Metaverse: what is it and should we be interested in it?

Artworks sold in NFT at exorbitant prices via blockchain, huge investments in Metaverse, announcement of a new internet called Web3… you’ve no doubt heard about all these new terms with nebulous concepts and that we present as being the future of the internet. Concepts that will replace the web as we know it today, with its Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.) and the ubiquity of social networks. In the midst of all this, the Metaverse seems to be the Holy Grail, the promise of a new world. But what exactly is it?

To understand the new challenges and the mechanics that take place, you must first decipher this new concept. An idea that remains complex to explain for one simple reason: a large part of all this is still onlya fantasy. A glimpse of the future, born first out of science fiction.

Metaverse: a concept born in 1992

The first time the term appeared was in the book “The virtual samurai“, published in 1992 by the American Neal Stephenson. In this book, the author portrays a wealthy entrepreneur – a Mark Zuckerberg before his time? – which created a parallel world where virtual reality and augmented reality mix. And where the ultimate goal is to control the minds of the users.

The metaverse is therefore a parallel, immersive, three-dimensional world, a virtual world, but with very real interactions. It is a world where everyone can develop through an avatar or a hologram. It is also a universe where the types of activities are very varied: play, work, discuss, learn, etc.

What exactly is a Metaverse?

Matthew Ball, subject specialist and author of a book on the subject, lists the characteristics of a Metaverse:

  • The metaverse is persistent, that is, it does not stop, it has no end. It cannot be paused or reset. It is permanent.
  • It is synchronous and live. Everyone has the same experience of the metaverse, in real time. And this, although certain events can be programmed and occur autonomously.
  • The Metaverse is a computer generated universe. This is a complete environment, no augmented reality overlays.
  • The metaverse has no limit. Anyone can participate, there is no maximum size (which can be a problem because it will be necessary to know how to handle this increase in load at the infrastructure level if the phenomenon grows very quickly). Matthew Ball talks about a metaverse where there is “no ceiling”.
  • It is an economy like any other. Fully functional, it allows anyone to own property, buy and sell, create “value”, invest and more.
  • There is not a single metaverse and this virtual universe is not the property of Meta/Facebook. Like blockchain and NFTs, the metaverse is a decentralized phenomenon. There is no authority in this virtual reality, but different entities that may or may not be compatible with each other.
  • Metaverses will offer some form of interoperability, though it’s still unclear how easy the gateways between each universe are. The blockchain and NFT system should allow for some fluidity, but it is still possible that those who imagine their own metaverse try to keep this universe in a vacuum. It would be much less interesting if that happened. One has to hope that these different virtual worlds will be interconnected, but nothing is guaranteed. If they develop in silos, it may well end in bitter failure.
  • It is up to anyone to imagine the metaverse. To be sure, companies are already appropriating this new Eldorado, but due to its decentralized aspect, everyone will be able to create their own content and their own experiences in the metaverse. And thus change the game at his level.

Guaranteed success? No guarantee

For now, the metaverse is above all a concept, a projection into the future. If there are already immersive virtual worlds (Minecraft, Roblox, World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Animal Crossing, The Sandbox) that are variations on older concepts (The Sims or even Second Life), nothing can yet guarantee that the concept will be a success. Nor that he will not experience abuse, as is already the case on social networks.

The fact is that the stakes are such that it is important to examine the issue now, although it will undoubtedly be necessary wait ten years before the concept really takes shape. In his campaign program for the 2022 presidential election, Emmanuel Macron has nevertheless already emphasized the importance of European initiatives in relation to the metaverse.

Today, the challenge is twofold. Metaverse interoperability, first of all with the decentralization of these immersive virtual worlds in order not to relive the grip of a few players on the Internet, as is the case today with Google, Amazon, Facebook & co. Another challenge: convince people of the interest in these virtual worlds. Which is still a real challenge today. Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance at the Connect 2021 event is far from unanimous.

Meta, the vision for the concept according to Mark Zuckerberg:

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