Explainer: What is the metaverse?

An avatar of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (left) is seen riding a hydrofoil in the metaverse during a live-streamed conference to rebrand the company as Meta. PHOTO: REUTERS/FACEBOOK

LONDON (REUTERS) - Facebook, under fire from regulators and lawmakers over its business practices, rebranded itself on Thursday (Oct 28) with a new name, Meta, that focuses on the metaverse.

The concept of the metaverse is quickly becoming a buzzword in technology and business. But what does it mean?

What is it?

Metaverse is a broad term. It generally refers to shared virtual world environments which people can access via the Internet.

The term can refer to digital spaces which are made more lifelike by the use of virtual reality or augmented reality.

Some people also use the word metaverse to describe gaming worlds, in which users have a character that can walk around and interact with other players.

There is also a specific type of metaverse which uses blockchain technology, allowing users to buy virtual land and other digital assets using cryptocurrencies.

Many science fiction books and films are set in fully fledged metaverses - alternative digital worlds which are indistinguishable from the real physical world.

But this is still the stuff of fiction. Currently, most virtual spaces look more like the inside of a video game than real life.

Why is it taking off?

Fans of the metaverse see it as the next stage in the development of the Internet.

At the moment, people interact online by going to websites such as social media platforms or using messaging applications.

The idea of the metaverse is that it will create new online spaces in which people's interactions can be more multi-dimensional, where users are able to immerse themselves in digital content rather than simply viewing it.

The accelerated interest in the metaverse can be seen as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As more people started working and schooling remotely, there has been increased demand for ways to make online interaction more lifelike.

Who is getting involved?

The idea of the metaverse is attracting a lot of interest from investors and companies keen to be part of the next big thing.

Meta chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said in July that the company will try to transition from being a social media platform to a metaverse one in the next five years or so.

The term is popular in Silicon Valley, with Microsoft also having mentioned converging the digital and physical worlds.

Meanwhile, popular children's game Roblox, which had its New York Stock Exchange debut in March, describes itself as a metaverse company.

Epic Games' Fortnite is also considered to be part of the metaverse.

Musicians, too, can do virtual concerts within these platforms.

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For example, last month, millions of people watched American singer Ariana Grande perform virtually in Fortnite, according to Epic Games.

The world's biggest fashion companies have also experimented with making virtual clothing, which people's avatars can wear in metaverse environments.

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