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HIGHLIGHTS

  • The word metaverse was first used in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash.
  • Thanks to Facebook and Microsoft there is now a growing interest around this idea.
  • Metaverse is expected to be next-gen internet built of technologies like Augmented Reality.

Metaverse is supposed to be, or rather it already is in some ways, so big that a giant like Facebook recently changed its brand name from “Facebook” to “Meta.” At the same time, the Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company is now committing itself to build a “metaverse” and that this would be the next-gen internet that people will in the coming years be able to experience through Facebook products. Zuckerberg’s announcement was soon followed by Microsoft, which too decided that it wanted to commit itself to “metaverse.”

So, what is metaverse? Ask anyone about Metaverse and they will all have one common answer- it is a blend of virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and web. You will be further given examples of Hollywood movies like Matrix and Ready Player one in case you are still confused about what exactly it means or what it does. But having said that, let’s take a closer look at it.

What is metaverse: the origin of the name and idea

The internet is swamped with information on Metaverse, every website trying its best to explain what it is, why it has become a buzzword overnight or how it is going to change our web using experience. While the concept has been around for a while, thanks to Facebook and Microsoft there is now a growing interest around this idea. Before we delve on what Facebook and Microsoft are bringing on a plate with Metaverse, let’s understand what Metaverse is first.

The word metaverse was used in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, in their avatars, interact with each other in a virtual space. To be more specific, the word Meta has a Greek origin which means beyond or across. Metaverse can be said to be a virtual realm in which things could look as vivid and living as real.

Remember Shahrukh Khan starrer Ra One that released in 2011. Well, it pretty much sums up what Metaverse could look like. Shekhar, a gaming programmer works for Barron Industries — a company that launches a technology that allows objects from the digital world to enter the real world using the wireless transmissions from multiple devices. Shekhar creates a special suit for the protagonist which acts like a VR device. It connects your digital avatar to your physical being when worn. The digital space in which the game takes place can be called metaverse and the suit here can be thought of as AR and VR devices that we will need to access the metaverse.

What is Facebook’s metaverse?

Why sudden hype amongst people? Facebook when last month announced that it was rebranded as Meta it also released a video in which the company’s founder is seen walking through his home and telling us about the company’s future plans with this futuristic idea. Just a few weeks later, Microsoft also joined this bandwagon.

Explaining how life in the meta world could actually look like, Zuckerberg’s digital avatar in his patent black t-shirt and jeans is seen playing cards with his metaverse mates in a floating spaceship. In between he calls up his friend using the Messenger on his smartwatch and she tells him that she’s running late as she and her friend are checking out a 3D street art piece. She shares the link and next moment we see Zuckerberg and his mates exploring the 3D art piece by piece and appreciating it.

All this and more that is shown in the video can leave a regular Facebook user full of questions like if or how this metaverse will change his or her daily social media using experience or do they have to wear VR headsets while using Facebook now. Well, the change will happen to the social media experience if Facebook succeeds in its metaverse plan. But that change will take a while. Facebook’s metaverse plans can take around 10 years to fully unfold. What Facebook aims to do here is to create a virtual space where users can access its various platforms using AR and VR devices.

To enable metaverse, the social medium company is investing heavily in Oculus headsets. It even plans to hire 10000 people in the EU to work on the project. Company’s VR headset making team Oculus has been working on bringing immersive experiences to common people but the product did not gain the expected popularity and profitability. By putting Metaverse in the center stage, Facebook expects to gain traction for its AR and VR devices.

The company is also working on wrist-based wearable that will work on Electromyography to control other devices. In August, it launched Horizon Workrooms, a feature where co-workers wearing VR headsets can hold meetings in a virtual room in their 3D avatars.

What is Microsoft’s metaverse?

The Microsoft metaverse, or at least the company’s vision for it, is similar to what Facebook is planning. But there is one big difference: Microsoft is thinking in terms of work, while Facebook is more about social media and social interactions.

Microsoft calls its metaverse plans Mesh and it aims to roll it out for Teams by early 2022. The updated product will use existing features of Team like Together mode and Presenter mode to create a metaverse where people can interact with each other in virtual offices and access other shared spaces. The company says that people will initially be able to express themselves as avatars in these shared virtual experiences and over time use holoportation to project themselves as their most lifelike, photorealistic selves.

How can one get into the metaverse?

Metaverse may sound like a sci-fi movie but reality can be quite different. You won’t be given special suits or powers to access this realm. Instead expect large chunky VR headsets on eyes and AR devices to enter this space. At least initially that is how it is going to be. Even in Snow Crash, the novel from which the term metaverse originated, people enter metaverse by strapping a sort of virtual headgear.

Is metaverse the next phase of the internet?

Many believe that Metaphase could be the future of the Internet. Seeing the trend of how we moved from big boxy computers to small screen mobiles, the shift to metaverse has a good chance to happen, however, not so fast. It may take a good amount of time for it to actualise in a full-fledged way. It is also going to be a very costly project for tech companies.

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