What is the “metaverse”?

Metaverse, metaverse, meta-universe or metaverse, we only speak of this term since Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed it the successor of the Internet. But, what is its exact definition?

In October 2021, faced with the accumulation of business, Facebook changed its name. Mark Zuckerberg’s group announces that it will become “Meta” and, in passing, presents its vision of the future. According to him, the 2D Internet, the one on which we surf thanks to a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari), will die. The future of digital will be in 3D, in a virtual world called “metaverse”.

Determined to make as much noise as possible to get people talking about his project (and to divert media attention), Meta did everything to get the planet talking about the metaverse. A paid bet: the media around the world have begun to present this virtual universe as our future, while startups and large companies, such as Carrefour, have announced that they are working on it. The metaverse, which is still only a fantasy today, has become a subject of everyday life. While most people don’t know what it means.

In August 2022, the metaverse is a catch-all term, which means everything and nothing. While Mark Zuckerberg and Meta’s vision is quite clear, although unachievable at present, the term’s use in society is rarely appropriate. On paper, there are already thousands of metaverses.

“The” metaverse according to Facebook

To explain what a metaverse is, we will divide our article into two parts. The first is devoted to the vision of Facebook, which imagines a single metaverse capable of replacing the Internet. The other speaks of the term more generally and applies to existing things.

Meta links its metaverse to reality headsets (virtual, mixed or augmented), even if it will be open to other media. // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

How does Meta imagine its metaverse, which it presents as a unique virtual world and not as an application ? For Mark Zuckerberg’s company, the web will soon pivot into the 3D era. Meta imagines that we will navigate in virtual worlds, supposed to replicate the real world, thanks to glasses (virtual reality, mixed reality or augmented reality). There is, however, an important point to consider: his metaverse is not necessarily linked to glasses. In the company’s vision, you can also access it from your smartphone, even if it will be less intuitive.

In the metaverse according to Meta, we find the whole Internet. We walk around in the form of an avatar, we can join our friends on the other side of the planet, participate in activities with others, work and consume, thanks to a virtual currency. The metaverse is a replica of Ready Player One or of Matrix and, ideally, will become a standard. Meta hopes that all the web giants will agree to make their ecosystems interoperable. The company wants the services of Google, Microsoft, Apple and others to be accessible in its virtual world, without having to switch applications. A major issue, that no one really imagines possible. In August 2022, “the” Facebook-like metaverse does not exist at all, despite Meta’s investments. No one knows if it will see the light of day.

Horizon Command
Horizon Worlds previews the Facebook version metaverse. // Source: Numerama

Today, Meta offers Horizon Worldsan application providing insight into its metaverse, which mostly looks like a video game way The Sims. His beginnings are very mixed. Horizon Worlds struggles to convince and does not really make you want to let go of your entire digital life for this virtual world. There are also fewer and fewer users on the platform.

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Horizon Worlds // Source: Capture Numerama

“The” metaverses, a very broad concept

In reality, Facebook did not invent anything. Mark Zuckerberg’s company has managed the feat of swallowing the term “metaverse” to make it its own, but above all has created confusion in the minds of millions of people. Many now link Facebook, virtual reality and the metaverse, while these three ideas are completely separate. Virtual reality is certainly a technology of the future, but nothing says that Facebook, with its subsidiary Oculus, will remain the star of the industry. The existence of the single metaverse concept is not assured. We wonder in particular what Apple will do with its headphones in 2023. It is hard to imagine the company going for the same concepts as Meta, with a virtual world.

In fact, metaverses are ancient, even though they weren’t called that before. By definition, a metaverse is “a virtual world, going beyond the real world”. Nothing links it to virtual reality or the replacement of the Internet, it can perfectly be a video game or an application. Here are some examples of services that fit perfectly into the definition of a metaverse:

  • video games like GTA Online Where Fortnitein which you interact with other players in a virtual world.
  • Old concepts like Second Lifewhere you led a double life with an avatar in a video game.
  • Virtual reality dating apps, like VRChatwhich allow you to meet people in fake places.
  • Applications to play or have fun with others, in virtual reality or elsewhere, to find themselves in virtual worlds.
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Metavers // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

In fact, all virtual experiences with real people are metaverse. Facebook’s dream of creating the successor to the Internet in 3D is just a fantasy based on an existing concept. When the media talk about the metaverse, they are mostly talking about the idea of ​​Facebook. But the term can quickly be misused, especially when startups imagine selling plots in a virtual world or when groups like Carrefour organize job interviews on a virtual island. The metaverse means everything and nothing and we can only regret that those who talk about it sometimes forget this distinction.

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