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Metaverse Meaning: What is the Metaverse and Why Does it Matter?
Since Facebook, the biggest social media platform in the world, rebranded to Meta, the idea of the metaverse has gained a whole lot of attention. What was once merely a dystopian concept, confined to the realm of Sci-fi, has now been fully embraced by Big Data companies and touted as an online haven. You will be playing games with your friends, trying on clothes in virtual fitting rooms, and having group video calls around a virtual desk in no time. Welcome to the metaverse.
Just pop on your virtual reality glasses and we’ll begin.
What is the Metaverse?
Put simply, the metaverse is a successor to the internet, but instead of scrolling on your mobile or browsing the web on your laptop, you hop into some augmented reality glasses and you’re already there. It converts the internet, and everything in it, into a virtual world that you can explore with other people who are not in the same physical space as you.
If you consider the current internet as a black and white silent movie, the metaverse is a full-color, 3D film with sound, a comfy chair and an endless bucket of popcorn. It’s the next step. While web 3.0 focuses on digital data ownership and trustlessly verifiable online identities, the metaverse evolves the experience of the internet. The sensory experience in particular is upgraded. You will be able to see and interact on a visceral level through virtual reality headsets. This is why it’s sometimes called the “embodied internet.“
To put it another way, the metaverse will blend social media, online gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality, and blockchain technology to empower users to virtually interact with one another. Augmented reality overlays will allow digital and physical worlds to merge as they superimpose visual and auditory stimuli onto real-world settings. This is designed to enhance user experience, as opposed to virtual reality, which will elevate and improve the fictional reality of the virtual worlds that make up the metaverse.
As the metaverse expands, online spaces will develop that enable multidimensional interactions that present-day technology is unable to support. The digital and physical worlds will merge. The overall experience will be far more immersive than the current detached view from behind a screen and keyboard.
It’s important to note here that metaverse technology is many years away from being fully realized. When people seek the metaverse definition in this context, it can often get confusing as nothing like it currently exists. While the technology is being built now, the true experience is still just a target. That’s not to say that the current renditions are not a “real metaverse.” You can still trade digital goods, own virtual land and access specific private communities through NFTs, but we’re still in the early stages. These are the basic building blocks — the fundamental tech that underlies it all. Augmented reality overlays will be a huge part of the next iteration, transitioning us fully into the “embodied internet.”
Will there be more than one metaverse?
When people define “metaverse” they usually speak as though it’s one singular thing, like the internet. Then why are there tons of companies building their own versions?
In blockchain circles, it’s commonly thought that interoperability will be the key moving forward. For example, right now, there are dozens, if not hundreds of metaverse projects. That’s not even including the few companies building metaverse technology outside of the blockchain. It’s unlikely that one company will succeed above all the others, rather they will probably become interoperable with one another. At some point in the future, it may be as if they are separate domains on the internet — unique metaverses within the “multiverse”, so to speak.
Breakdown: metaverse explained
- What is a metaverse? A shared virtual space where you can work, play, explore, trade and do just about everything else you do on the internet — but as if you were actually there.
- What technology will it use? Virtual and augmented reality will be the key technologies moving forward, but metaverse technology also combines aspects of blockchain and AI tech. For example, digital ownership of virtual items wouldn’t be possible without the blockchain. This is through the use of NFTs, something we’ll get onto a little bit more later.
- Will the metaverse really catch on? Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has said that he believes augmented reality glasses will eventually be as common as smartphones.
Why is the Metaverse so popular lately?
Talking of Facebook CEOs, you probably heard a lot about the Metaverse recently because of Mark Zuckerberg. He’s built a Facebook metaverse, rebranding to Meta. Not just a basic social media company anymore, the future of Facebook has been made crystal clear with this effort to transition into web 3.0. Mark Zuckerberg wants to ensure that the only metaverse people care about is the Facebook metaverse.
Facebook, with its deep pockets (from selling your data), has invested in the metaverse through its Oculus VR headsets. It’s also working on AR glasses, similar to Google glass, and wristband technologies. Not content to stop there, Meta announced a $50 million investment in global research and program partners in September 2021. The investment was to ensure that metaverse technology would be built responsibly.
Are there any other metaverse stock companies?
Everybody and his dog wants to get in on the metaverse hype. Facebook was the first to rebrand for that reason, but they’re not the only company getting their feet wet. If this really is the next step in the internet, it’s no wonder businesses are desperate to get on board. Here are a few others:
Nike is “quietly preparing for the metaverse“, according to CNBC. They’re even preparing to sell virtual sneakers!
