Facebook is no stranger to creating an entire universe out of thin air. In its earliest forms, Mark Zuckerberg’s creation was only for college students and included images alone. Corporations weren’t on it. Grandma wasn’t on it. When it first went public, there were still naysayers who believed that this new world might be a short-term phenomenon like a MySpace. After all, hadn’t MySpace at one point been the future of the Internet? Few people realized how devoted Mark Zuckerberg was to craft a new space that billions of people would make a permanent home on the web.
The tech giant now promises to create another space called the metaverse, a more immersive online world accessed through a virtual reality headset. Zuckerberg recently explained that the metaverse is “about delivering a sense of presence like you’re right there with another person and that’s the holy grail of online and social experience.” In other words, the clearest difference between the Internet and Metaverse will be the sensation of “realness” that the metaverse brings to users. Where Facebook is a place to witness life, the metaverse is a place to live it more realistically.
Internet as the Old World
The first versions of the Internet were often blacked-out backgrounds with nothing but bright text over them. People could chatter back and forth under anonymous usernames on primitive software programs that allowed “texting” but not much else. There was no true sense of being in a room with other people or “doing” anything.
Eventually, broadband came along and expanded what the Internet could be. Suddenly, everyone could stream movies and TV shows, add images, and trade emojis. An early version of this type of interaction was ICQ, a program that’s called “ICQ New” now and is still available for download. Those little emojis that many of the kid’s things are new have actually been around for quite a while. Facebook just popularized them and added human validation to posts and emojis.
Metaverse as the New World
Mark Zuckerberg is carefully crafting the image of the metaverse as a brand new land for Internet users. It will be a place where someone puts on a virtual reality headset and goes to one of these online locations. What creators really want people to feel is the sense that they’re physically transported to a place like a coffee shop for a warm conversation with a friend. Other locations might find people’s avatars playing games with one another, doing little dances, and laughing just like someone might in real life. Other people might be able to travel to faraway lands and tour cities with their avatar.
Is all of this different than the Internet? In most ways, yes, although Second Life attempted this same thing many years ago and still has about 900,000 users. Does accessing the metaverse through a VR headset make it different or just another screen to watch a very interesting and personal Internet program on? For now, we don’t know a lot because this whole new world is just forming right now. We’re not clear on what type of technology that Zuckerberg and company have in mind for their metaverse.
Unlike Second Life, the modern vision for “the metaverse” already has a huge following, and some of the largest corporations in the country wondering if they should create their own virtual worlds for people to explore. Apple, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Facebook are just a few of the companies actively building metaverses at this moment.
The Best of Both Worlds
The Internet is so much a part of daily life that it’s highly unlikely people will trade in their smartphones, home computers, and tablets for a permanent VR headset. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some early brave explorers who spend a lot of time there, and if it’s engaging enough, it might just become as visited as the Internet itself.