The metaverse has become the hottest buzzword in tech.
Silicon Valley big brains are suddenly obsessed with building virtual spaces spanning digital and physical domains.
There’s Mark Zuckerberg, who plans to turn Facebook into “a metaverse company.” There’s Nvidia founder Jenson Huang, who envisions “a virtual world that is a digital twin of ours” and accessible via “wormholes.” And there’s Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who’s “excited” about the potential of an (urgh) “enterprise metaverse.”
It feels like everything is now part of the metaverse: VR games? Check. Online events? Absolutely. The internet? Of course. Porn? You bet your sweet ass.
One reason why so many people are heavily plugging the metaverse is that the concept is so nebulous.
What is the metaverse?
The term was coined by writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. His metaverse was a massively multiplayer virtual world that users entered via goggles.
Tech titans from Jeff Bezos to Google cofounder Sergey Brin reportedly revere his vision. (I presume they’re also inspired by Stephenson’s depiction of a collapsing US government replaced by corporations.)
1992: the internet will be like Snow Crash
2021: the facebook will be like Snow Crash
— jack (@jack) July 29, 2021
Since Snow Crash was published, an array of tech has been described as part of the metaverse, from Roblox’s video game platform to social-audio app Clubhouse.
The wide use of the term is unsurprising. Visions of the metaverse encompass an enormous range of virtual experiences and assets. It’s easy to jump on such a broad bandwagon.
Reality meets expectations
The main reason for the explosion of interest is, of course, money. The metaverse could provide multiple new avenues for generating revenue, from selling virtual goods to inserting immersive ads.
Tech firms, investors, consultants, and the media (sorry) are all now trying to cash in on the craze. The New York Times’ Erin Griffith succinctly described the hype cycle on Twitter.
Bring on the conferences, service providers, consultants… the works pic.twitter.com/bxlHyfeQ8l
— erin griffith (@eringriffith) July 28, 2021
There is some merit to the hype. Technological advances in fields like VR and AI are rapidly making virtual worlds more immersive and layered. Their escapist appeal has also grown during pandemic restrictions.
In the short term, however, buzzwords rarely live up to the hype. But once the underlying tech matures, effective strategies develop, and realistic objectives emerge? It has the potential to be truly transformational. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight.
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