Since Facebook morphed into Meta, metaverse has been one of the most hyped up technologies right after cryptocurrencies and NFTs. Many were left wondering - what is the hype all about? What is this metaverse exactly? Why are such big companies like Meta or Microsoft focusing on it so much?
Just like "social media '' is a broad phrase that might differ when referencing various different social media platforms, so is metaverse. It's a vague term that is still evolving and dependent on the use case, definitions might vary.
Broadly speaking, Metaverse is characterized by persistent virtual worlds that exist in cyberspace even if no one is there to "play". For many, this includes access via some form of Virtual or Augmented reality where users can interact in a 3-dimensional virtual world. For others, the solutions might be as simple and pure as flat.social which can be used as a 2-dimensional virtual space where users can meet and interact with each other.
Since Metaverse exists in the realm of bits and bytes, the rules governing the experience and interaction might be different than what we are used to in a normal physical world. There is an entire spectrum of solutions focusing on different use cases and aspects of online interaction.
Here is a couple of examples and use cases where metaverse technologies have been used successfully:
Since 2020, we're video calling more than ever. The classic experience of jumping on a call has been quite similar throughout the recent years. A couple (or a couple hundred) people join up a large, pigeonhole-like grid together and talk. This dynamic works perfectly for presentations, webinars and single-threaded discussions. When taking part in an in-person conversation however, meeting attendees can organically form into groups and multiple conversation topics can flourish at once. This conversational breakout experience is not the easiest to attain when everyone is chained into the grid.
As every metaverse solution is inherently spatial and proximity based, the humans who attend an event within a virtual world can move around and talk with others around. It brings the guest experience to another level from the point of view of networking and connecting with other attendees. The simplest version of such experience can for example live in a virtual space in flat.social
Virtual items became popular in parallel with the emergence of MMOs - massively multiplayer online games. In MMOs players can buy all sorts of game items that help them to progress in the game or style up their virtual avatars.
Even though Metaverse at its core is more of an open virtual world than an online game, it often allows its users to buy and trade virtual items too. One of the recent examples was a collaboration done between Roblox and Spotify - the Spotify Island where users could interact with the artists and buy music related merchandise.
Other metaverses that allow you to sell items are Horizon Worlds (from Meta), Decentraland and The Sandbox.
You shouldn't feel bad if you're confused about both NFT or modern art exhibitions in general. NFT stands for a non-fungible token which means that an NFT is unique and can't be replaced with something else. It's basically a record on a block chain which is associated with a particular digital or physical asset. Since the ownership of such a token is recorded on the blockchain, it can be transferred to another owner and sold.
Although NFT art is not a necessary part of Metaverse and vice-versa, due to the novelty of both emerging at the same time NFT art exhibitions came to be. Instead of opting in for a physical art gallery, authors of the NFT artworks decided to head to the virtual and expose their artwork in a virtual world where the art can not only interact with the guests but also allow the guests to interact with each other.
There is a thin line between metaverse and massively multiplayer online games. They both share a lot of similarities - from the graphics to game physics and proximity chat - it might be sometimes hard to distinguish if the experience is supposed to be a game or a permanent virtual world.
Some of the current Metaverse solutions came to be as games first. Roblox for example started as a platform that hosts user-created games created in a programming language called Lua. Even though it was built as a game first, it has also acted as a platform where kids were connecting with each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Microsoft, another player within the metaverse space, has been vocal about the company's intention to stay ahead when the acquisition of Activision Blizzard was announced. This allowed Microsoft to take over Blizzard's top gaming products - Call of Duty, Diablo and Overwatch.
Since the technology behind a metaverse experience and gaming is so thin, many metaverse creators have been including options for its users to play games together and engage in fun experiences together.
2021 State of Remote Work Report from Owl Labs surveyed 2050 full-time remote workers and found that 90% of them said they were as productive or more productive working remotely, compared to when they worked from a physical office. Remote work is becoming increasingly more popular and widely accepted. Lack of a physical office can be problematic though and many teams are finding it hard to adapt.
