If you’re interested in technology, you’ve probably heard the buzzword of the moment – “metaverse.” The hype around this term may have reached its zenith Thursday, when Facebook announced that it was renaming its portfolio of companies ‘Meta’ to align its businesses with its ambition to build the metaverse.
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse doesn’t exist – at least not yet. As of today, there isn’t anything that could legitimately be identified as a metaverse. A useful parallel for understanding its maturity – with a hat-tip to technology analyst Benedict Evans for the reference – may be the story of when telecoms entrepreneur Craig McCaw first heard about the internet.
Reputedly, it was Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs who described the implications that a globally distributed network of interconnected computers could have on communications, commerce and information. When Jobs had finished, McCaw’s reaction was: “Let’s buy it!”
Just as you can’t invest in the internet, so, too, can you not identify the metaverse as a unique product, technology or service. A better question might be: what could become the metaverse?
Metaverse as the next major computing platform
Technologists would answer that the internet will eventually evolve into the metaverse, which will come to represent the next major computing platform. If the concept can be actualized, it is expected to be as transformative to society and industry as the mobile phone.
The internet today is often the main entry point for millions of us to access information and services, communicate and socialize with each other, sell goods, and entertain ourselves. The metaverse is predicted to replicate this value proposition – with the main difference being that distinction between being offline and online will be much harder to delineate.
This could manifest itself in several ways, but many experts believe that “extended reality” (XR) – the combination of augmented, virtual and mixed reality – will play an important role. Central to the concept of the metaverse is the idea that virtual, 3D environments that are accessible and interactive in real time will become the transformative medium for social and business engagement. If they are to become practical, these environments will be dependent on widespread adoption of extended reality.