Microsoft, recently making headlines for its $68 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard, has had the acquisition described as a “metaverse play.“
Walmart has “filed several trademarks hoping to produce and sell virtual goods,” according to Yahoo. Other filings show the potential for a cryptocurrency and NFTs.
On December 28th 2021, Walt Disney Company received a patent that confirms their ownership towards creating “a virtual-world simulator in a real-world venue.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, describes the metaverse as “a kind of online playground where users could join friends to play a multiplayer game like Epic’s ‘Fortnite’ one moment, watch a movie via Netflix the next and then bring their friends to test drive a new car that’s crafted exactly the same in the real world as it would be in this virtual one.” He went on to assert that it would be about as far from Facebook’s “ad-laden news feed” as you could get.
Isn’t this all a little high-tech?
That might sound a little crazy — test driving a car virtually. This is why the term metaverse was widely considered science fiction for so long. It just sounds so absurdly futuristic that it’s hard to imagine. Yet, many metaverse companies are working towards this exact goal, and if there’s anything we’ve learned from the past 30 years, it’s that technological advancements can come in the blink of an eye.
Remember too, it’s not about replacing the current internet. Most likely, it will be a supplement, especially in the early days. A virtual dressing room is a fantastic idea to see how an outfit would look on you, but it wouldn’t require an entire virtual store. All you’d need is an easy way to switch between flat and spatial experiences. To compare it with the mobile internet, tons of apps appeared that made the design smoother and the experience more seamless, but the desktop versions still remain.
It’s also important to remember that computers that are capable of this kind of high-end performance are going to cost money. A lot of money. Not to mention the VR headset needed to access the metaverse. It would be unreasonable to assume that the metaverse will entirely replace the text-heavy internet, and it would be unwise for it to do so. After all, there are certain people that would struggle to acclimatize to such an environment. Whether it’s the problem of slow internet, mobility issues, or poor vision, a real-time 3D online world isn’t going to be for everyone. At least, not straight away.
NFTs in the metaverse
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a way of recording digital ownership via the blockchain. By determining who owns which virtual good, it creates the possibility for trade. Creating, transferring and utilizing virtual items will be a big part of the metaverse, and without NFTs, that simply wouldn’t be possible.
There are hundreds of NFT artists selling collectibles like CryptoPunks, Bored Apes, and Phantz. As things stand, these are mostly 2D artwork to be used like a profile picture, but as technology advances, more use cases will come to NFTs. There are already plenty of musical artists selling NFTs that contain fractions of the rights to a specific song’s streaming royalties. Through NFTs, and soon, the metaverse, celebrity culture is finding new ways to interact with fans.
NFTs are all set to be greener and better for the environment in the near future too. Check out our post about the environmental impact of NFTs.
Real money in the metaverse (Play-to-Earn)
Most people think the metaverse is a relatively new thing, but metaverse entrepreneur Carrie Tatsu has been designing, marketing and selling avatars, pets and accessories for players of Second Life for the past 15 years! Launched in 2003, Second Life is a digital world with almost 1 million active users who can buy land and spend real money on in-world customizable clothing. While this doesn’t come with the verifiable ownership of NFTs, its popularity is undeniable.
In blockchain-based games, players can earn cryptocurrency. The most popular crypto game so far is Axie Infinity, in which players buy, train and breed NFT creatures, not too far from Pokemon. Players can sell their creatures on the open market for cryptocurrency. During the pandemic, playing Axie Infinity was so lucrative that people in the Philippines were doing it for their full-time jobs!
The gaming industry is on the verge of a huge transformation; after all, if you can play games for money — assuming they’re the same quality — why play them for free?
Who Coined the Term Metaverse?
The word metaverse, originally short for meta universe, was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash. He used the term to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the current internet. It’s now become synonymous with the concept of a virtual world that is practically indistinguishable from the physical world.
The game mentioned earlier, Second Life, is often thought to be the first working version of the metaverse. It was one of the first games set in a virtual space where you could interact with others as digital avatars, and buy and sell accessories in-game.
World of Warcraft could also be considered a metaverse game, as millions of players joined together to play in the early 2000s. Most MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role-playing games) are early forms of a metaverse. Today, a video game like Fortnite is thriving with online communities. Players of younger generations tend to socialize digitally just as much, if not more, than they do physically. This has also been accentuated because of the pandemic.
A German study on children and young people found that gaming and internet usage increased by 75% during the pandemic compared to 2019. It was also found that around one third of girls and boys want to “escape reality” by going online. With more people working from home or going to school remotely, people have raised concerns that the metaverse only increases people’s desire to stay at home — to interact virtually rather than in person, even in a post-COVID world.
