What is the Metaverse?

So, the metaverse is something that gets talked about a lot currently, but what does it actually mean? Is it really the future?

The term originated from the 1992 novel Snow Crash, in which the metaverse was a 3D virtual world where users could interact with each other. The term has become widely used as part of efforts to turn the concept into a reality.

The term is most associated with the company Meta, who have tried to create a 3D world where users interact with each other through virtual avatars, which can be used to conduct business meetings or replace your surroundings with a virtual office, which has virtual monitors to replace your real one.

3D worlds where many people can interact together are hardly new. Blaxxun Interactive and Active Worlds were introduced in 1995, these provided 3D worlds that people could explore and interact with on their computer. Second Life, introduced in 2003, has been far more successful and well-known, being more customisable and having a lively and active user base.

VRChat is more recent, having come out in 2014, and is actively built for use with VR headsets. This puts the user more directly into the scene, compared to seeing it on a screen. Second Life can work with VR headsets but isn’t designed with it in mind.

Online roleplaying games, such as World of Warcraft or RuneScape, also provide 3D spaces where people can interact as part of being massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.

While highly varied, where these 3D worlds have found success is in providing a way to socialise and interact with people.

Currently, Meta’s vision of the metaverse is struggling to attract users. In order to become more widely adopted, it must be able to provide a more convenient and readily accessible experience than what already exists. For a formal meeting, webcams are far cheaper than VR headsets, they’re easier to set up, and they allow you to see the person you’re talking to. Another feature promised in adverts is replacing physical monitors with virtual ones projected by the VR headset, which is rarely going to be more useful than a physical monitor, especially if you need someone else to look at your screen at the same time.

The internet has been so widely adopted because it has made communication fast and easy. You don’t necessarily need the internet to communicate with people, navigate to an unfamiliar place, or manage documents, but it’s a lot slower to do so without it. Meta offers a little bit of novelty but doesn’t really add anything new. To make matters worse for Meta, existing VR options have been far better received for actually providing novelty.

Have you tried the metaverse, or any other VR experiences? What did you think of it? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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