What Is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is a digital reality that combines aspects of social media, online gaming, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and cryptocurrencies to allow users to interact virtually. Augmented reality overlays visual elements, sound, and other sensory input onto real-world settings to enhance the user experience. In contrast, virtual reality is entirely virtual and enhances fictional realities.
As the metaverse grows, it will create online spaces where user interactions are more multidimensional than current technology supports. Instead of just viewing digital content, users in the metaverse will be able to immerse themselves in a space where the digital and physical worlds converge.
- The metaverse is a shared virtual environment that people access via the Internet.
- Technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are combined in the metaverse to create a sense of "virtual presence."
- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes augmented reality glasses will eventually be as widespread as smartphones.
- In October 2021, Facebook announced plans to create 10,000 new high-skilled jobs in the European Union (EU) to help shape the metaverse.
The word started appearing in the news when rumors began swirling in mid-October 2021 about a Facebook rebrand—complete with a new name—to embrace the company’s commitment to the metaverse. Unnamed sources told journalist Casey Newton that an announcement could come soon. And it did.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the new Meta name at Facebook’s Connect 2021 conference on Oct. 28, with its new website branding it "a social technology company." "In the metaverse, you’ll be able to do almost anything you can imagine—get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create—as well as completely new experiences that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today...In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up," Zuckerberg wrote in his 2021 Founder's Letter, released on Oct. 28.
"You can watch the full Connect keynote and learn more about how the metaverse will unlock new opportunities at Meta.com. You can also learn more about our work over the past several months to develop the Meta brand on our design blog," Meta advertised on its site. And Zuckerberg's letter advertises that Meta "made a film that explores how you might use the metaverse one day."
Understanding the Metaverse
Facebook has been talking metaverse for a while, noting in an Oct. 17, 2021, press release that the metaverse is "a new phase of interconnected virtual experiences using technologies like virtual and augmented reality. At its heart is the idea that, by creating a greater sense of "virtual presence," interacting online can become much closer to the experience of interacting in person."
Interest in the metaverse is expected to grow substantially as investors and companies want to be part of what could be the next big thing. The metaverse is "going to be a big focus [of Facebook's], and I think that this is just going to be a big part of the next chapter for the way that the Internet evolves after the mobile Internet," Zuckerberg told technology site The Verge before announcing the name change. "And I think it's going to be the next big chapter for our company too, really doubling down in this area."
Proponents of the metaverse view the concept as the next stage in the development of the Internet. Facebook, for example, has already invested heavily in AR and VR, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets, while AR glasses and wristband technologies are in the works.
Zuckerberg, who believes AR glasses will one day be as ubiquitous as smartphones, told The Verge that over the next several years, Facebook "will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company."
The investment Facebook is making in global research and program partners to build the metaverse in a responsible way.
Numerous sci-fi books, television series, and movies are set in metaverses—digital worlds that are indistinguishable from the real world. In fact, science fiction author Neal Stephenson coined the term metaverse in his 1992 novel Snow Crash.
In the book, human avatars and software agents interact in a three-dimensional virtual space. Often, these sci-fi metaverses are dystopian worlds. Some of Zuckerberg's contemporaries are concerned that the real-life metaverse—the "next-gen Internet"—could become a dystopian nightmare.
Niantic CEO John Hanke, for example, wrote in a blog post that, "A lot of people these days seem very interested in bringing this near-future vision of a virtual world to life, including some of the biggest names in technology and gaming. But in fact, these novels served as warnings about a dystopian future of technology gone wrong."
Niantic is a software developer best known for the augmented reality mobile games Ingress and Pokémon Go.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated interest in the metaverse as more people have worked from home and gone to school remotely. Of course, there are concerns that the metaverse will make it even easier for people to spend time apart—even in a post-COVID world.
Hanke wrote, "We believe we can use technology to lean into the 'reality' of augmented reality—encouraging everyone, ourselves included, to stand up, walk outside, and connect with people and the world around us...Technology should be used to make these core human experiences better—not to replace them."
What Exactly Is the Metaverse?
Facebook defines the metaverse as "a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren't in the same physical space as you." Though metaverse technology is years away from being fully realized, it is expected to eventually be a place where you can work, play, learn, create, shop, and interact with friends in a virtual, online environment.
What Is the Difference Between AR and VR?
Augmented reality involves overlaying visual elements, sound, and other sensory stimuli onto a real-world setting to enhance the user experience. AR can be accessed with a smartphone, and users can control their presence in the real world. In comparison, virtual reality is completely virtual and enhances fictional realities. VR requires a headset device, and users are controlled by the system.
What Is the Facebook Metaverse?
The metaverse has no single creator (or definition), so it's not something that Facebook owns or is solely responsible for developing. Still, Facebook has already invested heavily in the metaverse through its Oculus VR headsets, and it's working on AR glasses and wristband technologies. In September 2021, the company announced a $50 million investment in global research and program partners to ensure that metaverse technology would be developed responsibly.