and Anand Venkateswaran, the buyers of Beeple’s $69 million NFT “Everydays – The First 5000 Days,” built a monument called “The Souk” right in an online virtual world, Decentraland.
The Indian entrepreneur duo owns vast properties in different virtual worlds that allow them to experience NFT art instead of buying it and storing it somewhere.
Decentraland is making the experience increasingly immersive by organizing soccer games, music festivals, art gallery openings and more. An increasingly connected world that sees NFTs as one of the biggest forms of revenue.
“When we are able to have a digital overlay of our reality, there will be a huge shift in business models and how we interact with each other and the world. My bet is that the revenue model for the metaverse will be NFTs” said William Quigley, one of the founders of stablecoin Tether and a pioneer in the crypto world.
Another ambitious and recent Metaverse project is Earth2. The idea of Earth2 is to create a ‘second earth’ between virtual and physical reality in which geolocations of the real world, on a sectioned map, correspond to user-generated virtual environments. These environments can be owned, bought, sold and in the near future, the developers say, deeply personalized.
Similar is the OVR project, decentralized open-source infrastructure for AR and VR developed on the Ethereum Blockchain. OVR merges the physical and virtual worlds, a world easily accessible from your smartphone and in the future through smart glasses. It consists of 1.6 trillion unique hexagons called OVRLands. Lands can be purchased from the system through an auction and then traded or rented in a decentralized fashion. Owners of OVRLands will be able to contextualize personalized experiences tied to specific geographic locations, from 3D content to games, live events, avatars, and potentially many other experiences.
With great power comes great responsibility
Entrepreneurs, investors, futurists, and executives are all trying to stake their claim in the Metaverse, exposing its potential for social connection, experimentation, entertainment, but most importantly, profit.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Metaverse is raising and will raise many questions about who and how it will be governed, how its content will be moderated, and how its existence will change our shared sense of reality. The current management of the Internet and social media is already very complex and its 3D future version may be almost impossible to control.
As we have seen, the uses and developments of this technology are many and constantly evolving. Who would have ever imagined being able to live a second life? To be able to work, build, travel, play, invest and interact with other people in a completely new and unexplored space. A reality waiting to be discovered that still leaves many doubts.
The fast-paced development and these lockdown times bode well for a new era of sharing and participation, we’ll be watching.