Into the Metaverse

Updated: Nov 22

Web 3, The New Internet and the Metaverse

dWeb Guide's vision of a possible Metaverse

Many of you may have heard the term Metaverse for the first time when Facebook hijacked META as the new name for its parent company. But the concept of a virtual digital space has been around since the early days of personal computing, with the word metaverse appearing when Mark Zuckerberg was just eight years old.

What is the Metaverse?

The name for an immersive 3D world, a successor to the current internet, was first coined by sci-fi author and futurist Neal Stephenson in 1992. Metaverse is a portmanteau of ‘meta’ (meaning ‘beyond’) and universe. The metaverse in his book Snow Crash was Stephenson’s vision of how the internet would evolve into a collective virtual space populated by user-controlled avatars, accessed by both static and portable terminals including goggles.

It is entirely possible that the internet will eventually look as envisaged by the author; a digital space that users visit in avatar form to do everything that they currently do on today’s internet; meeting, socialising, sharing, shopping, gaming, learning, entertaining.

But the metaverse is no longer science fiction. Its early incarnation emerged in a platform called Second Life in 2003. Ahead of its time, Second Life offered an array of activities for three-dimensional avatars such as listening to live talks, dancing, and shopping. Sadly, the technology of the time was too slow and glitchy, and most users left to join Facebook. Now, there is a limited form through many virtual reality games, chat platforms like VRChat, and blockchain developers are leading the way as we will see below.

Accessing the Metaverse

Getting into these digital spaces is also no longer particularly futuristic. We can already access the internet through personal mobile devices, and glasses and goggles are available for virtual and augmented reality technology. 5G technology, sophisticated sensors and more advanced movement tracking mean we are more ready to head into the metaverse than we were back in 2003.

1. Playing a virtual 3d game (credit: Allen J. Schaben) 2. Apple's iGlasses (credit: Apple)

What does the metaverse do?

Some key characteristics of the metaverse, as identified by American venture capitalist Mathew Ball, are a space that:

  1. Spans the virtual and real worlds

  2. Contains a fully-fledged economy

  3. Has interoperability; avatars and goods can move from one place to another in the metaverse

There is an all-important fourth characteristic: it must be decentralised. The metaverse should be hosted on distributed networks and not ’owned’ by the likes of Meta Inc.

In fact, Mark Zuckerberg did suggest a decentralised metaverse that should not be controlled by any one entity. Where that leaves Zuckerberg’s set of companies we don’t know, but if Facebook’s large coffers are supporting the development of the new internet, then some of the technological hurdles to metaverse expansion and adoption might be overcome sooner.

Current Limitations in the Metaverse

Digital spaces will be dependent on Virtual- and Augmented-Reality technology which are still in relative infancy. The lack of mobility and low image quality are also limitations. Further, the power needed for lengthy virtual reality usage is excessive with even high-end computers unable to power VR machines consuming power and bytes over many hours. Large scale, affordable and portable equipment cannot yet be produced at a reasonable cost.

Standards, interfaces and protocols are still in development. These will support greater scale and interoperability, although are likely to arise in a more piece-meal fashion as is usual in an industry driven by technological advancement. There is also concern about how a metaverse could further encourage internet addiction and used as an escape from reality, with repercussions on mental health. Health experts have suggested that humans shouldn’t spend more than thirty minutes a day in the virtual world, but we already use the internet for an average of three hours each day.