As some readers might remember, in the early days of the internet it was really hard to understand what this new, strange thing called ‘the world wide web’ was. We can now watch old archival footage of experts trying to explain the internet to the public and chuckle at their baffled expressions. For the common person, it was nearly impossible to fully understand how the internet would forever change every aspect of their life.
We are in the very early days of the Metaverse, so in the same way as the birth of the internet, there is no single, all-illuminating way to define it. Now that we are fully accustomed to the internet and technology has skyrocketed since then, it is a little easier for us to imagine what the Metaverse could be, than it was for people back then to understand the idea of the internet.
Video: “Ready Player One” the 2018 sci-fi film, offers a stylized and dramatic glimpse into the future technology and the idea of the Metaverse.
Basically it is the term used to describe the anticipated next incarnation of the internet, and where all our advancements and increasing familiarity in social technology is organically leading us. The term Metaverse combines the Greek word ‘meta’ meaning ‘beyond’, and the suffix ‘-verse’ from ‘universe’.
We must emphasize that the Metaverse will not replace the internet, but rather simply expand it. At the moment we have ‘access’ to the internet through our computers and mobile devices. The Metaverse will allow us to be ‘within’ an embodied or 3D version of the internet.
Here is a definition by Matthew Ball, a prominent thought leader in the space:
‘The Metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, data, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence’.
It is important to remember that how the internet was understood in the 90s is a lot different than it is understood by us today. Despite all this talk about the Metaverse, it doesn't technically exist yet. We don’t know what it is because the technology is still advancing in its direction, and we as a society are still learning how to use the Metaverse through our familiarity with social technologies.
By that last part we are referring to the idea that as a society we are not fully capable of using and embracing the Metaverse just yet. To summarize an example by Matthew Ball, the very first Apple iPhone did not need to have a dedicated ‘home button’ at the bottom. Having it there was not about technology capabilities - it was about our user capabilities at the time. It was not till a decade later that we were ready to adapt to having no dedicated ‘home button’ on our smartphones.
The short answer to that is both. AR is an interactive experience of a real world environment with those real world objects enhanced by computer-generated information and graphics. The game Pokémon GO really helped to bring the concept of AR into the mainstream all over the globe.
On the other hand, VR is a completely simulated and enveloping experience into a computer generated environment, that can be either similar to or completely different from the real world. VR tech companies such as Oculus, as well as the gaming industry, are again leading the way on our understanding of virtual reality.
The Metaverse will likely be a communal cyberspace, which connects augmented reality and virtual reality. This combination is referred to as mixed reality (MR).
Video: Microsoft Mesh is an example of an emerging mixed reality product.
The Metaverse is not a user-generated virtual world or virtual world platform. For example, Facebook is a social network focused on user-generated content (UGC). The Metaverse will not be solely driven by UGC experiences and it is not a social network.
The Metaverse is not a video game. Of course, there will be games in the Metaverse, but it is not the Metaverse itself.
The Metaverse is not software like Unreal, Unity, WebXR or WebGPU. This is similar to the internet being more than just TCP/IP, HTTP, or a web browser.
Yes, you will be able to enter the Metaverse as an avatar. Thanks to the gaming industry, we have become increasingly familiar with the idea of an avatar that represents our physical presence in a digital space. Those avatars may look a little different than we think of at the moment. Perhaps they will be a more realistic representation of our physical appearance and less cartoonish. Or maybe your avatar will look any way you want it to.
The evolution of the Metaverse is ever growing and all the components have been slowly - and then very rapidly - coming together for years now. The first mention of the idea of the Metaverse was in the early ‘90s, and the ‘00s - ‘10s have seen an increasing rate of developments and milestones within the space - even if some of them barely got off the ground.
Over the last few years there have been many platforms and innovations that have been constantly trailblazing and pushing the boundaries to bring the real world and virtual reality spaces together, and thus, organically forming the Metaverse.
Together with crypto-currency, NFTs are making way for a revenue model for Metaverse. Non-fungible tokens, aka NFTs, are rapidly increasing in popularity and social acceptance. NFTs are collectible digital assets that can be owned in that digital form. Anything that exists in a digital form can be sold as an NFT; like digital art, video, music, even Tweets and more. And just as it were a real-life object, the value of an NFTs can go up in time. The same way that Bitcoin is ‘digital money’, NFTs are ‘digital objects’.
The wildly popular virtual reality game Fortnite by Epic Games, hosted a concert experience of rapper Travis Scott in April 2020. It was attended live by approximately 12 million Fortnite players, with a further 3 million viewing it via stream. This empathizes how the gaming industry has been and continues to bring virtual reality experiences to the mainstream.
Video: Trailer for Travis Scott’s Astronomical on Fortnite
We have also seen the rise of ‘ubiquitous computing’. This brought about the ability to access the internet through everyday objects such as speakers, refrigerators, watches or a pair of glasses. Back in 2013 ‘Google Glass’ tried to show us how to access the internet hands-free with smart glasses. However, as a society, perhaps we weren’t ready to embrace it. Same goes for the launch of Snapchat’s ‘Spectacles’ in 2016. Fast forward to 2021, and the launch of Facebook and Ray Ban’s ‘Stories’ smart glasses. Although it is not there yet, these glasses are seen as taking another step towards augmented reality glasses that seamlessly overlay graphics onto the real world. The development of this tech will be important for the Metaverse.
Video: Marketing campaign for Facebook and Ray Ban’s ‘Stories’ smart glasses.
This is all to say that the Metaverse is being formed and introduced all around us. In 2021, so called ‘big tech’ such as Epic Games, Microsoft and Facebook have all announced their intention to actively develop towards the Metaverse. In the next few years we can expect some big strides to be made towards it. However, when will society at large fully embrace and understand the Metaverse? That may take a little longer.
At Happily we anticipate that the Metaverse will enable the ultimate experience of a hybrid event as the real world and the digital space will harmoniously meet inside the Metaverse. The onsite attendees will have a seamless augmented reality experience, and the virtual attendees will have a truly amazing virtual reality experience.
Virtual sets and costumes are going to be bigger and better than ever. We can all flyyyy now!
Collaboration will be easier. We won’t just be sharing ideas and data, we’ll be building and playing with them in real-time, from anywhere with digital projection and natural language processing combined.
Physical demonstrations of products will be more enhanced with added layers of information. You’ll be able to see inside the tiniest products, put heavy objects in motion with ease, and test products in a variety of environments.