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The metaverse is coming, so what is it?

207’s tech guy weighs in on the virtual world that may change everyone's lives — or not.

PORTLAND, Maine — Folks may have heard the parent company of a particular social media platform with at least a couple of billion active users recently changed its name from Facebook to Meta.

Why the new name? It was, NPR reported, "an apparent effort to recast the company's public image from battered social network to tech innovator focused on building the next generation of online interaction, known as the 'metaverse.'"

The change generated a lot of news coverage, as did the vicious selloff of Meta stock earlier this month that erased more than $200 billion in value in a single day. All of this may have people wondering: What is the metaverse anyway?

It's a good question, one 207's tech guy had an answer for, Rich Brooks of Flyte New Media in Portland. Here are the talking points he provided.

Question: Let's start at the beginning. What exactly is the metaverse?

That's the billion-dollar question. In part because different people and different companies define it differently. For some, it's the next evolution of virtual and augmented reality. For others, it's an immersive internet that you are part of.

The other issue is that whatever the metaverse becomes, the world is just at the very early stages of it now. It would be like asking someone in 1993 what the internet is and expecting them to describe what everyone has today. Or looking at a baby and describing the adult it will become.

But, I'm guessing that's not a very satisfying answer, so let me try this:

It's a virtual world where you interact with other people, places, and things through your avatar — or a virtual, digital version of yourself. In my opinion, The Oasis in the story "Ready Player One" is probably closest to how I envision it.

Question: Why is it called the metaverse?

It came from another book, "Snow Crash," by Neil Stephenson. In that book, it's a combination of virtual reality, augmented reality, and the internet.

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Question: Are there working examples of the metaverse today?

Yes, again, depending on your definition. Shared virtual worlds like Second Life were early examples. Virtual concerts in Fortnite are another. The Occulus VR headsets. A lot of video games where you can play with others online, such as Roblox or even World of Warcraft.

Question: Why are companies so excited about the metaverse?

Money, mostly. In the same way, companies raced to own the internet — or parts of it — so will companies like Facebook (Meta) look to own the metaverse. 

Maybe it will be the hardware you need to access it, the bandwidth you need to enjoy it, or selling you the virtual products and real estate you'll want to own in this brave new world.

Question: You run a digital agency, and you're our tech guru...what do you think?

If history's any indicator, some promises will fall way short. And in other cases, it will be beyond our current imagination.

I don't want to don VR glasses to ask Google if my favorite restaurant is open, so I'm less excited about an "immersive" internet. However, I liked the ability to have Zoom family reunions in the early days of COVID, so the idea that my friends and family could be anywhere in the universe but could come together in the metaverse is interesting.

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Right now, most of the talk around the metaverse is visual and auditory, with some discussion around touch sensory. There's no serious discussion I saw around smell or taste. So as far as that goes, you'll still have to enter the real world to smell the salt air off the coast of Maine or enjoy a lobster roll.

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