| 3 min
December 10th, 2021
The latest buzzword to capture the attention of the internet is the “metaverse”. While this sci-fi concept has got the tech industry’s imagination running wild, it’s got many people curious as to what this means for the internet going forward.
After Facebook, one of the best-known internet platforms on the planet, rebranded its parent company to signal its embrace of the futuristic idea, Zuckerberg is now leading the way to the new online reality concept.
But Zuckerberg and his team aren’t exactly the only tech visionaries with ideas on how the metaverse should be implemented. Back in January 2020, venture capitalist, Matthew Ball released an influential essay that identified the key characteristics of a metaverse and what could impact its development. Essentially, the concept is that it has to span the physical and virtual worlds, contain a fully-fledged economy and offer “unprecedented interoperability”. Critically, it won’t be run by one company as it will be an “embodied internet,” Zuckerberg said while being operated by many different players in a decentralised way.
The idea became a public concept when Mark Zuckerberg appeared onscreen at Facebook’s virtual Connect conference. As he smiled and wandered through sterile rooms filled with mid-century modern furniture, the concept of the metaverse was revealed. At the same time as he announced that they are intending to build a more maximalist version of Facebook, Zuckerberg said that the metaverse will bring enormous opportunity to individual creators and artists.
Zuckerberg’s announcement comes at a time when the US government is attempting to break his current company up, so it’s not hard to see why many influential minds for the concept have concerns about a new world tied to a social media giant.
So, What is the metaverse?
While Mr Zuckerberg painted a picture of the metaverse as a clean, well-lit virtual world (that is oddly reminiscent of an Ikea showroom), it’s a far more complicated yet impressive concept than that. Essentially, the metaverse is a network of always-on virtual environments in which many people can interact with one another and even digital objects while operating their virtual avatars.
The metaverse has been a long-discussed concept from science fiction that many people in the technology industry envision as the successor to today’s internet. And what we’ve seen in the movies isn’t far off what is being discussed here. This virtual world is almost like the internet brought to life where users can play virtual games, attend virtual concerts, go shopping for virtual goods and more.
While it is only a vision at this point, many technology companies like Facebook are aiming to make it the setting for many online activities, including work, play, studying and shopping. It also will incorporate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media.
Why the metaverse matters
The social media giant already has more than 10,000 people working on augmented and virtual reality projects in its Reality Labs division. Alongside these very real people working on the concept, the company announced that it would spend about $10 billion on metaverse-related investments this year. While we can say that it is just a concept, it can be argued that it won’t be for much longer.
A realised and well-managed metaverse could be the next best thing to a working teleportation device, says Zuckerberg. A thriving metaverse would raise questions both familiar and strange about how the virtual space is to be governed, how its contents would be regulated, and what its existence would do to our shared sense of reality. Other questions have been raised around who exactly has access to this mass amount of personal data, especially after Facebook is accused of failing to stop the proliferation of dangerous misinformation and other online harms that exacerbate real-world problems.
Regardless, this isn’t vanity or PR stunt for Mr Zuckerberg. In the metaverse, he has found what may be an escape pod… a way to eject himself from Facebook’s messy, troubled present. This concept could break ground on a new, untainted frontier for the developers and users alike.