What is the metaverse?
To the outsider, it may look like a souped-up version of Virtual Reality (VR) – but some people think the metaverse could be the future of the internet.
In fact, the belief is that it could be to VR what the modern smartphone is to the first clunky mobile phones of the 1980s.
Instead of being on a computer, in the metaverse you might use a headset to enter a virtual world connecting all sorts of digital environments.
Unlike current VR, which is mostly used for gaming, this virtual world could be used for practically anything – work, play, concerts, cinema trips – or just hanging out.
Most people envision that you would have a 3D avatar – a representation of yourself – as you use it.
But because it’s still just an idea, there’s no single agreed definition of the metaverse.
So is it all about games?
No. Even though there are so many ideas about what the metaverse might be, most visions see social human interaction as the core.
Facebook, for example, has been experimenting with a VR meetings app called Workplace, and a social space called Horizons, both of which use their virtual avatar systems.
Other applications may be waiting out there, ready to be discovered.
Mr Sweeney recently told the Washington Post that he envisions a world where a car manufacturer trying to advertise a new model is “going to drop their car into the world in real time and you’ll be able to drive it around”.
Perhaps when you go online shopping, you’ll try on digital clothes first, and then order them to arrive in the real world.
Does the technology exist yet?
VR has come a long way in recent years, with high-end headsets which can trick the human eye into seeing in 3D as the player moves around a virtual world. It has become more mainstream, too – the Oculus Quest 2 VR gaming headset was a popular Christmas gift in 2020.
The explosion of interest in NFTs, which may provide a way to reliably track ownership of digital goods, could point to how a virtual economy would work.
And more advanced digital worlds will need better, more consistent, and more mobile connectivity – something that might be solved with the rollout of 5G.
For now, though, everything is in the early stages. The evolution of the metaverse – if it happens at all – will be fought among tech giants for the next decade, or maybe even longer.