What is the Metaverse?
I have grappled with this question in the heady buzz of the last few months. Search trends indicate the same.
Meta, in its original Greek form, means outside of or after. Its more esoteric definition in English means transcendent or beyond. In the meme-world, it means self-referential.
Just like the Metaverse, meta’s definition shifts shape.
The Metaverse, according to me, is simply a digital world that includes humans. Unlike other more esoteric definitions that include AR/VR, this pedestrian definition is easier to understand. This definition, by the way, also checks all the boxes for this framework for the Metaverse.
This digital world could be anything. It could be a game, it could be a social network, it could be a market. What it requires are interaction, rules/rewards and a digital presence.
Take Twitter for example. Human beings interact. Twitter has a set of rules for content and rewards its users. It is entirely digital. It is a digital world, and it is a Metaverse.
Simply adding another dimension and making Twitter 3D doesn’t make it a Metaverse. It already is one, today.
The internet yesterday could only be engaged via a desktop computer. The internet today is accessible via a mobile computer. The internet tomorrow could be accessible via a spatial computer.
This addition of dimension is what everyone is excitedly calling The Metaverse. While I think it has potential, the hype machine is touting this as the next big thing.
I just think of this as a repeat of AR/VR’s hype in 2015. People expected it to create $150Bn of value by 2020, while it probably added less than $1Bn in 5 years.
The Metaverse being sold today is AR/VR repackaged. All of this is being used to justify the immense hardware costs associated with these headsets. Facebook, now Meta, bought Oculus just before the AR/VR hype.
This is Facebook’s push into justifying hardware of the next digital world, which Apple won with mobile and Microsoft won with desktop.
Rather than being the next big thing, we are already living in a mish-mash of Metaverses. The humming Discord/Slack servers, the engaging Fortnite/Roblox/GTA games, the intense Twitter/LinkedIn/Instagram worlds.
Each of these is a Metaverse and does not need to add another dimension to become one.
With work already becoming remote, we operate every day in the Office Metaverse. All tools work together in unison to give a digital working experience. With its Flight Simulator experience, combined with distribution in workspaces, Microsoft could be the real Metaverse builder.
There might be worlds tomorrow, but we still stare at boxes today.
A big argument that new Metaverse proponents give is that human beings are “not evolved” to be sitting on their computers looking at these very boxes. While billions of these very humans are doing this today, no human has evolved to have a computer strapped to their eyes 24×7.
Nausea is the pedestrian physical problem with this, which will hamper VR adoption.
I would imagine a different virtual world, which involves converting physical spaces into worlds. These would be done with cameras and expensive spatial computing devices. It is a much higher cost than handing out a VR headset, but one that is more likely to be adopted.
Now that we have that out of the way, I personally think the “revised” Metaverse is an exciting category.
To me, the Metaverse will exhibit characteristics of a digital economy with entirely new behaviours. Every Metaverse I described has its own mechanics, its own rules and its own new leaders.
Creators that we come across every day are already building in these digital economies. Rewarded today in the form of social capital, they are likely to be rewarded in the form of non-fungible/fungible tokens for their effort in these digital economies.
Users are already engaging with these digital economies. By paying their attention, they are giving these creators social capital. In the future, this could evolve into explicit financial capital. Users also meet and interact with each other, forging relationships and discovering new ideas.
These economies will have their own organizations, dynamics, assets, behaviours that none of the laws of physics affect. That to me is the really exciting, and challenging, aspect of the Metaverse. There are no existing rules that could explain them, we will have to invent them as it goes along.
Driven by advances in computing, we are going to be able to do a lot more in the Metaverse. More complex engagement, worlds, mechanics will be possible. The architects of these worlds will be highly influential, just like leaders of countries in the physical world.
I think the Metaverse is already here. We are getting started on the journey exploring how they will evolve. Whether or not another dimension is added, it will have emergent behaviour that is different from the real world.
That’s what makes the Metaverse exciting.