Welcome to the Metaverse

The Metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet. The word “metaverse” is made up of the prefix “meta” (meaning beyond) and the stem “verse” (a backformation from “universe”); the term is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

The term was coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional space that uses the metaphor of the real world. Stephenson used the term to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet. Concepts similar to the Metaverse have appeared under a variety of names in the cyberpunk genre of fiction as far back as 1981 in the novella True Names. Stephenson stated in the afterword to Snow Crash that after finishing the novel he learned about Habitat, an early MMORPG which resembled the Metaverse.

The concept was made famous under another term, cyberspace, which first appeared in the short story ‘Burning Chrome’ by William Gibson (Omni, July 1982) and was a central theme in his 1984 groundbreaking novel, Neuromancer. Since cyberspace has now, through common use, become a term that simply means the Internet, Metaverse is the preferred term for the concept of a virtual shared space that converges with actual reality. Unlike, for instance, in the fictional concept introduced in Neuromancer, which was typified by a Cartesian separation of body and mind, the Metaverse allows its users to access its environs but still aware of their mundane world surroundings. This is demonstrated in a technology called invisible to visible (I2V) that Nissan is developing, which overlays a car’s windshield with virtual information as well as features that include an ability to summon an in-car 3D avatar.

Since many massively multiplayer online games connecting millions of players share features with the Metaverse but only provide access to non-persistent instances of virtual worlds that are shared only by up to several dozen players, the concept of multiverse virtual worlds has been used to distinguish them from the Metaverse.

Conceptually, the Metaverse describes a future internet of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe, but common standards, interfaces, and communication protocols between and among virtual environment systems are still in development. Several collaborations and working groups have been established in an attempt to create the types of standards and protocols that would be needed to support interoperability between virtual environments, including:

  • Virtual Worlds—Standard for Systems Virtual Components Working Group (P1828), IEEE (2010–Present)
  • Information technology—Media context and control—Part 4: Virtual world object characteristics (ISO/IEC 23005-4:2011), ISO (2008–Present)
  • Immersive Education Technology Group (IETG), Media Grid (2008–Present)
  • Virtual World Region Agent Protocol (VWRAP), IETF (2009–2011)
  • The Metaverse Roadmap, Acceleration Studies Foundation (2006–2007)
  • The Open Source Metaverse Project, (2004–2008)

Many of these working groups are still in the process of publishing drafts and determining open standards for interoperability.