What does “Meta + Verse” mean?
Almost every tech company and media outlet is talking about the metaverse. We see blog posts and news articles about the metaverse with questions like:
- What is the metaverse?
- Is it related to cryptocurrency?
- Is it many connected virtual worlds in a single place?
The word metaverse was coined by Neil Stephenson in 1992 in his book Snow Crash. Imagine somebody envisioning the metaverse 30 years ago.
When I first heard about the metaverse, I was confused and immediately linked Facebook renaming its firm to “Meta”. I got an impression that it is something big and inevitable. “Meta” comes from the Greek word which means “beyond” and verse is derived from “universe”. Together, they essentially mean “beyond the universe”. While this may sound confusing, it isn’t, as we shall soon find out.
The metaverse is basically a simulated digital environment that creates spaces for social interaction like in the real world. It allows individuals to spend time, socialize, and even own assets in the virtual world using their digital identities or avatars.
For instance, you can create your digital avatar and relax at Miami beach– though virtually. You could go to the zoo or even be an animal at the zoo. You could also buy a product from Walmart with an immersive experience of being at the store and not at your home. The possibilities are endless. In a more real sense, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the established situations worldwide. We all miss those in-person interactions, unique office environments. But imagine you are missing office and thinking about talking to your friends and colleagues. Suddenly, you call them up, ask them for a meet-up, and the person arrives in a couple of minutes. Can this be possible? Yes, this is, with the Metaverse.
The metaverse technology
Metaverse is an amalgamation of Web 3.0, blockchain, and mixed reality. This, in turn, helps us own anything on the internet. Take a gaming example. People invest a lot of money buying in-game items when they don't own anything. Metaverse is solving this through NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Let’s look at the technology artifacts encompassing the metaverse:
Figure 1: The Technology Components of the Metaverse
The Web 3.0 is the next evolution of the internet, and it's empowered by the blockchain, where you can not only read-and-write on the internet, but you can also own the internet, and this is very important for `the metaverse. Just like in real life, we own things. We should be also able to own things on the internet. Let us look at different versions of the internet and its evolution:
- Web 1.0 was the first version of the internet where it was more along the lines of read-only information which, in other terms, was called the information economy.
- Web 2.0 was the second version where we could post information to the internet in addition to reading. This was the platform economy, where we were not only consumers but creators as well.
- Web 3.0 is all about owning the internet where we can not only read/write online but own digital assets on the internet too. This can be termed as the token economy.
NFTs will be key to assessing the metaverse. As an example, every time you buy a house or car, you need to get it registered for the proof that you own that house. Now, if we are moving to these metaverse universe, we also need to have these to register our ownership. NFTs will enable it. They allow us to have original things on the internet. So non-fungible assets are unique because they differ in value, and they differ when comparing to fungible items. A currency note is a fungible item because you can replace this with another note. But if someone send a cool scenery and in return asks for a world best painting, you might not accept it because they are different items. They have different intrinsic values. In short, NFTs are digital representations of digital assets.
Mixed reality is also sometimes referred to hybrid reality and it is the merging of virtual and real worlds where the interaction among the people remains virtual and objects are there in real time. For example, you can use your digital avatar and play games across various platforms, such as those of Nintendo, Sony, and Xbox for instance, with your friends.
Now, the big question is– can you bring the online metaverse to the offline world? The answer is a partial yes, and we have been seeing some examples of this already. There are projects that get started as physical art galleries and then go on to the virtual world. They are tokenized as NFTs. But then you also have projects like, say, a digital artwork which later gets printed on the basis of its popularity and moves on to a physical iteration.
Industries disrupted by the metaverse
As we enter 2022 and beyond, impact of the metaverse in the real world will be seen in approximately all sectors, such as financial services, automotive and manufacturing, real estate, education, and retail. Just like for every technological civilization, there are first movers, then a chasm follows, and then the laggards come in at last. Industries which are poised to be disrupted initially by the metaverse will be social media, gaming, fashion, and marketing. We are still in the early days of having fashion brands creating digital clothes, but big brands sooner might go to the metaverse and produce digital fashion.
A brand or a company can use the metaverse and NFTs to improve fan engagement and have an immersive relationship with its customers. In this era of technology and inorganic growth, one of the recent deals that shocked the world was Microsoft acquiring Activision Blizzard in a whopping $68 billion deal. Companies have started investing huge in this next big thing and gaming might get completely disrupted by this. An example of the metaverse concept can be seen in the games where you can choose an avatar and own assets. Now real estate in the gaming market is limited, so the probability of you selling off your avatar and assets to make a huge profit just like in the stock market is a likely one in the times to come.
The future is here
Just as computers took everyone by storm in the early 1980s, then the internet around Y2K, and smartphones and cryptocurrency in the last couple of decades, metaverse is the next seismic development in the future. Human-computer interfaces will continue to become more efficient. The rise of blockchain, digital assets, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) further fuels the demand for the metaverse.
Right now, I think we are in the first stage of the metaverse with Web 3.0 and virtual reality (VR) headsets. After some years down the line, considering the technology prowess the metaverse entails, the second stage might get linked to full VR, including haptic feedback with more decentralized autonomous organizations. In a nutshell, the metaverse is all about digital inclusion and we can only have digital inclusion when people, and not companies, own the assets. We are experiencing the beginning of the next step in our history. Let’s get ready for it!