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Gearing up for the metaverse: exploration (part one)

Gearing up for the metaverse: exploration (part one)

Metaverse is the most looked up word on search engines after Facebook renamed itself, ‘Meta.’ However, the term was coined three decades ago by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science-fiction novel, Snow Crash to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet. In the novel, people use digital avatars to explore the online world, often as a way to escape a dystopian reality.

Metaverse is projected to be the next big tech platform with double digit growth in the next five years. It is predicted to be a USD $800 billion market opportunity.  Businesses are expected to get the most out of its scope by co-creating with communities and focusing on its cost-effective and universal acceptance. 


While metaverse is being driven by technology and content; AI, augmented reality, virtual reality, IoT and Blockchain – its definition is not very clear because different individuals and enterprises are defining the term to meet their interests, purpose, use cases and understanding.

Part one of this blog attempts to describe metaverse in more detail and define its characteristics. Part two discusses the implications of metaverse existing or colliding with the real world.


Unleashing endless possibilities  


Metaverse traces its roots back to science fiction-based gaming and entertainment. Consider the film, Ready Player One where the narrator says, 'People come to Oasis for all the things they can do because of all the things they can be.'

This aligns with how the dictionary describes the word ‘meta’ – the state of being ‘beyond’ or when applied to technology, a universe beyond real life. Not dissimilar from how Second Life defines the virtual world, “...you are traveling beyond this life, where the weight of tradition cannot follow…”


There is an endless list of games such as FortniteDecentralandThe SandboxMoonieverse and more where community based co-creation and ‘play-to-earn’ platforms are being built as some form of mini-metaverses. But metaverse is not just about gaming and entertainment. 


Enterprises like Meta and Microsoft are going ahead with definitions that further their company goals, products and services – they refer to metaverse as a new way of collaboration and human connection.

A screenshot from a Microsoft Mesh demo, Source: MCGH 


Niantic, best known for scaling augmented reality with games like Pokémon Go, defines metaverse as ‘A better reality of the same universe.’ Niantic invites people to build a real-world metaverse and create immersive AR experiences using their Lightship platform designed for developers and creator communities. 


Google CEO, Sundar Pichai views metaverse as immersive computing in AR. It is no wonder that most eXtended Reality (XR) devices today run on Google’s Android OS. The tech giant is now building an operating system for AR, which could be a key enabler for metaverse devices.


Connecting people and things in metaverse


After considering multiple metaverse definitions from diverse enterprises, we observe a few common aspects to the phenomenon including co-creation, openness, currency, self-sustainability, community, collaboration and network. But before we get into a more formal definition of metaverse, let us first understand two words – metadata and Internet. 


Metadata is ‘other data,’ referring to information like email ids, phone numbers, addresses and interests. It can include people’s likes and dislikes, things we own, places we visit – all this and more is our metadata. The way in which metadata is connected to us is what we can call the Intranet of metadata. Every individual has their own metadata and we all are connected via the Internet. The evolution of this connection is the metaverse.

Metadata network: towards an open and free platform 


We would define metaverse as a universe built on the network of metadata around us. In a universe where the real and fake blur together, photo-realistic avatars make use of virtual identities, virtual intellectual properties/assets exist and virtual societies run their own virtual currencies.


We believe metaverse to be an open and independent platform that can be built upon, without any restrictions. It is also the only such platform that is interoperable and integrate-able across every kind of software and hardware. Metaverse will eventually be self-sustainable and accessible to everyone. It will have functionalities that make it permissible for anyone to buy and sell things and even earn to survive. 


In a nutshell, metaverse is the next natural step in the evolution of the Internet.


eXtended Reality clubbed with AI, IoT, Blockchain, Cloud, 5G/6G will form the building blocks of metaverse.

Building blocks of metaverse


Inching closer to tomorrow’s new Internet


Today’s rendition of 'connecting to the Internet' is soon becoming 'joining the metaverse.' And this is not just in relation to a few of the big enterprises we discussed earlier, it is about the business ecosystem as a whole. Look at The Growing List of XR Devices, where several of the hundreds of devices are leveraging the metaverse wave. 


Or consider the number of partnerships taking place to boost metaverse’s faster adoption. The Qualcomm-Snapdragon XR platform is furthering smart glass development joining hands with enterprises like Lenovo, Motorola, Niantic, holo-one and more.


One could also look at the changing nature of jobs in the market today. There is a huge demand for AR/VR engineers in recent years while the skill gap required for metaverse still exists. Metaverse needs the skills and creativity of artists, scientists, mathematicians, physicists, sound and lights technicians and more. Interestingly, story teller is a fast growing role in the metaverse space for how they could guide user experience design. Jobs titles like Chief Metaverse Officer, Metaverse Security/Safety Officer and Metaverse Planner are also fast emerging.


We are traveling faster into the future than we think. In the next five years, we will see what we have not seen in the last decade. And part two of this blog will examine key use cases and concerns of this new reality where the real world and metaverse coexist.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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