Few were surprised when Mark Zuckerberg announced plans in October 2021 to rename Facebook to Meta.
After all, the metaverse is a major focus for enterprise companies wishing to capitalise on the increasing amount of time we spend online on our second screens and participating in an alternative universe.
Meta has already begun to spin off its Facebook Reality Labs as its own business segment and has considered the metaverse, where people virtually interact with each other, as one of its big bets for the future.
The term "metaverse" has its origins in the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson as a portmanteau of "meta" and "universe."
The metaverse refers to a virtual world that can be accessed online using Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) tools.
Users in this simulated 3D environment interact with avatars that resemble how humans interact using a virtual version of themselves known as an avatar.
They can interact in a similar way to social media platforms chatting and meeting their friends, playing games together and exploring their new world.
The metaverse offers an opportunity to chat and interact online using a digital version of yourself in a virtual society and play role playing games as if you actually existed in this digitally created world.
The concept of interacting in a virtual world is not new. Back in 2003, the Second Life platform allowed you to create an avatar, build and trade properties and businesses, and interact with other avatars online.
Users can have face to face conversations with other users, connected via an internet connection and a VR headset.
Facebook has been dabbling with the metaverse concept, launching Facebook Horizon late in 2019 -- renamed as Horizon Worlds in October 2021.
It also announced Horizon Workrooms in August 2021, enabling you to work and collaborate online. It is building VR apps for social interaction and for the workplace and will enable users to interact with the real world using augmented reality.
Facebook has promised to collaborate with other platforms that will make the metaverse a reality.
However, Meta does not have complete dominance over the metaverse. Other platforms have been touting the metaverse as the way to interact for some time.
Even though seven in ten respondents to a recent survey reported that they are not interested in Meta's virtual reality project, companies are developing platforms that enable users to engage.
Augmented Reality app Spotland recently announced that its users can own a piece of digital land in its own metaverse and generate revenue from ad placement on this digital land.
And cryptocurrency-based blockchain games that use technology to bridge to other blockchains could be the great enabler for the metaverse.
Since gamers have adopted the blockchain, virtual world technologies have provided an opportunity for players to interact in the metaverse.
DappRadar launched a token for its dapp store for users to use its RADAR token to interact online. They are rewarded with Ethereum cryptocurrency tokens for contributing to and finding the best dapps to include in the dapp store.
The IMVU VCORE ERC-20 Ethereum token, available to users outside of the US and Canada in 2022, will enable users on its avatar-based social platform to influence the 'future of the metaverse'.
Aexlab launched its first NFT series in 2021, aiming to 'plant its flag' in the blockchain ecosystem introducing blockchain-based NFT digital assets.
Users are flocking to these blockchain-based games. BSV blockchain-based Crypto fights have over 40,000 daily users and stored over 1GB of data on the blockchain at the end of December 2021.
Zuckerberg believes that the metaverse is "the next chapter for the internet", and Meta has committed to investing $150 million into helping us learn more about the metaverse.
But tech partners will need to step up too. As metaverse worlds evolve, we will naturally move towards these new social environments -- but the technology is not yet completely ready for the realisation of the vision.
Eye, hand, and haptics tracking will need to be seamless and accurate. Visual "vergence-accommodation conflict," or VAC, makes all-day use of the technology a challenge.
Fortunately, Meta's Half Dome headset and Deep Focus rendering technologies go some way to address this visual issue.
In October 2021, Ego4D, with its a dataset of 2,792 hours of first-person video and benchmark tests for neural nets, will hopefully encourage the development of AI that is savvier about what it's like to move through virtual worlds from a first-person perspective.
AI will need to be indistinguishable from a human to make it credible, and hardware components such as sensor, audio and display technologies will have to improve -- as well as processor and graphics power and internet bandwidth speeds.
It is a big ask. But Meta is bullish about its goals.
However, this ultra-connected metaverse has some drawbacks, and it is all about who ultimately will be in control of the data. This could be why Meta is so keen for us all to use its version of the metaverse.
Dr. David Reid, Professor of AI and Spatial Computing at Liverpool Hope University, said:
Whoever controls it will basically have control over your entire reality.
Many current MR (Mixed Reality) prototype systems have face, eye, body and hand tracking tech. Most have sophisticated cameras.
Some even incorporate electroencephalogram (EEG) technology in order to pick up brainwave patterns. In other words, everything you say, manipulate, look at, or even think about can be monitored in MR.
The data this will generate will be vast -- and extremely valuable.
He adds, "If you think about the amount of data a company could collect on the World Wide Web right now, compared to what it could collect with the metaverse, there is just no comparison."
Meta is playing the long game here. It is not planning a quick win over the next six months.
It is biding its time, building technology components and developing hardware that will extend its existing metaverse offering bit by bit.
And over time, we will slowly start to use parts of the metaverse in our daily lives.
Before 2025, I predict that everyone with a Facebook account will have, at least, dabbled in its metaverse. And Meta will have a whole new set of our behavioural data to use.