The Metaverse – What is it?
Inside the metaverse
It’s possible that someone enjoying a Rip Van Winkle-type slumber may not have read about the metaverse, but it’s something that’s permeated the consciousness of just about everyone else. That’s not to say, however, that the concept is fully understood.
Put simply, it’s the combination of virtual and actual reality systems to create a separate universe. It’s a term that was created by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his novel, Snow Crash. In the book, the metaverse is controlled by a large corporate and accessed through another large telecoms corporate; so it’s not seen as entirely benevolent.
It’s a concept that has surfaced in real life, however. In 2003, Linden Labs created Second Life where participants could create avatars of themselves and live in a virtual world. It was limited by the parameters of the technology but it still pulls in about a million users, so it shows the hunger for a virtual world – and more benign ones than the version envisaged by Stephenson.
And it’s a hunger that many brands are keen to latch on to. The most notable of these is Facebook, which has changed its name to Meta, cashing in on the buzzword of the moment, but other companies are looking at the possibilities too: chip company, Nvidia, has introduced Omniverse, its take on metaverse, while Microsoft is dipping its toe into that field with a platform called Mesh, a sort of mish-mash of Teams with virtual reality, creating a new, alternative way to hold business meetings. Metaverse has been described as multidimensional augmented reality, reflecting the number of different factors that the concept draws on.
With so many big names rushing to jump on the metaverse bandwagon, there’s little surprise that smaller companies want to join in the fun. After all, there are plenty of possibilities here – how attractive is it to create one’s own world and if businesses could use and, with a captive market, keep them there.
But there are definite difficulties to this approach. There’s the high bandwidth that’s needed for a start. It may seem strange to talk about this at a time when broadband is so widely available, but creating a virtual reality world is graphics-intensive and would require a very high-speed connection to support such a venture.
That’s only part of the story, however. There’s also a scaling issue. If a company is creating a metaverse world, it needs to be able to support multiple users at any one time – that’s a capacity problem for many businesses. There’s also the issue of linking a metaverse with a company’s existing software for any purchases. That’s not going to be a simple integration task.
So, while it’s attractive to talk about the metaverse, and there are certainly many companies who want to go down this road, there are some very real practical difficulties to think about.
However, many thinkers do go along with the likes of Facebook and Microsoft and see the metaverse as the next projection of the internet. It may seem radical now, but so did the worldwide web to computer users in the early 90s, when dial-up modems struggled to keep up with the graphical demands. While the metaverse is facing similar challenges today, it’s reasonable to expect that they will be solved. There’s more fibre being delivered to the desktop, there are higher speed WLAN standards and with 5G (and 6G) on the way, we’ll have a mobile infrastructure that will be more effective.
If the metaverse is accepted as a reality, then companies will have to start planning for it. They will need to think about how they’re represented: what image should they portray in this virtual reality. The metaverse should be seen as an extension of existing platforms; a brand new way to present a company to the world. It represents an entirely new shift in corporate marketing, providing another outlet for businesses to communicate with their customers.
And the time for thinking about this is now. It may not be something that will impinge on a great mass of people at the moment but it’s a concept that will certainly be adopted in the future. Remember, the initial concept of the metaverse was quite a malign one – it’s time to make sure that users don’t see future constructions in the same way.