Metaverse as virtual reality
The term “metaverse” was first coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash. He used it to refer to an immersive, virtual reality world in which people are embodied as their avatars.
Most recently, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg tried to hijack the term to refer to Facebook’s own virtual reality platform.
More likely, the metaverse will come to mean the web of interconnected virtual worlds that will evolve out of all the closed, proprietary ones we have today, similar to the way that America OnLine, Compuserve, and other walled-garden online platforms were eventually replaced by the World Wide Web.
So, in the metaverse, any company or group will be able to put their own virtual world online for the public to teleport to and play inside. Some will be gaming-oriented, some will be business-focused, some will be social worlds, and others will allow users to create their own virtual environments for other people to visit.
I personally would be very interested in working with someone on a virtual reality version of WordPress, an open source platform that helps people, groups, and companies create their own virtual environments for anyone to visit. Like Second Life, but in VR, and with better content management features. If you’re a developer or VC, call me!
Metaverse as augmented reality
You look around and through your glasses — or through your high-tech contact lenses or brain implants — you see a digital overlay over everything around you. When you look at a person, you’ll see their name and short bio hanging in the air next to them. When they talk, you’ll get subtitles translated into your language. When you look at a building, you can see its blueprint. When you look up into the sky, you’ll see the names of the stars.
If you turn on an app, you can see Pokemon hiding behind the bushes, or magical beasts from the Harry Potter franchise.
If you turn on another, you’ll get pop-up ads. No, quick, turn that app off.
If you go into a cafe and sit down at a table, you’ll see a menu show up in the air in front of you. And your friend — who’s actually sitting a table on the other side of the world — will pop up across from you and the two of you can have a conversation as if you were actually in the same place.
Metaverse as a single closed virtual world
This vision of the metaverse, of one single giant virtual world controlled by a single entity is the view of the future we saw in Ready Player One, where that one platform was the Oasis.
You also had a single virtual world in The Matrix, except this time it was controlled by aliens.
Meta’s virtual world is called Horizon. Some people might think it’s the same thing, and that Zuckerberg is himself an alien. But that’s a topic for another article.
Meta’s Horizon platform starts with Horizon Home. That’s where users of the Meta Quest — formerly Oculus Quest — find themselves when they first put on the headset. It’s kind of your home screen for VR. Horizon Home is going to evolve into customizable personal rooms and people will be able to invite their friends to join them in these rooms. You can watch a video about Horizon Home here.
Horizon Worlds will be a platform where people can create entire virtual worlds, with in-world objects and interactivity.
You can watch a video about Horizon Worlds below:
Metaverse as any 3D world
There are currently many immersive, 3D games that can be played on a traditional screen, without a virtual reality headset. First-person shooters, for example. Second Life, for another. You play as an avatar, inside a virtual world.
Some are even hyper-connected. For example, virtual worlds running on the OpenSim open source virtual world platform allow people to teleport from one company’s world to another’s — much the same way that you can follow hyperlinks to other websites.
I personally like this definition of a metaverse, but that’s probably because I’m a huge fan of OpenSim.