In a now-famous video from 1994, Bryant Gumbel asked, “What is internet, anyway?” The Today Show hosts were genuinely flummoxed by strange symbols like the @ in an email address and how these symbols were rewriting the way we interacted with the world. Heck, they didn’t even know to call it “the internet.”
Even more surprising is just how recent that clip is—1994 wasn’t so long ago. Within a few short years, the internet revolutionized the way we work, live, communicate, and even eat. Now, Facebook—rebranding itself as Meta—is looking for a similar revolution with something called the metaverse. The metaverse promises to, once again, revolutionize the way we work, live, communicate, and eat. But is it really the next generation of the internet? And if so, how can you learn about it so you can avoid looking like the Today Show circa 1994?
- What Is the Metaverse?
- Metaverse Examples: Platforms Providing Access to a New Internet
- How to Make Sense of a New Word
What Is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is a broad term for the disparate technologies that make the internet come alive. That includes its most obvious incarnation—virtual reality—but also augmented reality (remember “Pokemon GO”?).
Meta Platforms Inc., formerly known as Facebook, is the technology giant trying to lead a new wave into more immersive experiences of cyberspace. As Mark Zuckerberg put it, it is “a time when immersive digital worlds become the primary way that we live our lives and spend our time.” In fact, you might argue the metaverse is how people truly imagined the internet developing all the way back in 1994.
Is the Metaverse Real?
To learn about the metaverse, let’s take an example of how it might work. Let’s say you play a game like World of Warcraft. Every time you fire up World of Warcraft on your computer, you may have a set of virtual possessions within the game’s economy, but they don’t necessarily translate to your real-life bank account. Within the World of Warcraft universe, though, you might be a veritable John D. Rockefeller.
Or take Fortnite, which has immersive, virtual events such as live concerts within the platform. These pieces of reality we recognize from everyday life essentially shift online. We can still talk, communicate, and interact—after all, it’s still the internet.
These examples are just two metaverse platforms. The metaverse, as we’re coming to know it, is looking to expand this concept into an all-encompassing experience of the digital world. Is it real though? It’s a bit like asking if the internet is real. Of course it is, in the same way telegraphs were real, phone calls were real, and emails were real. You just have to remember there’s someone on the other end of the computer cables.
Let’s say in the future you use virtual reality—or VR—to walk into a virtual grocery store and pick out items which then translates to a real-life grocery delivery. Was that a real experience? Every bit as real as ordering groceries through a phone. Yet through VR, the experience promises to be even more immersive. Or, in other words, more real.
How Does the Metaverse Work?
It’s a question as multifaceted as “how does the internet work?” but here’s an attempt at breaking the concept down into understandable parts:
- The Metaverse Experience: The basic overview is that the metaverse is a VR or augmented-reality version of the internet experience.
- The Metaverse Economy: Just as you might buy or sell assets in real life, you might end up paying for digital assets you can use in the metaverse, such as clothes for your avatar. If it sounds silly, consider that a digital home sold for over $2 million in 2021. That’s right: you can even buy and sell real estate in the metaverse. Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology also have a major impact on the metaverse, serving as a way for people to quickly transact through the platform of their choice.
- How to Access the Metaverse: Create an account with any metaverse platform we talk about below, and get going. You’ll likely want a VR headset so you can experience the more immersive digital real estate top platforms like Meta are building.
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Metaverse Examples: Platforms Providing Access to a New Internet
If it all sounds too complicated, remember back in the day all you needed to know was Google served as your key to this giant universe called the internet. It’s pretty much the same with the metaverse. Let’s look at some of the top metaverse examples around.
Example #1: Meta
Meta, formerly Facebook, is going all-in on the metaverse. To that end, they also build VR headsets like the Oculus Quest 2, which are used for gaming as well as metaverse access. This shift is taking up a lot of space in the metaverse discussion because the tech giant has staked its name and reputation on the metaverse being the next big wave in the digital realm.
Example #2: Video Game Metaverse Platforms
Video games, especially Fortnite, Minecraft, and Sandbox, offer their own universes you can already join. If joining a world built on a video game seems small, you haven’t seen how much they can do. In fact, Sandbox is a video game that primarily advertises itself as a VR world rather than a strict gaming source.
“Fortnite might get [to the metaverse] first,” wrote the Washington Post in 2020. According to their article, users have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars worth of virtual currency in this world. There are enough users playing Fortnite that when an event happens in the game world, it has a decidedly powerful impact on the users in the real world, as well.
Example #3: Decentraland
Decentraland is a virtual world featuring its own building systems and marketplace. Check out the most recent events, and you’ll even see Sotheby’s is hosting an NFT auction. In other words, there’s no place in the real world you can go to bid on those NFTs. You have to go through the metaverse. If you’ve ever been to a webinar that wasn’t offered in person, you’ve seen this story before.
How to Make Sense of a New Word
If the metaverse is anything like the internet, it promises a revolution in digital technology that will utterly change the way we live. Then again, no one has a crystal ball. Is the metaverse really just the hobby of an enthusiastic subculture of gamers, or is the word “subculture” already far too dismissive? Either way, as the Today Show demonstrated, revolutionary technology has a way of answering these questions in a hurry.
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