Last week, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg relaunched a term that has been buzzing in the tech world for some time and has also taken center stage internally at the social media giant: the metaverse, the new internet that will consist of virtual worlds. “The metaverse is the pinnacle of social technology and will be one of the most exciting projects of our lifetimes,” says Zuckerberg.
1. What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is an immersive online digital experience, as if you were in a game or a virtual world. The term is attributed to author Neal Stephenson, who first used the “metaverse” in his science fiction book Snow Crash.
“It’s a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in the quarterly results presentation. “You can see it as a ‘built-in internet’ where you are yourself instead of just looking at it. We believe that this will be the successor of mobile Internet”.
2. How do you get access?
This will be possible across a variety of devices, Zuckerberg says, each with a personalized quality: from the simple 2D level of a smartphone app or laptop to 3D glasses for augmented reality (RA) and virtual reality (VR). Facebook hopes that the AR/VR glasses of the future will be less cumbersome and become an almost natural extension of our bodies.
Zuckerberg has been predicting for years that AR/VR glasses will become the “future of social experiences” and the next step after the smartphone. AR displays virtual objects over the real world, like in the Pokemon Go game. In VR, the user is completely immersed in an artificial world.
3. What are we going to do in the virtual worlds?
AR and VR are today mostly associated with gaming. But according to Facebook, the applications are much broader. A resident of a nursing home could travel virtually from his wheelchair to Antarctica or to the moon. The metaverse will allow you to visit a museum with your friends via the Internet or go to the gym together.
The social media giant also sees applications in areas as diverse as health (such as remote surgical procedures), education and training (so it no longer matters where in the world the student or intern is located) and the purchases.
Zuckerberg: “Within the metaverse, you can hang out, play with friends, work, create, and more. You’ll be able to do basically everything you can do on the Internet today, plus some activities that don’t make sense on the Internet as we know it today, like dancing.”
4. What does this mean for our social relationships?
The idea that virtual reality is a form of escapism and primarily serves as an escape from the real world is outdated, according to Facebook. Because other users can also connect, the metaverse will be a real, social event, the social media giant predicts.
Zuckerberg: “The defining quality of the metaverse is presence, that is the feeling that you are actually there with someone else, or in a different place.”
5. Why is Zuckerberg coming up with his plans now?
AR and VR have been considered the technologies of the future for years, but according to Facebook, we will have reached a tipping point in 2021, with both technologies facing strong growth. 5G, the new form of ultra-fast internet that enables massive data exchange, will be the catalyst.
In the United States, 1 in 5 Internet users already use VR at least once a month. That will increase dramatically, according to Facebook forecasts, with particularly strong growth for AR.
6. How does Facebook want to monetize it?
Essentially, Facebook is an online advertising company. The metaverse will also revolutionize that domain, because for advertisers in 3D virtual worlds there will not only be more “touch points” with potential buyers, but they can also be located anywhere in the three dimensions of the metaverse.
Facebook is advising marketers to start thinking now about what advertising might look like in a 3D world. There are already several examples in the gaming world, including on the Roblox platform. It’s been about fifteen years since Linden Labs’ game Second Life, a kind of forerunner of the metaverse, was a boom.
7. How important is this project for Facebook?
Facebook, the owner of the virtual reality company Oculus, has no plans to build the metaverse on its own, because that would require huge technological investments, ranging from 3D technology to payment systems. Zuckerberg: “It will take new protocols and standards, new devices, new chips and new software.” It has the cooperation of the broad technology community.
“Creation, avatars and digital objects will be central to the way we express ourselves, leading to entirely new experiences and economic opportunities. I think this is one of the most exciting projects we will work on in our lives.”
It will completely transform Facebook as a company, Zuckerberg believes. “In addition to being the next generation of the internet, the metaverse will also be the next chapter for us as a company. I hope that in the next few years people will no longer see us as a social media company, but as a metaverse company.”