What Is a Metaverse?
The concept of a metaverse is not a recent creation. It is, however, something that many people are now learning about for the first time.
The term was originally used in the novel Snow Crash, originally published in 1992 by Neal Stephenson. In the novel, the metaverse is a virtual shared space that incorporates virtual reality, augmented reality, and the internet.
The idea of a metaverse announced by Facebook and other tech companies does appear to be highly similar to this description. While the exact definition appears to depend on who is speaking, it’s basically a new version of the internet that places a greater emphasis on virtual worlds.
Rather than visiting websites using a browser, you will access information by navigating a virtual world with the option of using both virtual and augmented reality.
The Metaverse vs. Virtual Reality: What’s the Difference?
If you read anything about the metaverse, the similarities to virtual reality are difficult to ignore. There are, however, a few important differences.
If you’re trying to understand the differences between virtual reality and the metaverse, here are six key distinctions.
1. Virtual Reality Is Well Defined, the Metaverse Isn’t
The most notable difference between virtual reality and the metaverse is that while VR is now well understood, the metaverse really is not.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, the metaverse is “an embodied internet where instead of just viewing the content-you are in it”. A recent Microsoft announcement described it as “a persistent digital world that is inhabited by digital twins of people, places, and things”.
These descriptions are pretty vague when compared to our understanding of virtual reality. It’s also possible that even the tech companies themselves don’t have a complete definition.
According to Facebook, the decision to rebrand was a necessary part of building the metaverse. They wanted a name that better represented what they were working on. But it’s certainly not the only plausible reason for doing so. Facebook has an image problem.
It’s also possible to argue that the metaverse is nothing more than a buzzword to describe technological improvements in the existing internet.
2. Facebook Doesn’t Own Either Technology
Another potential question about the metaverse is who actually gets to define it.
As the owner of Oculus Rift, Facebook plays an important role in the development of virtual reality. But at the same time, they are just one player in a massive industry.
The same is true for the metaverse. Facebook may have changed their name to Meta, but they are not the only company involved. Microsoft, for example, recently announced Microsoft Mesh, their version of a mixed-reality platform with similarities to the metaverse and its various definitions. Furthermore, a recent Facebook statement alludes to the fact that they see themselves as building a part of the metaverse instead of the metaverse itself.
This means that, like VR, the metaverse is going to be bigger than a single company.
3. The Metaverse Includes a Shared Virtual World
The metaverse is a shared virtual space that users will be able to access via the internet. Again, this is something that VR headsets obviously already allow you to do.
The virtual space in the metaverse also sounds similar to that which already exists in virtual reality programs.
Users are expected to be identified by personal avatars who will interact with each other in virtual locations. In addition, they will be able to purchase or build virtual items and environments, such as NFTs.
The primary difference is that while existing virtual worlds are limited in size, the metaverse sounds like it will provide access to the entire internet.
4. The Metaverse Will Be Accessible in Virtual Reality
The metaverse will not require you to wear a VR headset. But it’s believed that large parts of the service will be accessible to headset users.
This means that the line between surfing the internet and using virtual reality is likely to become blurred. VR headsets may start being used for tasks that are usually performed using smartphones.
If the metaverse becomes as popular as Facebook expects, VR is likely to become far less of a niche product.
5. The Metaverse Will Not Be Limited to VR Tech
However, following on from the last point, the metaverse will not be limited to virtual reality. Instead, it will be accessible both by augmented reality devices and any device you already use to connect to the internet.
This opens the door to various features not possible with virtual reality alone. For example, augmented reality will allow aspects of the metaverse to be projected into the real world.
Virtual spaces will also be designed so that they can be accessed anywhere, no headset required.
6. The Metaverse Is Potentially Much Bigger Than VR
Virtual reality is now used for education, therapy, and sports. But it is still arguably best known as a type of entertainment.
The metaverse, at least in terms of scale, sounds a lot more like a new and improved version of the internet. It’s expected to change the way people work, access social media, and even surf the web, meaning that while many people have completely ignored virtual reality, the same is unlikely to happen with the metaverse.
Will the Metaverse Replace the Internet?
Virtual reality hasn’t had quite the effect on the world that some people expected. There’s a limit to how much time people want to spend wearing a headset.
The metaverse will not have this problem, accessible to those both with and without access to a VR headset. Some people expect it to have a much bigger impact as a result.
At the same time, the metaverse is highly unlikely to replace the internet entirely. VR headsets provide an interesting alternative to computer screens. The metaverse will provide an interesting alternative to the internet. But neither one is designed to act as a replacement.