A hitchhiker’s guide to the “metaverse”, and why Facebook is obsessed with it

In light of Facebook’s announcement of a metaverse rollout in Europe you might be wondering, “what the heck is a metaverse?”

Facebook has shared that they’re hiring thousands of engineers across Europe to assist in the construction of what they call a ‘metaverse’. Depending on who you ask, the metaverse is the latest Silicon Valley buzzword, an unavoidable consequence of the internet, or the online world’s next big thing.

For those that would rather die than sifting through pages of technological jargon, do not fear, we have compiled a short breakdown of what this next stage of the internet will actually involve.

facebook metaverse
Image: Reddit

What is the metaverse?

Glad you asked. In short, the metaverse combines existing virtual reality technology and modern internet capabilities to deliver users an interactive digital world much like the one around us. In size and scope, at least.

This combination of technologies will allow uses to be fully immersed in a digital world like a first-person video game. In a perfect metaverse, they will also be able to interact with other users in a more “lifelike” way as opposed to traditional forms of instant messaging and social media.

If you’ve seen Reader Player One or Tron, they’re actually half-decent proposals as to what a real-life metaverse could look like. Another equivalent already exists in many video games, especially live service games with in-built stores and social networking such as Fortnite, or massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.

MMOs such as World of Warcraft, Eve Online, or The Elder Scrolls Online are great case studies, as they can include social groups for players, their own economies, and other factors that edge them towards being a more fully realised online world.

The difference between these examples and the metaverse Facebook is proposing is chiefly that one is based in fantasy, the other in reality. A Facebook metaverse wouldn’t be dominated by orcs or goblins, rather by online shops, virtual events, and more.

What can you do in a Metaverse?

Much like the internet is now, where you can shop, play games, watch live music or porn, the metaverse will allow users to do this but in a more “realistic” way.

Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies said:

“It’s the next evolution of connectivity where all of those things start to come together in a seamless, doppelgänger universe, so you’re living your virtual life the same way you’re living your physical life.”

Basically, if it exists and is popular on the internet, you can bet that somebody will find a way to bring it to the metaverse – especially if they can make a profit from it.

That said, it’s also likely that entirely new experiences will result from this technology.

fortnite metaverse
Image: Fortnite / Epic Games

Should we be scared of the metaverse?

Understandably, radical new technologies always come with some level of hesitancy and risks. Following the recent data breaches from Facebook and ongoing revelations about the company by way of whistleblowers, many are concerned that the increased level of sharing will be further detrimental to our already dwindling online privacy.

Tuong Nguyen, an analyst who tracks immersive technologies for research firm Gartner, said:

“All the issues that we have today, and then some we’ve yet to discover because we’re still figuring out what the metaverse will do.”

“I worry they’re not necessarily thinking through all the privacy implications of the metaverse.”

Which are all valid concerns, of course. Facebook has already copped backlash following their acquisition of virtual reality hardware company Oculus and the subsequent decision to force every VR user to create or log into a Facebook account.

Other concerns about a metaverse include (but are not limited to) the usual security concerns regarding any new technology, the detriment an addiction to such as online space could have, and of course, the potential interactions children or other sensitive users could experience there.