Metaverse: what is it and should we care?

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

To understand the new challenges and mechanics unfolding, you must first decipher this new concept. An idea that remains complex to explain for one simple reason: much of this is still alonea fantasy. A look to the future, born first of science fiction.

Metaverse: a concept born in 1992

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

The Metaverse is therefore a parallel, immersive, three-dimensional world, a virtual world but with very real interactions. It is a world in which everyone can evolve, through an avatar or a hologram. It is also a universe where the types of activities are very varied: playing, working, discussing, learning, etc.

What exactly is a Metaverse?

Matthew Ball, subject matter 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 resumed. It is permanent.
  • It is synchronous and live. Everyone has the same metaverse experience, in real time. And this, even if certain events can be planned and happen independently.
  • The metaverse is a computer generated universe. This is a complete environment, with no augmented reality overlays.
  • The metaverse has no limits. Everyone can participate, there is no maximum size (which could be a problem because it will be necessary to know how to manage this increase in load at the infrastructure level if the phenomenon grows very quickly). Matthew Ball talks about a metaverse in which 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 no single metaverse and this virtual universe is not owned by 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, although it is not yet clear how easy the doors between each universe are. The blockchain and NFT system should allow for a certain 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. It is to be hoped that these different virtual worlds are interconnected, but nothing is guaranteed. If they evolve in silos, it could end in bitter failure.
  • It is up to everyone to imagine the metaverse. Certainly companies are already appropriating this new El Dorado but, thanks to its decentralized aspect, everyone will be able to create their own content and experiences in the metaverse. And so it changes the game to its level.

Guaranteed success? No guarantee

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

The fact remains that such is at stake that it is important to look into the matter now, even if it will no doubt be necessary wait ten years for the concept to really take shape. In his electoral program for the presidential elections of 2022, Emmanuel Macron has however already stressed the importance of European initiatives in terms of metaverse.

Today the challenge is twofold. Interoperability of the metaverse, first of all, with the decentralization of these immersive virtual worlds so as 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 of these virtual worlds. Which is still a real challenge today. Mark Zuckerberg’s performance at the Connect 2021 event is far from unanimous.

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

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