These concerns aren’t unfounded. To revert back to Snow Crash — it was a dystopian Sci-fi novel that painted a fairly bleak picture in many ways. John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, the software developer responsible for Pokémon Go, made reference to this very clearly. He said “these novels served as warnings about a dystopian future of technology gone wrong.”
Since the release of Snow Crash, there have been plenty of other stories set in a metaverse-type world. From Ready Player One to Free Guy, a movie that was released just before Facebook’s metaverse announcement in 2021. There are several episodes of Black Mirror that come to mind too, with many people on Twitter pointing out eerie similarities between Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta introduction video and the notorious dystopian anthology series.
So, is the metaverse a bad thing?
Love it or loathe it, the metaverse is being built. There’s nothing you can do about it. Except maybe help steer it in the right direction.
With everything we know about Facebook and their data breaches, we have to ask: does a Facebook metaverse undermine the narrative behind web 3.0?
In one word: yes.
See Facebook, or Meta as we should call it now, is heavily centralized. It exists purely because of your data. If you want true digital data ownership, then it is blindingly obvious that you will not get it with Facebook, a company infamous for its data scandals, leaks and hacks. Just last year, it was announced that 533 million people’s data had been stolen. And the sad thing is, that’s not surprising.
It’s been theorized that this is exactly why Facebook has rebranded: to escape the controversy and redirect the headlines. True or not, in order for a positive metaverse to prosper, it has to be decentralized. Why? Because it will give everybody equal rights.
And this goes for all centralized metaverses. The same can be said for former Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey. The ex-king of censorship claims to be building a decentralized web5 that returns data to the people. It appears unlikely that such a noble goal would be his true motive, but time shall tell. We’re at a point in time where we have the means to create something meaningful that gives power back to the people. We shouldn’t squander that by giving in to the money bags of existing corporations. There are lots of problems that our current internet has that won’t be solved by simply following the big tech companies into the metaverse. The internet needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to solve problems like hacking or catfishing. While they’re nearly impossible to eliminate entirely, a metaverse in alignment with web 3.0 could drastically alter the playing field, minimizing hacks and trustlessly verifying identities via DIDs.
The internet was originally intended to be decentralized, but it lost its way with big tech giants and monopolies. Decentralization ensures that we all have equal footing, and most importantly, that we all own our own data.
How Do You Own Your Own Data in the Metaverse?
A truly decentralized metaverse on the scale of the current internet would only be possible with some form of decentralized identities (DIDs). Blockchain technology can accommodate this. In particular, here at Elastos, our decentralized identities are groundbreaking!
But it doesn’t stop there. NFTs will also be an indispensable asset in the digital world. Without them, a centralized authority like Facebook will own your digital goods, and a simple hack — which they are so prone to having — could result in significant loss. Virtual spaces will require virtual avatars; these can only be reliably produced in a decentralized manner.
By merging the vision of web 3.0 with the concept of the metaverse, we can create a truly decentralized internet in which the user retains personal control over the data they put online.
A vision for the future
While the metaverse may have been a dystopian concept before, not everybody believes the future holds doom and gloom. In fact, there’s a large portion of metaverse enthusiasts that believe virtual worlds will benefit everybody.
They believe online worlds will provide opportunities to earn, socialize and have fun, utilizing new technologies in a way that increases community and enhances access for all. These digital spaces could create fairness and equality unseen in the real world.
Metaverse: Enter Elastos
While most of the big metaverse projects are on Ethereum, there are others popping up on different blockchains. Elastos is no exception.
An Elastos-themed city in which users can visit different districts, including the Passport Office, the Art Gallery and the Auction House. In the future, users will be able to buy and sell land, too. While the main token, BELLA — named after the cute elephant mascot — is yet to be released, there is another token associated with Elacity: GOLD. It’s held in the Elacity treasury for future development, with all coins in circulation and a tiny 1,000-coin max limit.
The Bella series of NFTs has recently launched, with some still for sale.
The Elaverse (Vitrim)
A space-themed Elastos metaverse with the ability to harvest NFT resources on distant planets. Their Eliens NFT sale launched in December and users will be able to mint VitX, the Vitrim token, with their NFTs when the time comes. The project’s litepaper is slated for release soon.
While both projects are in their early days, it seems to be a promising start for the Elastos ecosystem. The best metaverses will be those built with decentralization and digital data ownership in mind. What better place to build them than Elastos, the premier web 3.0 platform?
This article was written by Matt Leppington