Facebook moves to Goal: what is the metaworld and why is Big Tech obsessed?

Neil Stevenson’s 1992 novel The Snow Catastrophe tells the story of a pizza delivery man during the day, a virtual reality superhero at night who lives in an online universe called Metaverse. “So Hiro isn’t really here. He is in a computer-generated universe, which his computer pulls on his glasses and injects into headphones. In slang, this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse,The novel is about a city spanning the globe, in which everyone appears in VR. The idea resonates again, among many other places, in Ready Player One’s Oasis.

Back in 1992, I considered the “metaverse” to be a forgery of William Gibson’s concept of cyberspace. Of course, cyberspace has been re-appropriated, coined as a substitute term for the entire Internet. There is also a metaverse.

And the term “metaverse” already exists long time. How long? CNET wrote about the trend back in 2007.

In the last few years, the term meta universe has reappeared very widely. On Thursday Facebook has announced that it is changing its name to Metato display his broad goals in this space, but it is a term that can be applied to such broad objects as Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, VR, AR, even Animal Crossing.

Defining the metaverse, now, is a kind of social center for the future, a place where avatars can meet, an ecosystem for connected applications. The dream with VR and AR support is to attract people to a virtual universe that is as easy to create as Minecraft, as popular as Fortnite, and as useful as Zoom, Slack and Google Docs. The metacosm is perhaps the clearest recognition that the future of technology lies not only in VR or AR, but in the combination of many devices that have access to a shared online world that can be more exciting and three-dimensional than the Internet you now have. use. to read this story.

Science fiction ideas are always embedded in technology, and this also happens with the metaverse. To be clear, this is not just a replacement for the exciting worlds of AR and VR, even though it is often used in this way. The meta-universe way of reading is a combination of virtual reality, AR and all the other technologies that are not and never will be the headset you see on your face. It’s also about companies figuring out how to attract more people to these future developed virtual communities than the millions of people in virtual reality now.


Yes, Fortnite is a metaverse.

Sarah Tew / CNET

The world is already living virtually

We have already redefined the idea of ​​”virtual” in 2020, and for most people it did not include a VR headset. Zoom, online games, Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and any other social applications on your phone – each created a kind of virtual existence. I wrote about it last year. Golodek is a concept that lives outside of VR or AR.

The concept of the metaverse has become a generic term that floats over large connected multiplayer worlds, including Fortnite, or Minecraft, or Roblox, or VR applications such as Rec Room, VRChat, and AltspaceVR from Microsoft. But it aims to be a replacement for all your virtual instruments, headsets or not.

The transition to the idea of ​​metaverses is basically a way to include multiple devices and platforms, rather than insisting that people use a particular gadget. Think of Fortnite again. Or, again, Roblox. Or Minecraft. Or, in a sense, most of the programs we use now. But in this case we are talking about those who have their own deep social world.

My children are already deep in their own meta universes. They simply call them by the name of the program they use to access them, and these companies are already well aware of this.

The metaverse is about the extremely social things of the future

Most of the meta-poems discussed are multiplayer spaces with avatars and worlds, as well as regular players or creative tools. The future social platform Facebook, Horizon, is an example of this: the avatar-based application will work in VR, but Facebook intends to work in AR, as well as on ordinary laptops and phones. AltSpaceVR from Microsoft is already like that.

Nowadays, VR is a lot of things, but it’s not very social, because most people don’t have VR headsets. Companies are trying to find tools that integrate the rest of the phone and computer with the VR and AR ecosystems. Microsoft has been working on this for years, but still hasn’t broken it.

Technicians understand that not everyone will be in VR (or AR)

Microsoft’s recent push concerns AR it also works on phones except Hololen; Apple focuses on AR on iPhone and iPad; Facebook integrates Oculus with other non-virtual social applications. Here it is easy to see a common thread. You will never be able to involve everyone in VR headsets. Or smart AR glasses. Just like not everyone will wear a smart watch, AirPods or play on the Nintendo Switch.

The cross-platform nature of virtual things is much of what seems to be the goal of the metaverse. I believe that virtual reality headsets and AR glasses will eventually become headphones for our eyes, a more exciting and portable alternative to the monitor. Put on, take off, choose any tool. Most meta-universe initiatives aim to exist no matter what type of computer you choose.


I looked at virtual jellyfish with Alex Kipman earlier this year; we both wore HoloLens 2 and were in different places. We appeared to each other as avatars from cartoons.

Microsoft / screenshot of Scott Stein / CNET

Everyone is trying to solve the problem of remote work and the idea of ​​telepresence

I met Alex Kipman of Microsoft almost earlier this year when he was showcasing Microsoft Mesh. I wore Hololens 2 and saw his avatar floating in my house. We talked a bit and met at a virtual table. Then we switched to VR on a separate headset nearby and continued our conversation.

This type of transition is hardly a problem, but no one has figured out how to take Zoom to the next level. VR and AR provide some opportunities to teleport people together, but they lose the natural feeling of connecting to the camera that they already have in Zoom, FaceTime and other video calls.

Mark Zuckerberg told me earlier this year that the goal of his metaverse is to bring people together for work. Microsoft has the same idea. Other software developers, such as Spatial, have similar goals.

No one has really found a solution that really works for everyone, but then again, when you hear that companies are striving for a “meta-universe in the workplace,” that’s what’s happening. They are also trying to understand this.

The idea of ​​a metaverse is also about digitizing your home away from home

Second life. The Sims. This is a strange attempt PlayStation Home. Tech has long been trying to solve the idea of ​​an online home base. Social networks have reinvented the idea in the form of simple profile pages, pens, text streams and a photo library.

The whole current is focused on the metaverse, focused on worlds where you can build and customize personal space. In virtual reality now – for example, Oculus Quest – there are many programs that you can try, but there is no place where you can make your home. This may be great, but many technology companies are still trying to get more ambitious jobs online.

It becomes much more important whether there really is a virtual office or meeting room where people can gather and share things. Now meetings are fast and efficient through Zoom, or we just share documents with each other and cooperate a bit. Programs such as Spatial trying to be a meeting place and work, but no one has yet agreed on the terms or general programs.

Welcome to the war for territory

The metauniverse is not the answer. They are more of an issue. I waited for all these VR headsets, smart watches, phones, tablets, AR devices to work better together, seamlessly, as if they were interconnected.

But among the players involved in these dreams are Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Epic, Google and many others. They all want to be The Place. Destination. Software. They can’t be everything. Or can they?

We have already seen many battles outside of immersive ecosystems. The Apple-Epic lawsuit it was actually about where one pay screen ends and another begins. Sometimes this wall is in the appendix, and sometimes this boundary is much more blurred. The future of more exciting VR and AR, as well as the social spaces that jump between and on conventional devices based on content that may also be fragmented, will not make these lines easier to see.

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