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Making sense of the metaverse

YourStory dives into the metaverse to understand its evolution and impact in the internet’s development.

Making sense of the metaverse

Saturday August 27, 2022,

5 min Read

What’s common to Kamal Haasan, Daler Mehndi, and A. R. Rahman, apart from them being a part of India’s film fraternity? They are the first few Indian celebrities to have dabbled in the metaverse. Kamal Haasan launched his avatar in November 2021, while Daler Mehndi has conducted concerts in the PartyNite metaverse. A. R. Rahman recently entered the world of Web3 and metaverse with the launch of his metaverse project Katraar.

The metaverse is said to be the next step in the internet’s evolution. 

In October 2021, Facebook changed its name to ‘Meta’ to rebrand the social media platform as a metaverse company. That’s when the world grew curious about the term. But metaverse has been a few years in the making with supporting technologies slowly being developed or matured.  

What is metaverse?

The concept of metaverse isn’t new. Zuckerberg cannot take credit as the first one to think of it. To explain simply, “metaverse is a virtual world where people can interact, conduct meetings, buy virtual property, play games, have a water-cooler talk with colleagues in a virtual metaverse office, and even perform iterations of day-to-day activities.”

There are several definitions of the metaverse. Here’s Gartner’s version. It is a “collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality".

Metaverse’s digital universe is brought about by various technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, cryptocurrency, blockchain, and the internet. It borrows concepts from social media to create spaces for interaction that mimic the ones we have in the real world. 

Even though several companies are working on applications for the metaverse, there is a lack of coherence because it is still being built and is yet to be clearly defined. Every other technology, including the internet, was shrouded in rumours and vague ideas before it evolved to its present state. 

Evolution of the metaverse

In 1992, sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson used the term ‘metaverse’ in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash to describe a 3D virtual space. Stephenson envisioned lifelike avatars that interacted with each other in virtual reality environments. The characters escape to the metaverse created by the author to get away from a totalitarian reality. 

In the 30 years since then, the world has changed dramatically. Let’s look at the metaverse’s evolution.

2002: The digital counterpart of a physical object, the digital twin, was introduced at the University of Michigan by Michale Grieves. Today businesses worldwide employ ‘digital twins’ across a range of applications–from designing complex engineering equipment and precision medicine to digital agriculture and so on. Simply put, digital twins are the building blocks of the metaverse.

2003: Philip Rosedale’s Liden Lab team unveiled ‘Second Life’, an online virtual world. 

2004: Tim O’Reilly popularised the term 'Web 2.0'. It defines the post-dotcom World Wide Web (WWW) with greater emphasis on social media, user-generated content, and cloud computing. 

2006: John Markoff, a senior writer for The New York Times, popularised the term Web 3.0. It is still evolving and being defined. Web 3.0 has a strong emphasis on decentralised applications and leverages blockchain-based technologies. It enables one to study, play, buy and sell, and do daily activities virtually. Web 3 decentralises the infrastructure for users to create and manage their digital assets in the metaverse and everywhere else. 

2009: The world’s first cryptocurrency and blockchain platform, Bitcoin, was created. Its mysterious founder, Satoshi Nakamoto, mined the genesis block of Bitcoin (block number 0) for 50 coins. Blockchain, a public transaction ledger for Bitcoins, was also invented. 

2011: Ready Player One, a novel by sci-fi writer Ernest Cline, gave us a brief introduction to an immersive world that could be used to escape from reality. In 2018, popular director Steven Spielberg adapted the novel into a film, based on the same name, set in a post-apocalyptic world in 2045. The protagonist is in search of an Easter egg in a virtual reality game.  

2014: Facebook acquires Oculus in a $2-billion deal. Oculus is a virtual reality hardware and platform. In the same year, digital artists Kevin McCoy and Anil Dash minted the first known NFT, Quantum. NFT, or Nifty, is a non-fungible token that represents a unique item instead of fungible tokens, like cryptocurrencies. NFTs spiralled into popularity in 2021, leading to the sale of game real estate plots for more than $100,000. 

2015: Decentraland, a 3D virtual world browser-based platform, allows users to buy virtual plots of land on the platform as NFTs. Its first iteration was created this year. 

2016: Pokemon Go, an augmented reality mobile game, took the world by storm. 

2017: Fortnite, a multiplayer game, introduced concepts like virtual concerts and tours. 

2020: The Web 4.0 era began. Self-learning, collaborative, autonomous, and content-generating agents use the web database as an intelligent agent. 

2021: The latest iteration in the evolution of metaverse is Facebook’s rebrand as Meta. In its announcement, Zuckerberg said the company aims to expedite the development of the fundamental technologies required to “bring the metaverse to life”.

Specific electronics equipment is required for the metaverse to become a mainstream reality. Even though we have virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses, they are not mature products yet and are still considered experimental. Additionally, internet connections need to be stronger to connect everyone to the metaverse. 

Although there is criticism about the metaverse as being over-hyped and over-promised, the truth is that the transition to a metaverse world will be similar to previous technology shifts, such as the industrial revolution or the emergence of the internet. Gartner predicts that, by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least 60 minutes a day in the metaverse for entertainment, education, shopping, social, or work. 

Can the metaverse be an evolutionary step in the development of the internet? We can only wait and watch.