The company formerly known as Facebook has bet big on the metaverse. CEO Mark Zuckerberg hyped the already popular term in October, when he changed the company’s name to Meta and led viewers through its dizzying vision of the future.
But “the metaverse” is a much bigger — and more confusing — idea. From its origins in science fiction, it’s become a catchall for anything that mixes people’s physical and virtual lives. That includes virtual and augmented reality headsets; 3D virtual worlds like Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft; and decentralized Web3 services including cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens or NFTs. Lots of “metaverse” proponents don’t agree on a single definition for the word or on how much people are already living in it.
While Meta is making big investments, other companies have already built metaverse-style platforms — some, like Second Life developer Linden Lab, years before Facebook even existed. Here, we delve into the ambiguities of 2021’s most omnipresent tech buzzword and why it might not look like any of these companies have predicted.