I have no doubt that by the time you reach this article, you have already read several others that try to tell you what the Metaverse is and what it isn’t. Maybe you’ve been inundated with reasons why it will fail or not live up to the fantastical videos you’ve seen exploring what seems to be almost magical potential.
Now I’m going to guess that every single one of those articles has left you feeling like you still don’t “get it”. Well, let me shed some light on this for you. No one does.
The thing is, the idea of the Metaverse has been around since 1992, when it was first conceptualized in the science fiction novel Snow Crash. Mark Zukerberg recently made his famous announcement that he’s now dedicating his newly renamed company “Meta” to realizing this vision and making it a reality. Only… it hasn’t been invented yet, so what will it REALLY be?
The main problem is that there are still more questions than answers. However, we’re going to attempt to cover what we do know about the Metaverse and what is absolutely required, by definition, to come to fruition in order to hit the mark. We’re also going to talk about what it will probably look like, in practical terms, knowing what we know about the current state of the Internet and hopefully clear up any misconceptions that have been thrown your way during your quest to understand this beast of an undertaking.
So, what IS the Internet?
First we need to understand what the Internet technically is. Dictionary.com defines it as:
“A vast computer network linking smaller computer networks worldwide. The internet includes commercial, educational, governmental and other networks, all of which use the same set of communications protocols.”
I have a problem with this definition, specifically the bit about where all computers have to use the same set of protocols. To avoid a debate, I’m just going to refer to a much simpler definition of the internet which is this:
“A network of two or more connected computers which serve content either privately or publicly.”
Yep, that’s right. The Internet is huge, but it doesn’t technically have to be in order to still qualify as the Internet. If half of the world blew up today, the other half of the Internet would still be alive and well. If 90% of the internet was destroyed, that last 10% could still thrive. If all of the computers in the world blew up except for 2, those two would be the last smidge of Internet we had left. Could you have an Internet of one? Well… erm… see… because… No, not really, because whereas one computer can host a website all by its lonesome, the word “Internet” implies a “network”, which is technically at least 2 computers connected to each other.
Wow. That was a lot of babbling to get through and it all seems to have nothing to do with the Metaverse. I apologize for that. But now that you understand what the Internet really is, you won’t have any trouble understanding why the Metaverse is NOT a replacement for the Internet. It’s not even the same thing. It’s a scary case of apples and oranges. So if anyone tells you anything that resembles the notion of “We’re getting a new Internet!”, you can be the smartest person in the room and say, “Actually, that is technically not the case.” Here’s why:
Take a look above at the ugliest diagram I’ve ever made. This is an oversimplified, embarrassingly crude illustration of how the internet works. When you open a browser and type in a url, you’re viewing a website that is hosted one (or more) of millions (billions?) of servers around the world.
Now when you look at the second ugliest diagram I’ve ever made, you’ll see an illustration of how the Metaverse is going to fit in with what we currently have. The orange sun thingies are Metaverse “sites”, much like we have websites now. (I didn’t know what symbol to use as a Metaverse site and Visio sucks. So there you go.) The laptops underneath are browsers like Internet Explorer (poor kid), Firefox and Chrome. They are what we use to navigate websites. They know how to download and parse HTML code in a way that is visual and easy to read.
So what do these Metaverse sites look like? We don’t know yet. What are those question marks? We don’t really know what they are yet, either, but they represent a new kind of browser capable of navigating Metaverse sites. This is what everyone is tripping over right now. Will it be a clunky VR headset? Will it be something you can wear comfortably in public without getting beat up by the cool kids? We just don’t know. But for the purposes of this conversation, just know that it is a new way (probably very virtual-reality oriented) of navigating the internet, presented with much of the same inaccurate information you’re used to telling your friends everyday.
Not that much different, right? The experience of the Internet will be different, but I don’t believe for a second that websites will ever go away. There will always be way too many people that don’t want to experience the information, they just need it right freaking now. I can’t see someone asking their friend a question like, “Where will the next Olympics be held?”, only to see their friend say, “Hang on. I’ll be back in 5 minutes so that I can jump into my VR world and find out.”
Okay, but… What the poo is the Metaverse??
Well, I already said no one really knows. But really, it’s more like no one wants to stick their neck out and take a shot at putting this into simple terms. So, I’ll do it.
Here’s my definition of the Metaverse:
“A network of two or more connected computers which serve content either privately or publicly. Oh yeah, and the content is going to be presented in an immersive, experiential way instead of on a flat screen.”
Billion dollar corporations like Meta and Microsoft are literally banking their britches on this being the next big thing. I personally think that it will be, also, but not because everyone needs it, necessarily. It will take off because several billion dollar corporations are making it happen whether you want it to happen or not. They are paving the way for the future. We are just along for the ride.
All of that aside, since websites are not going away, this Metaverse thing is going to be really attractive for people that are looking for something more to add to their lives. We can already make a Zoom call to anyone on Earth. We can already get any question we need answered within seconds. We can already do these things, but the Metaverse promises to make these experiences better and hit you on an emotional level. You either want that in your life, or you don’t. There will be plenty of people in both categories, no matter what the future holds.
Even though I joke about this stuff all the time, I am very excited to see what is coming. Whether it’s useful or not, or whether we need it or not, I know it’s going to be loads of fun.