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What is the metaverse?
Facebook—and seemingly every other company—is betting big on a shared virtual reality.
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In short, it’s a virtual reality world where you can go to school, go to work, play games, watch concerts, browse store shelves, and much more without leaving your (physical) home. If the internet is two-dimensional—text and images on flat screens—think of the metaverse as three-dimensional and multi-sensory (including touch).
The word “metaverse” was coined in Snow Crash, a 1992 novel by Neal Stephenson. But one of the most considered definitions comes from venture capitalist Matthew Ball, whose writing has inspired tons of recent metaverse chatter.
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The metaverse will be for work
The closest thing we have to the metaverse right now might be games like Fortnite and Roblox, but you can expect lots of workplace applications, too. Here’s what Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson had to say:
“It’s not something that you do for fun yet. VR has always been about solving hard problems. You’re putting something on your head. You can’t see the real world. You can only do it for a certain amount of time because it is different, perceptually, than the real world.”
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The race to own the metaverse
In October 2021, Facebook staked a claim on the metaverse by changing its name to Meta. In making its branding synonymous with the metaverse, Facebook already has a leg up. But who else has their eye on the virtual prize?
💻 Microsoft: Microsoft wants to make the metaverse accessible on any device.
👻 Snap: Its AR-based Connected Lenses put Snapchat closer to the metaverse than many social media platforms.
👟 Nike: Consult its recent trademark filings if you don’t believe us!
There are others poised on the meta-precipice, and you’ll want to keep an eye on them.
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Metaverse words to know
Interoperability: A collective metaverse to rule them all will require unprecedented cooperation between private companies, most of whom comfortably control closed ecosystems and have spurned data sharing.
Augmented reality (AR): A digital overlay projected on the real world—think of Niantic’s Pokémon Go.
Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG): Interactive games that form the basis of what many feel will be the metaverse, like Roblox, Fortnite, or Minecraft.
There are more key concepts to add to your lexicon if the metaverse will become at least part of our reality—and a lot of companies are banking on it doing just that.
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What’s the biggest challenge facing the metaverse?
- The experience has yet to improve on real life.
- Think of all the issues 2D social networks struggle to eradicate, and multiply them.
- Is it even practical?
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A nine-part metaverse primer (VC Matthew Ball)
The metaverse can’t go mainstream without brick-and-mortar stores (Quartz)
Seoul will be the first city government to join the metaverse (Quartz)
What 24 hours in VR feels like (WSJ)
The four stages of content that lead us to the metaverse (VC Jonathan Lai)
Neal Stephenson explains Silicon Valley’s obsession with the word he coined (Vanity Fair)
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