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What is the Metaverse? 

If you haven’t heard about the growing popularity of the Metaverse, you may be living on a different planet.

Just earlier this year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a very ambitious change in direction to his Facebook team. He proposed the creation of a virtual environment for today’s advanced tech-savvy world. This brave new voyage for the social media goliath would expand existing internet technologies utilizing general-purpose computers and smartphone augmented reality (AR), mixed reality, virtual reality (VR), and virtual world technologies. The new platform would provide a safe haven where students could learn, friends could meet, families could travel, and people could even shop for their favorite online apparel — just to name a few of its capabilities — all from the comfort of their own home or personal device.  

The Facebook Metaverse 

Zuckerberg stated that Facebook would strive to build a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences that were nothing short of a science fiction movie — the world known as the Metaverse, or Meta for short. He went on to say that the company would go far beyond its current project of building a set of connected social media apps and that they would also have hardware to support it. 

“What I think is most interesting is how these themes will come together into a bigger idea,” Zuckerberg said. “Our overarching goal across all of these initiatives is to help bring the metaverse to life.” 

How did it all begin? 

While there is a considerable interest in developing metaverse technology today, the idea is not totally new. The phrase “metaverse” was first coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel, Snow Crash. The term referred to a convergence of physical, augmented, and virtual reality in a shared online space. You may also remember the Pokémon Go craze that had people bumping into one another as they searched on practically every corner for virtual creatures, or perhaps you’ve played Fortnite, or you played along in some other form of multi-user online gaming experience. In either case, the need to combine a virtual world with our physical world continues to grow in its popularity. 

How Might the Metaverse Affect Retail? 

Augmented Reality Ecommerce 

As the number of consumers continues to glom onto a more virtual online experiences, it only makes sense for retail B2C and even B2B companies to follow suit. Amazon is already incorporating AR and VR technologies to make products more readily accessible and help ease the buyer’s decision-making process. For example, some sellers have enabled augmented reality viewing options for large home décor and furniture, as shoppers need extra confidence to purchase larger, hard-to-transport, and high-priced items online. 

Example of Amazon listing with augmented reality view.

Amazon listing of a couch

Augmented reality view is only available on mobile.

Hand holding phone

Using environments such as the Metaverse, which is building upon the new virtual comfort zone, seems to be a growing area for collaboration in the coming years. Not only will users be able to escape reality into domains of their choosing, they’ll also be able to do their shopping at the same time. From camping to cookware, faucets to fashion, gifts to gadgets, and almost everything else in between — users will soon be able to get instant gratification anytime they like.  

Virtual Reality Travel Experiences 

Imagine being able to take your entire family on an affordable first-class cruise to an exotic locale, or pulling up to your virtual high school reunion driving the latest luxury automobile. Soon, users will be able to do anything they like in style with just the click of a button. The sky really is the limit. 

Where will the Metaverse Take us from Here? 

As the world becomes more comfortable with social distancing, there is a growing need for online shopping experiences as well. In fact, many of the world’s leading retail companies are putting their best foot forward as they speculate the impact the metaverse will have on the planet. One of the world’s leading shoe manufacturers announced in November 2021 that they plan to develop, design, and deploy the first shoe that will be sold but never actually be worn. Not only will users have the option to create their own personalized avatar, they’ll have the ability to style it however they see fit. This has caused other major retailer giants to rush in and get their products in front of consumers as signs of consumption continue to grow. 

Other speculations for metaverse include improvements in workplace productivity with already existing team meeting applications. Within the education sector, it has been proposed that metaverse technologies would allow for more focused and interactive environments outside of the classroom. Many realtors have already been capitalizing on the power of virtual reality to showcase properties and offer tour listings, and the continued development of the metaverse will certainly help expand that function. But that’s only the beginning. 

Potential Risks of the Metaverse 

The notion that some companies involved will likely collect users’ personal information through wearable devices and user interactions is a growing area of concern. Another lies in the fact that Facebook is planning on persisting targeted advertising within the metaverse, raising further worries related to the spread of misinformation and loss of personal privacy.  

User addiction and problematic social media use is another area of concern within the metaverse. Internet addiction disorder, social media, and video game addiction can all have significant mental and physical repercussions over a prolonged period of time. Things like depression, anxiety, and even obesity continue to worry some experts. They also fear that the metaverse could be used as an ‘escape’ from actual reality, and close people off from physical social interactions.  

The Reality of Tomorrow is Virtual 

There is hope on the horizon, however. AR and VR improvements are becoming more precise, offering visual overlays that are highly accurate while providing greater image quality. Plus, the widespread adoption of AR and VR has become increasingly more accepted. As sensors become more and more sophisticated, their ability to reliably measure depth while consuming very little amounts of battery power has continued to improve the user experience over the past decade by leaps and bounds. 

While this territory is still somewhat unchartered, there seems to be no limit to the applications the metaverse will have within our day-to-day lives. From fictional worlds that allow us to explore augmented and virtual realities, to new and improved social interactions and action-packed adventures, the sign of an enhanced universe seems to be well within our reach. These are very exciting times we live in, and thanks to metaverse, there’s no telling how far we can go.   

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