It’s fair to say that no one is exactly sure what the metaverse will look like, as the concept is still emerging and evolving. But plenty of people have got their own ideas.
Since it became the most hyped technology buzzword, around the time Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, there has been no shortage of visionaries, pioneers, and entrepreneurs lining up to tell us what they think it is. And who knows, maybe some of them have even got it right.
Here's my round-up of some of the most insightful, inspiring, and, in some cases, slightly strange things that have been said since the concept appeared on the radar.
“The people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the metaverse."
Neal Stephenson, Author.
Stephenson is the person credited with first connecting the term "metaverse" to the idea of an immersive virtual reality in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. His vision of the metaverse includes avatars, multi-user online experiences, and environments that function as substitute arenas for real-world interactions. All of these are integral to the idea of the metaverse as it is being sold to us by multinational enterprise companies today.
“In simplest terms, the metaverse is the internet, but in 3D.”
Ed Greigg, Chief Disruptor at Deloitte.
Many people have had a go at defining what exactly the metaverse "is." No one knows for sure (because it is still emerging), and Greigg plays it quite safe with this description, which encapsulates the fact that the metaverse will primarily be a more experiential, immersive version of the internet. However, I would argue that it’s not entirely accurate as some creative people are working on developing experiences that tick all of the metaverse boxes (immersive, connected, persistent, etc.) within a 2D environment.
"Metaverse isn't a thing a company builds. It's the next chapter of the internet overall."
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta.
One of the most insightful quotes from the man who, in many ways, kicked off the hype. Will he one day be thought of as “the father of the metaverse” in the same way that Tim Berners-Lee is considered to be “the father of the world-wide-web”? At this stage, there's no way to know, but one thing we can be sure of is that he’s hoping so. This quote resonates with me because it conveys the fact that we should not think of “a metaverse” as a thing we can point to and say, "that's a metaverse." It's more of a concept that describes the way we communicate, socialize, do business, shop, and do just about everything else in the future.
“The metaverse is here, and it’s not only transforming how we see the world but how we participate in it – from the factory floor to the meeting room.”
Satya Nadella, MicrosoftMSFT -1.4%.
Microsoft’s CEO understands that the metaverse concept will impact every part of the way we do business. In this respect, he is following in the footsteps of company founder Bill Gates who saw the importance of Microsoft making its mark on the emerging World Wide Web back in the mid-nineties and re-focused the company on developing and delivering online services. By making the “metaverse of work” the focus of Microsoft’s business strategy, Nadella hopes to capture the same success.
“It is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time, rendered, 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.”
Matthew Ball, Author, formerly AmazonAMZN -2.9%.
A slightly more comprehensive attempt at summing up the concept from the author of The Metaverse and How It Will Revolutionize Everything. Ball understands that persistency is key to the metaverse experience – in short, if you leave a metaverse virtual world and come back to it later, you should find it much as you left it – notwithstanding whatever other users have decided to do to it while you were away. On top of that, whatever you are doing within the experience – shopping, working, learning, socializing - there should be a unified set of rules, standards, and expectations.
"Here we are in 2021 and all our devices are still built around apps, not people. The experiences we're allowed to build and use are more tightly controlled than ever. And high taxes on new creative ideas are stifling. This was not the way that we were meant to use technology."
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta.
Although he doesn’t mention the metaverse in this quote, it’s taken from his announcement that he would rebrand the company he founded as Meta. Here he is criticizing the fact that most users who access his existing “virtual world” – Facebook – through mobile devices, do so through portals that are ultimately beyond his control – i.e. GoogleGOOG -2.3% or Apple'sAAPL -1.5% app stores. This quote hints at the fact that he sees building a metaverse from scratch as an attempt to put his empire beyond the reach of his tech company rivals.
“There’s not an agreement on what the metaverse is, even though one company has changed its name in anticipation of defining it.”
Eric Schmidt, Google.
Schmidt acknowledges that the future of the metaverse is far from certain. Whether it will be Meta, Microsoft, or his own company that defines the way we use it, is up in the air. On the other hand, a host of alternative visions – such as that put forward by those proposing a decentralized metaverse – could end up being closer to what we will eventually get.
"The metaverse is coming. Metaverse is not only a place to game. Future worlds will be photorealistic, obey the laws of physics, and be inhabited by human avatars and AI beings. We will create a future in these metaverses before actually downloading the blueprints to be fab’ed in the physical world.”
Jensen Huang, Nvidia.
Nvidia has turned its attention towards developing metaverse productivity tools, such as its Nvidia Omniverse suite. These allow users to work collaboratively on productivity tasks, specifically those involving 3D graphics, within virtual environments.
“This metaverse is going to be far more pervasive and powerful than anything else. If one central company gains control of this, they will become more powerful than any government and be a god on Earth.”
Tim Sweeney, Epic Games.
Without context, it isn't quite clear whether Sweeney is issuing a warning or letting us in on his plan. Even with context, it still isn’t all that clear, either.
“I don’t see someone strapping a frigging screen to their face all day and not wanting to ever leave.”
Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX.
The outspoken CEO is never shy about giving his opinions, and it’s usually the case that the more controversial they are, the better. He has also said that he believes the related concept of Web3 – decentralized platforms built around blockchain that some believe will be the foundation of a user-controlled metaverse, outside of the influence of corporations, is “more marketing than reality.”
The metaverse is definitely an exciting and fast-moving area. To stay on top of the latest on the metaverse and wider business and tech trends, make sure to subscribe to my newsletter and have a look at my book Extended Reality in Practice, which just won the Business Book of the Year 2022 in the Specialist Book category.