Facebook’s name change to Meta in 2012. This is to refer to the futuristic, nebulous metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg is keen to capitalize on this emerging technology and calls it the “future social connection.” Microsoft and Apple all seem to agree with his vision that the metaverse can revolutionize the internet. News reports have covered everything, from couples getting married in the metaverse to entities purchasing property in that space. But…what…is it?
It’s okay to be confused. This term is derived from science fiction. Some argue that the metaverse still exists. We asked Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal tech columnist, to help her explain this week’s Next Question.
What is the metaverse?
This term has been used since the 1990s. The term was first used by Neal Stephenson, a 1992 science-fiction author. It describes an online universe where people can explore it using digital copies of themselves. In the 2011 bestseller Ready Player One, the theme was reintroduced. This is the general concept of the metaverse, persistent virtual worlds that continue to exist regardless of whether you are plugged in or not.
These domains are already in existence. Take for instance multi-player video games like World of Warcraft where players interact with virtual avatars in a virtual realm. Fortnite is a popular battle royale game among children. Companies like Microsoft and Meta are now focusing on the virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. (FYI: Virtual reality allows users to access and interact directly with a virtual environment using instruments such as VR headsets. Augmented reality is the overlaying of a computer-generated image on top of the real one.
Meta developed the Quest 2 virtual-reality headset. It also has Horizon Worlds, a social VR platform. Stern says that the goal of this virtual reality environment is for people to be able plug in and fully immerse themselves into it, performing many of the same activities as they do in real life. This includes meeting people, having conversations, working with colleagues, buying and selling things, and even working out.
Take a step back and, as Stern said to us in their Horizon Worlds digital meeting, the metaverse seems like the next step for Meta. Think about what we did: We created accounts, gave names to our avatars, put on headsets and we arrived at a place where we could talk. This is what Facebook has been all about since the advent of the internet. Stern says that it is a place where people can congregate and socialize in a virtual space.”
When will the metaverse become mainstream?
Horizon Worlds will likely take a while for most people to log in to, but it’s not too soon to have a digital brunch with our friends. The headsets are still bulky and expensive, and the social platform is not without its problems (or as some says, “not quite ready for prime-time”).
Stern said that even CEOs of large companies admit that technology is still far from being advanced enough to match the all-immersive vision. Stern, however, wrote a fascinating column on spending 24 hours in metaverse. She said that even though the metaverse is still primitive, she could see its potential.