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What are enterprise leaders to make of a fast-evolving, hyped-up concept that could fundamentally change how humans live? TechTarget's in-depth guide to the metaverse breaks down where this nascent technology revolution stands today and where it is headed. Topics include the technologies and platforms that support the metaverse, its benefits and challenges, how to invest in it, its history, why the metaverse is important and its impact on the future of work.


Throughout the guide, there are hyperlinks to in-depth explorations of these and other relevant topics, as well as to definitions of important concepts in the metaverse such as interoperability, digital twins, spatial computing and Web 3.0.


"Metaverse" became a household word when Facebook rebranded its corporate identity to Meta in October 2021 and announced plans to invest at least $10 billion in the concept that year. In addition to Meta, tech giants including Google, Microsoft, Nvidia and Qualcomm are also investing billions of dollars in the concept. Management consultancy McKinsey & Company has bullishly predicted that the metaverse economy could reach $5 trillion by 2030. E-commerce is expected to be the dominant engine, with gaming, entertainment, education and marketing in the metaverse also becoming important sectors.


Today, companies use the term to refer to many different types of enhanced online environments. These range from online video games like Fortnite to fledgling virtual workplaces like Microsoft's Mesh or Meta's Horizon Workrooms to virtual dressing rooms and virtual operating rooms. Rather than a single shared virtual space, the current version of the metaverse is shaping up as a multiverse: a multitude of metaverses with limited interoperability as companies jockey for position.


The combination of uncritical enthusiasm for the metaverse and deep uncertainty about how it will pan out has sparked some backlash. Industry watchers have questioned if the metaverse will ultimately be much different from the digital experiences we have today -- or, if it is, whether the masses will be willing to spend hours a day in a headset navigating digital space.


"It is clear that it is one of the most highly anticipated technology evolutions of the coming decade," Dave Wright, chief innovation officer at IT provider ServiceNow, told TechTarget writer George Lawton in "History of the metaverse explained."


The metaverse is a vision of what many in the computer industry believe is the next iteration of the internet: a single, shared, immersive, persistent, 3D virtual space where humans experience life in ways they could not in the physical world.


Some of the technologies that provide access to this virtual world, such as virtual reality (VR) headsets and augmented reality (AR) glasses, are evolving quickly; other critical components of the metaverse, such as adequate bandwidth or interoperability standards, are probably years off or might never materialize.


The concept is not new: The term metaverse was coined in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash, and work on the technologies that underpin a virtual reality-based internet date back decades.


We can expect many variations on the theme of this ambitious vision, explained Lawton in his article on top predictions about the metaverse. Some predict that a handful of platforms will ultimately dominate the space, as Apple iOS and Google Android did with mobile.


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, later made into a movie by Steven Spielberg, was another novel that helped popularize the idea of the metaverse. The 2011 dystopian sci-fi novel is set in the year 2045, where people escape the problems plaguing Earth in a virtual world called The Oasis. Users access the world using a virtual reality visor and haptic gloves that let them grab and touch objects in the digital environment.


Whether VR and AR experiences turn out to be the primary interfaces of the metaverse remains to be seen, Gartner senior principal analyst Tuong H. Nguyen told Lawton, adding that what we have now are precursors or pre-metaverse solutions.


At present, many of the metaverse-like experiences offered by gaming platforms such as Roblox, Decentraland and Minecraft can be accessed through browsers or mobile devices and a fast internet connection.


In her article "7 top technologies for metaverse development," technology writer Esther Shein explained that industry watchers shy away from codifying the technologies that will power the metaverse. This is in part because the metaverse is evolving and partly because many of the tools driving the metaverse are themselves made up of multiple technologies.


Gartner, for example, prefers to describe metaverse technologies in terms of "tech themes." The themes include spatial computing, digital humans, shared experiences, gaming and tokenized assets. Forrester Research characterizes metaverse tools as "enablers of 3D development environments." Professionals skilled in 3D modeling and IoT for developing digital twins are among the talent companies will need to recruit for.


The metaverse doesn't compete with the internet -- it builds on it. The internet is something that people "browse," but people can "live" in the metaverse to a degree. The growth of the internet has spawned many services that are leading the way to the creation of the metaverse.


"In gaming, you see Roblox, Minecraft and other immersive video games -- and even Zoom -- foreshadow what the metaverse is designed to offer," said Ben Bajarin, CEO and analyst at Creative Strategies.


Web 3.0, or Web3, is the term used to denote a new blockchain-based version of the internet. "Web 3.0 vs. metaverse: How are they different?" unpacks the links and distinctions between the two concepts and explains how a decentralized Web3 aims to give users more control over their browsing experience.


The online gaming industry has decades-long experience in creating immersive virtual worlds. And to the extent a proto-metaverse has a mainstream use, the massive audiences that flock -- albeit not synchronously -- to the likes of Roblox, Epic Games and Decentraland suggest that playing games, building virtual worlds and investing in real estate might be it.


Enterprises are experimenting with metaverse applications in the workplace that build on the virtual applications companies deployed during the pandemic to support remote work. An early application of metaverse technologies involves workplace training. Some hospitals are already using VR and AR to train for common medical procedures, reported TechTarget news writer Esther Ajao. One technology recently approved by the FDA is Medivis, an AR surgical system that lets surgeons quickly sync with a hospital's digital imaging system. Other metaverse-type applications she wrote about in her article, "Enterprise applications of the metaverse slow but coming," include the following:


Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) figure to play a big role in the usefulness and popularity of the metaverse. NFTs are a secure type of digital asset based on the same blockchain technology used by cryptocurrency. Instead of currency, an NFT can represent a piece of art, a song or digital real estate. An NFT gives the owner a kind of digital deed or proof of ownership that can be bought or sold in the metaverse.


Metaverse Group bills itself as the world's first virtual real estate company. It acts as an agent to facilitate the purchase or rental of property or land in several metaverse virtual worlds, including Decentraland, Sandbox, Somnium and Upland. Offerings include conference and commercial spaces, art galleries, family homes and "hangout spots."


While the metaverse has created opportunities for new companies such as Metaverse Group to offer digital goods, established brick-and-mortar companies are also jumping in. For example, Nike acquired RTFKT, a startup that makes one-of-a-kind virtual sneakers and digital artifacts using NFTs, blockchain authentication and augmented reality. On its website, RTFKT said it was "born on the metaverse, and this has defined its feel to this day."


"NFTs and blockchain lay the groundwork for digital ownership," said Nick Donarski, co-founder of Ore System, an online community of gamers, content creators and game developers. "Ownership of one's real-world identity will carry over to the metaverse, and NFTs will be this vehicle."


Meta. "From now on, we will be metaverse-first, not Facebook-first," wrote CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his October 2021 announcement of the branding change. That's an important change because it means users eventually won't need a Facebook account to use other services in the metaverse. Among other non-Facebook products, Meta has already sold millions of its Meta Quest -- formerly Oculus -- VR headset units for navigating the metaverse.


In the Meta announcement, Zuckerberg said the company aims to accelerate the development of the fundamental technologies, including social platforms and creative tools, required to "bring the metaverse to life." After the rebrand news dropped in late 2021, Meta launched Horizon Worlds, a VR space that users can navigate as an avatar, along with tools for developers to create additional virtual worlds. Meta's massive investment in the metaverse is considered a gamble by investors as the company experiences revenue declines and layoffs in an uncertain economy. 041b061a72


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