The metaverse is a term used to describe a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality and the internet.
The word was coined in Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash. In Stephenson's vision of the metaverse, users donned 3D goggles and gloves and navigated through a 3D graphical environment using avatars. Users could interact with each other through their avatars, as well as access educational and entertainment content.
Today, the metaverse is used to describe any virtual space that is created by humans, where human-created objects persist regardless of whether or not an individual user is logged in to experience them. Examples include online multi-user games such as Second Life, World of Warcraft and EVE Online; multiplayer online social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter; collaborative project management services such as Basecamp; and online communities such as Flickr and YouTube.
The terms metaverse and virtual world are sometimes used interchangeably; however, the term virtual world typically refers to an interactive 3D environment that can be accessed using 3D hardware such as goggles or gloves. Metaverse usually refers to a broader concept than just three-dimensional environments. Imagine going on vacation to another dimension with your friends and family.
The metaverse is what happens when you step into your holodeck or slip on your VR headset. You'll be able to visit another dimension that has things like floating skyscrapers and flying rovers.
The most commonly cited example of a metaverse is within the sci-fi universe of Star Trek. The holodeck is a room that allows users to interact with virtual characters and environments. The holodeck represents a metaverse because it enables humans to experience another dimension, one in which you can do anything you want, like be in an adventure story or meet your favourite celebrity.
Each time you enter the metaverse it'll look a bit different, depending on who is visiting or what is going on. For example, it could look like Times Square or a beach.
Getting inside this virtual world will take some effort. You'll need to wear a VR headset — probably from Facebook, Google or Microsoft — and maybe have special controllers in your hands so you can see and move within these worlds.
But once you walk into the metaverse, you'll be surrounded by animated 3D characters and objects. You won't just hear them, but also feel them with haptic feedback. The experiences will feel real because they're largely made up of photorealistic graphics that look like the real world.
You can hang out in the metaverse with friends to watch movies or go to concerts. You could also do things with strangers like travel to Mars or hang out at Hogwarts from "Harry Potter."
Of course, all this is still years away and requires a lot of technological advances we don't yet have. But there are already companies working on turning this into reality.