Can we work remotely without losing all the benefits of a physical office? Many teams have successfully moved their meetings into virtual platforms like flat.social where they can experience more togetherness and team spirit.
As of 2022, a great majority of people currently living on our beautiful planet have been educated in old school classrooms, physical chalk and blackboard and teachers who were there physically to pass on their knowledge.
With education in the metaverse, students are able to build a virtual campus and network with others wherever they are. Education experiences can not only be remote collaborative but also full of innovation and creativity. VR headsets can allow students to immerse into the virtual classrooms in a way that is beyond what can be achieved in a physical school.
Through acquisition of Oculus Rift in 2014 all the way to rebranding the social media giant from Facebook to Meta in 2021, the company has been steadily making advances towards building the next level of social interaction where users can hang out in virtual worlds.
The current prudct, Horizon Worlds is a free virtual reality, online video game with an integrated system for creation of games.
Microsoft's Metaverse for work lives within its core communication product - Microsoft Teams. Mesh for teams is an extension that allows users to create and customize cartoon avatars.
NVIDIA brands Omniverse as a tool that "revolutionizes the way we create and develop as individuals and work together as teams, bringing more creative possibilities and efficiency to 3D creators, developers and enterprises."
Yep, that's us! Welcome to flat.social :)
Flat.social is a spatial audio & video meeting platform for organizing fun and playful online meetings and virtual events. You can use it to create and customize a virtual space for your event and invite guests with a link.
A virtual meeting in flat.social is what a cocktail party is to a business presentation. Guests can fly around the meeting like they would do in any multiplayer game and speak with others around them. The spatial audio & video allows for spontaneous interaction based on proximity - starting a conversation is as simple as flying up to someone!
Decentraland is a virtual world that is powered by the Ethereum blockchain. Decentraland's users can acquire digital real estate to develop and monetize it as they see fit through the concept of dual-tokenomics. As the name suggests, Decentraland offers a decentralized infrastructure through DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) which enables users to control the in-game assets, policies and development.
Decentraland has been in development since 2015 and can be run straight from a web-browser.
Roblox is an online game platform and game creation system developed that allows users to create games and play games that were created by other users.
It is free to play and has a virtual currently called Robxu that allows for in-game purchases. As of August 2020, Roblox had over 164 million monthly active users, including more than half of all American children under 16.
Spatial is a AR/VR virtual world platform that focuses on becoming Metaverse for the culture with NFT and virtual art exhibitions.
Gather.Town is a web-conferencing software that adds a component of seeing the virtual space you and others are in. It allows participant to move around and select their own pixel avatars.
As with any new technology that resides in the area of social interactions, Metaverse doesn't come without challenges. From online safety to high hardware requirements, there is a
While joining Metaverse might be an easier way to meet others that doesn't require travel, for others it might be slightly more problematic. Metaverse, through the creativity of its creators, is intended to be a visually richer world than what we have today. Relying heavily on visuals can leave users with blindness and low vision behind.
At this time, immersing in a virtual world in full might require an expensive setup of VR goggles and a computer that can support the graphics as smoothly as possible. It's especially important because even slight delays in rendering can cause users to experience a virtual reality sickness which in its nature is similar to motion sickness symptoms. This might not only make the experience unenjoyable but virtually impossible.
The high entry barrier might leave some of the users with limited access to hardware behind and or even completely excluded.
As the adoption of various metaverses increases, many users and organisations are raising concerns about the new potential risks that lie ahead in the virtual worlds. From unwanted contact to bullying and trolling, with the flexibility of the new technology come new potential possibilities of crossing the boundaries and ways of making others uncomfortable. As the metaverse technology matures, those issues will need to be addressed.
NY Times: Metaverse harassment assaults
The Quint: Woman groped in Horizon Worlds
Entrepreneur.com: The Long Road to Addressing Digital Safety in the Metaverse