Imagine feeling like you are right next to the stage at a concert, without leaving the house; trying on clothes without going to the shops; or working in a virtual office as you would in a real one. The metaverse promises to change the way we interact.

Metaverse is probably one of the most asked about words in recent months, ever since Mark Zuckerberg, creator of the social network Facebook, announced that this would be the name of his new major technology project. But what exactly does this concept refer to?

What is the metaverse?

We need to understand what it means before we can know what it is. The word “metaverse” is a portmanteau consisting of the Greek word "meta" meaning “after” or “beyond”, while "verse" refers to “universe”, so we are talking about a universe that is beyond what we currently know. In this case, it is a new three-dimensional (3D) virtual ecosystem in which users can interact with each other, work, play, study, conduct financial transactions, among many other things. All of this in a decentralised manner.

Although Zuckerberg decided to change the name Facebook to Meta to show how important this project is for his group of technology companies (he also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Oculus, among others), he did not come up with the concept of metaverse. This concept appeared decades ago in the book Snow Crash, a science-fiction story written by Neal Stephenson, which was later taken to the big screen.

It is important to know that the word “metaverse” does not refer to a particular platform or brand but to the concept of virtual space. In fact, the online video game company Roblox has its own metaverse and is a pioneer in the development of several aspects, partly due to its experience with the virtual worlds created by its users, and to holding major events on its platform. There are also platforms such as Decentraland and The Sandbox, which are based on blockchain technology, and which have developed their own metaverses.

Although it is now easy to distinguish between the digital and the physical world or between online and offline, a border will be created with the emergence of the metaverse, which will combine virtual and real environments, and which will allow us to carry out day-to-day activities, such as working, playing, meeting up with friends, going to concerts or sports events, etc.

How does the metaverse work?

With the internet we can interact via a computer screen, smartphone, tablet or other device without any time or space restrictions (i.e. anytime, anywhere), but with the metaverse the limit of that screen vanishes, offering an immersive experience. It’s as if we are part of a video game, moving through an avatar that represents us, and that is capable of touching and moving objects, of interacting with other people (or avatars) and making an impact on this environment.

Although you can access the metaverse from a computer, devices such as virtual reality and augmented reality glasses offer an even more realistic experience. Beyond how we access it, the key to the metaverse is what we can do once we are inside it, thanks to Web 3.0 or web3, as the third generation of internet is known.

While Web 1.0 was based on hypertext (links) and Web 2.0 on interaction (social networks), a Web 3.0 website is based on the creation and exchange of digital assets (NFTs) using blockchain technology. Blockchain is precisely the basis for the metaverse to be decentralised and users and developers can own their own data and content, as well as own and trade non-fungible tokens, for example.

What can you do in the metaverse?

As the metaverse is still in a development phase where companies like Facebook (now Meta) are creating the infrastructure necessary for it to operate, the limits on what can or cannot be done are unclear. Furthermore, the intention of its developers is that users can contribute ideas and implement them in the metaverse to the extent that technology allows.

What does seem obvious is that it will be the evolution of the internet as we know it today, so some of the main changes will take place in the way we consume and create content, and in how we interact socially:

  • Work. During the presentation of his metaverse, Zuckerberg made it clear that one of the objectives was for it to become a place of work, where people could gather in virtual spaces as if they were there physically, and where they have the necessary tools to hold meetings, work, give presentations, etc.
  • Have fun. Feeling as if you are sharing the same space as the artist and the audience at a concert, without actually leaving your living room is one example of how the entertainment industry could change. Mass events could be in-person, virtual or hybrid, depending on the viewers’ needs.
  • Shop. Although it is now possible to shop online, with the metaverse this would feel much more real, as each user’s avatar would be able to try on clothes virtually and therefore the user would know how they would look wearing them. You could also interact with the seller in the same way as you would in a real shop, asking them questions about the articles or asking for their opinion.

How to make the best of that the metaverse offers

Like Meta, companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, Epic Games and many others in the world of technology are working on developing applications and tools to be part of this new virtual universe.

There are also companies in various sectors that have shown an interest in taking advantage of the business opportunities offered by the metaverse. This will shape a new financial ecosystem based on blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and which could be similar to the physical world.

For example, the multinational fashion company Nike introduced Nikeland, a parallel reality located on the Roblox gaming platform, which allows users to exercise or wear their brand through their avatars. The car brand BMW has plans to create an exact replica of one of its factories and to conduct virtual tests that would then be carried out in real life. The real estate company Metaverse Property sells plots in several of the metaverses that have already been created, and also manages the rental or maintenance of virtual properties.

NFTs are also part of the metaverse economy, so they can be purchased, sold and displayed in these virtual worlds.

When will the metaverse be ready?

Knowing when it will be available is one of the most frequently asked questions regarding the metaverse. The different platforms that are working on metaverses still require software and hardware developments to deliver the experience they promise. The founder of Facebook, for example, claims that it is a long-term project, so it might take 10 to 15 years to be ready.

There might never be a specific launch date. Instead, the necessary technological developments might be incorporated as they become available. 

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