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What Is the Metaverse and Where Did the Concept Come From?

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The nebulous idea that inspired the new name for Facebook, Meta, has been the topic of much discussion since October 28, 2021.
Although it might seem like the metaverse is the result of Meta’s wild ambitions, this is not true. While some would argue that the metaverse Mark Zuckerberg described during Connect 2021’s keynote is already existing, others view it as the next evolution in the internet known as Web3 and Web 3.0.

Partly, this is because the metaverse can mean different things to different people. But, it is also because the lines that separate reality and virtual world have blurred beyond recognition.
What is the Metaverse? And Where did the Concept Come from?

The concept of metaverse can be traced back at Neal Stephenson’s dystopian cyberpunk novel Snow Crash. It was published in 1992 and is considered a classic of the genre along with William Gibson’s Neuromancer which describes a virtual reality dataspace called The matrix.

The Snow Crash metaverse is a 3D virtual space that can be accessed via personal terminals or virtual reality goggles. It shares a lot with Oculus Quest, as well as other VR headsets. The Street is a street that measures 100 meters wide. This 3D space appears to its users like an urban environment. Stephenson writes:

The Street can be developed just like any other place in Reality. Developers have the option to build small streets that feed off the main street. They can create signs, buildings, parks, and other things.

Stephenson’s vision for the metaverse is familiar because many massively multiplayer online gaming (MMOGs), or more commonly MMOs, share many of its characteristics. Second Life, which was released in 2003, allows users to create realistic avatars and meet other players. They can also exchange goods and services, make virtual items and own virtual property.

Protometaverses can be used to describe virtual experiences such as Second Life. Why is the prefix? Because they are isolated, each one a digital island whose residents and virtual assets never leave it. Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse is not a grand virtual experience. It’s the next generation of the internet.

“We have gone from desktop to web, mobile to text; from photos to videos to text. In a letter to his employees, Zuckerberg wrote that this was not the end of the road. The next platform will be more immersive–an embodied Internet where you are part of the experience and not just looking at it. This is the metaverse. It will touch every product that we create.
Is the Metaverse Existing Already?

If the metaverse is to be an embodied Internet, it must possess certain properties that distinguish it from isolated virtual reality experiences such as Second Life.

Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist, describes them on the website.

The metaverse is an interoperable, massively scaled network of 3D virtual worlds that are real-time rendered. It can be experienced synchronously or persistently by an effectively infinite number of users with an individual feeling of presence and continuity of data such as identity, history and entitlements.

For greater clarity, let’s go over the properties of the Metaverse.

Massive scale
Real-time rendered
Virtual worlds in 3D
Unlimited number of users
Individual sense of being present
Continuity in data

Meta: A Futuristic Retail Example

The metaverse is when a user enters a virtual shopping mall that can accommodate as many people as possible, buys a unique digital item and then sells the item a few months later in a different virtual world, such as on Twitter, eBay or OpenSea.

Some might say, “Wait a minute; this movie is mine.”

Steven Spielberg directed Ready Player One, the first book by Ernest Cline that was published in 2011 by Random House. It is perhaps the most visual representation of the metaverse we currently have.

However, there are some key differences between expert views of the coming metaverse. The movie shows that there is only one platform, the Oasis. This platform makes up the metaverse created in fictional Gregarious Games. A major difference is the use of VR hardware for interaction in the movie’s metaverse. Some experts believe VR will be less used than AR hardware (not highlighted in the movie).
What will power the Metaverse?

Technology will drive the metaverse. This includes cloud infrastructure, software tools and platforms, apps, platforms, applications, user generated content, hardware, and software tools. The metaverse will not only have technical requirements but also include a variety of user experiences, including entertainment, gaming and commerce.
When will the Metaverse arrive?

It begs the question, then, how long it will take to move from different protometaverses towards the grand metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg believes it will happen by the end the decade. However, it may be sooner because foundational elements have already been in place.

Today’s internet infrastructure allows large numbers of people to interact in virtual environments. For example, more than 12.3million players tuned in to a VR concert featuring Travis Scott in Fortnite. Although this infrastructure is impressive, it will need to be improved to meet the needs of metaverse industry professionals.

We have the hardware necessary to create 3D virtual environments. Oculus, the world’s leading manufacturer of virtual reality headsets is owned by Meta. Since its initial release in 2016, Microsoft HoloLens mixed-reality smart glasses have been supporting different enterprise use cases. Apple is also rumored be releasing its AR and VR headsets by 2022. Pico, MagicLeap and other manufacturers are quickly advancing their hardware platforms. Meanwhile, cascade technology architectures shift various computational loads from back-end servers infrastructures to edge devices. Unity’s Furioos streaming 3D environment is an excellent example of fully interactive streaming. The GPU server infrastructure automatically scales to render the environments. Metaverse will offer a universal computing experience that allows users to use traditional mobile devices as well as new immersive AR and VR wearables.

The same technologies that have disrupted the financial services sector since January 2009’s inception of the Bitcoin network can also be used to ensure continuity of data in a metaverse. Blockchain technology can be used in a number of ways to verify ownership of digital assets. There are already 3D virtual reality platforms which take advantage of NFTs (or nonfungible tokens).

Marc Petit, EPIC Games’ vice president and general manager for Unreal Engine, said in a recent interview that the metaverse will need “shared virtual realms that incorporate persistence.” This means that a user should have the ability to travel from one universe to another with their digital belongings. A user could use their NFT shoes from Nike to create avatars in Meta’s Horizon platform. They will also be available in other virtual worlds such as Fortnite or Minecraft.

Decentraland is another example of a completely decentralized world without any central leadership. The Ethereum blockchain is the basis of the world, and it’s managed by an autonomous decentralized organization. This organization allows players to vote and control how the world behaves. Decentraland has its own decentralized currency, MANA. This can be traded on cryptocurrency exchanges to exchange for other currencies.

Decentraland could become one of many future decentralized worlds. Digital assets and currencies will flow between them in the same way that fiat money and physical items are traded by people in different parts of the world.

Although nobody will own the metaverse, just like the internet, there will be important players. Companies like Meta, Microsoft and Epic Games want to be part of the space. That is why billions are being spent on sci-fi.

The metaverse is a concept that Neal Stephenson, a sci-fi author, first introduced in his novel Snow Crash. It could be a reality soon because large tech companies believe it will be just as big, if not more so than the internet. To get a glimpse of the future, anyone who isn’t willing to wait for individual virtual experiences that form one huge world of worlds can join platforms such as Roblox, Horizon Workrooms or Decentraland.