What is the Metaverse? The Next Generation of the Internet Explained

Updated: Apr 7

The metaverse has been in the news a lot since Facebook recently rebranded themselvesMeta”. But many of you may be asking yourself the question: what the heck is the metaverse anyway?


The Metaverse was a term coined by an author named Neil Stephenson back in the 90s. His metaverse had to do with an all encompassing world; a virtual world that you could go and interact in. And in essence, that’s exactly what the metaverse is.


The metaverse is our next version of the internet. If you grew up watching Star Trek Next Generation, the metaverse is like the Holodeck; a place where you can go and create a whole new world in which to interact.



Is the metaverse new?


Believe it or not, the metaverse already exists. For those of us with kids or those who play games like Fortnight, you’re already experiencing it: Fortnight is a metaverse that people play inside, creating and interacting.


Examples like this are easy to dismiss, but they are very powerful, and once we see this type of technology applied in other areas of life, it will revolutionize the way we interact online.



Understanding The History of the Internet


To understand where we are headed when it comes to the metaverse, we must first understand the history of the internet. When you think about it, the internet has existed for a remarkably short time.


Web 1.0 - Static Web Pages.


In the early 90s, when the internet was really picking up steam, you could go ‘online’ and access information. At this time the internet was a one way street; there was nothing for you to actually do on webpages other than read what was posted by someone else. It was like a digital library.


Web 2.0 - Early Interaction


In the late 90s and early 2000s, websites were becoming more and more interactive. There were places to chat with others, and you saw the beginnings of early social media and transactional e-Commerce. At this point we started using apps to interact with the internet.


These days, when you wake up in the morning I would wager you don’t open a web browser anymore; you open one of your apps through which we access the internet or social media platforms. It was this shift that made web 2.0 more interactive, more social and more thoroughly a part of our day to day lives.


Web 3.0 - Building with the Tools from Web 2.0


With Web 3.0 we saw people using the tools that evolved in Web 2.0 to find new ways of interacting. Everything moved online. Social media became all consuming, and the domination of smartphones has meant that we are online all the time, not just when we sit at a computer. The internet is now a place where everyone can create and interact, using things like YouTube, and other social media platforms.


Web 4.0 - The Metaverse


The metaverse is the next phase of the internet. Through increased development of virtual reality and our continued move towards everything virtual, the Metaverse is about connecting the dots and using all of the technology that has been developed to create an immersive, wholly-interactive experience. And it’s hard to wrap your head around how quickly this technology is moving.


For context, Facebook was started in the mid-2000s. Let me state that again: Facebook was started just over 15 years ago. It’s now 2021 and during that time, Facebook has not only come to take over the world - becoming the most popular social media outlet on the planet- but now it’s actually aging out. Facebook is now seen as the place where moms and grandmas are hanging out. So in only 15 years, this powerhouse became the dominant platform then fell from grace.


Instagram was created in 2010, just 10 years ago, and it became the dominant platform for a while. Now Tiktok, which initially was dismissed as ‘the kid dancing app’ is now growing faster than any other social media platform on record.


These platforms come and go in waves, changing the way we interact online and our online culture as they compete with each other for our attention. The metaverse will be no different.



What will the Metaverse actually look like?


While the Metaverse is currently used mostly in the gaming world, in the future you’ll see it being used in a much more functional way.


We’ll be able to attend concerts. And I don’t mean watch concerts virtually on a screen the way we do now - we’ll be able to interact with the concert, we’ll be able to be there, inside the metaverse.


Most of us understand the idea of virtual reality, where you put on the headset and you’re immersed in a world. So in this context, you’d be able to go to the concert when you put on your headset. You’d be able to walk up to the stage if you wanted to, and walk back, or participate in some other way. You’ll be able to see and interact with the person next to you, and they with you.


Another example that might be closer to home in our pandemic world is our meetings. Soon, our meetings will exist in the metaverse. So instead of a zoom screen where you have 9 disembodied heads floating around on a monitor, we could actually meet at a virtual conference table. If you said something, I would be able to turn and hear it come from your side of the room, and you would be able to hear me, and react in real time. We would be able to share things in our meeting, not just share screens but work on things collaboratively from within the Metaverse. This shift will mean a move from observing to interacting.





The Future is Here


Those conversations we used to have about how one day we would go to work in hover cars - this was just a way of saying these technological advances would be so far in the future that we’ll be long gone before we see them. But the Metaverse is already here, and the changes it will incite will come quickly.


As a small business owner you may be wondering how the metaverse is going to change the way you interact with your customers or the way you market yourself.


Well, if you’re in business and looking to retire in the next year or two, you can probably ignore the metaverse. But if you intend on being in business in 10 years, in any capacity, you need to keep your eye on this and understand what it is, because as it develops it will mean changes for you and your business.


In the early 2000s, the idea of e-Commerce and social media was dismissed so significantly that big companies would give their social media accounts to young interns to manage. They didn’t see it as something to waste time on, so they would give it to haphazardly whoever was young to keep them busy. Today, social media is literally an online representation of your company, and we use it to define brand and messaging as well as our values.


These days we shop online, do all of our socializing online and interact with the world online - countless times a day. It would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, and likewise, it is hard to imagine how the metaverse will come to impact our lives in the future.


As large companies start investing in this technology, you will see businesses increasingly replace their websites with online worlds, and people will adjust their standards to expect a new level of interaction. Ralph Lauren is already creating fashion for avatars in the metaverse that will make it easier for people to shop clothing online, and this is just the beginning.


So is the metaverse coming? Nope - it’s already here.


Want to see our video discussion on the metaverse? Click here.


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