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EXPLAINER: What is the metaverse and how will it work?

by geiw5

The term “metaverse” is the latest buzzword to capture the tech industry’s imagination — so much so that one of the best-known internet platforms is rebranding to signal its embrace of the futuristic idea.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Thursday announcement that he’s changing his company’s name to Meta Platforms Inc., or Meta for short, might be the biggest thing to happen to the metaverse since science fiction writer Neal Stephenson coined the term for his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.”

But Zuckerberg and his team are hardly the only tech visionaries with ideas on how the metaverse, which will employ a mix of virtual reality and other technologies, should take shape. And some who’ve been thinking about it for a while have concerns about a new world tied to a social media giant that could get access to even more personal data and is accused of failing to stop the proliferation of dangerous misinformation and other online harms that exacerbate real-world problems.

WHAT IS THE METAVERSE?

Think of it as the internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” you can go inside of — instead of just looking at a screen. Essentially, it’s a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work, and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps, or other devices.

According to Victoria Petrock, it will also incorporate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media, an analyst who follows emerging technologies.

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

WHAT WILL I BE ABLE TO DO IN THE METAVERSE?

Things like going to a virtual concert, taking a trip online, viewing or creating artwork, and trying on or buying digital clothing.

The metaverse also could be a game-changer for the work-from-home shift amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of seeing co-workers on a video call grid, employees could join them in a virtual office.

Facebook has launched meeting software for companies, called Horizon Workrooms, to use its Oculus VR headsets, though early reviews have not been great. The headsets cost $300 or more, putting the metaverse’s most cutting-edge experiences out of reach for many. For those who can afford it, users would be able, through their avatars, to flit between virtual worlds created by different companies.

“A lot of the metaverse experience is going to be around being able to teleport from one experience to another,” Zuckerberg says. Tech companies still have to figure out how to connect their online platforms to each other. Making it work will require competing technology platforms to agree on a set of standards, so there aren’t “people in the Facebook metaverse and other people in the Microsoft metaverse,” Petrock said.

IS FACEBOOK GOING ALL-IN ON THE METAVERSE?

Zuckerberg is going big on what he sees as the next generation of the internet because he thinks it will be a big part of the digital economy.

Critics wonder if the potential pivot could be an effort to distract from the company’s crises, including antitrust crackdowns, testimony by whistleblowing former employees, and concerns about its handling of misinformation.

Former employee Frances Haugen has accused Facebook’s platforms of harming children and inciting political violence after copying internal research documents and turning them over to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

They were also provided to a group of media outlets, including The Associated Press, which reported numerous stories about how Facebook prioritized profits over safety and hid its research from investors and the public.

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