A Brief History of the Metaverse

In October 2021, it appears like the term "Metaverse" is in the news at least once a week, the most notable news this week being Facebook changing the name of its company to direct more of its efforts towards building the metaverse and reemphasize their direction toward this path to the world.
The recent surge in interest in the metaverse can be easily seen compared to other topics on Google Trends.
(Screenshot of Google Trend on October 21, 2021)
"Metaverse" has been steadily gaining traction over the past year and just this month surpassed "Deep Learning" in interest and is on track to surpass "Blockchain".
Even though the term "metaverse" is being used left and right and many big players in the tech industry are working on it, many developers and business leaders have admitted themselves that the term is not perfectly defined yet and no one knows how this new field will morph into. Besides Facebook, the most notable companies and products that are associated with the metaverse include consumer software such as Fortnite, Roblox, GatherTown, and Zepeto along with AR/VR hardware makers like Hololens and enterprise software services including the NVIDIA's omniverse, Microsoft Azure's metaverse technology stack, and Spatial to name a few.
(Screenshot of GatherTown)
With different fields and areas jumbled together within the umbrella of the metaverse, it will provide more clarity to start from the very beginning and summarize how different actors, services, and technologies came into play in different eras to form today's landscape of the metaverse.

Origin and fundamental technologies (1990s ~ Early 2000s)

The term "Metaverse" was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel "Snow Crash" and is made up of the prefix "meta" (meaning beyond) and the stem "verse" (a back-formation 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 (Wikipedia).
The fundamental backbone that supports the metaverse, which some describe as web 3.0, is the internet which was first pioneered by Tim Burners-Lee and then publicly released in early 1990s. One could also argue that modern computers, graphic processors, web browsers, 3d software, and the entire desktop OS ecosystem have been part of the foundation from the start. But the more recent and pertinent innovation has been the release of Unity in the early 2000s which lowered the barrier of entry for indie developers to build 3d software.

First Generation Services (2000s)

With sufficient development in computer graphics, processors and the software application ecosystem, numerous multiplayer 3d online games were released in the 2000s most notably:
Digital Twins (2002)
Second Life (2003)
Roblox (2006)

Gradual Adoption With Mobile and the Beginning of VR (2010s)

With better computer desktops along with game consoles such as xBox and PlayStation more multiplayer online games have gained traction in the 2010s most notably Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto Online.
While the original computing platforms and game consoles steadily gained traction, other platforms have also emerged greatly during this decade: smartphones and VR headsets. With the release of the first iPhone in 2007 and the release of the iPhone app store in 2008, mobile became the most popular computing platform for both consumers and developers. Many applications originally built for the desktop and browsers have migrated to mobile.
VR headsets which have been tried by numerous companies for decades have finally reached the consumer market with the Oculus Rift (2016) and subsequently with the Oculus Quest. Other players have released AR and VR hardware products as well including Google with the Google Smart Glasses, Microsoft with the Hololens, and Snap with Snap Sepctacles.

Recent Boom (2020 ~ Present)

The recent boom can be attributed to four factors: COVID-19, Fortnite/Roblox, Oculus, NFTs/Blockchain
1) COVID-19
The global pandemic forced many people worldwide to stay at home and increased digital consumption substantially.
2) Fortnite
Released in 2017, Fortnite became an instant hit. However it has only been recent since Fortnite started transitioning into the metaverse, becoming something more than just a video game by holding concerts by popular celebrities and becoming a place for users to not just play games but a place of sanctuary from real life to hang out with friends.
3) Oculus
The Oculus Quest 2 released in 2020 became a major hit and now accounts for 70% of the consumer VR headset market share. More distribution of VR hardware allowed many people to interact with VR software applications for the first time which led to many successful VR games such as BeatSaber and RealVRFishing.
4) NFTs
Even though the Bitcoin white paper, which first made public the idea of blockchain, was released over a decade ago in 2008, it has only been just early this year since NFTs gained major traction. NFTs started off being used for art collections and then was utilized as proof-of-ownership for any digital assets such as tweets and jpg files. NFTs have also slowly been integrated to the metaverse through proof-of-ownership of assets in games which allows users utilize their digital game assets out side of the host platform.

Future with Smart Glasses and Cross-Industry Applications

Just as the first desktop computers, internet, and smartphones have revolutionized every industry with the release of the next generation computing platform, Smart Glasses, along with the maturity of the industry standards regarding the development, distribution, and cross-platform operations, the metaverse has the potential to disrupt every aspect of human life akin to the ways the inventions mentioned above have changed our lives right before our eyes over the past several decades, within less than a lifetime.

Notable quotes by Mark Zuckerberg

"You can think about it as the successor to the mobile internet."
"you can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it. And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness."
"But the metaverse isn’t just virtual reality. It’s going to be accessible across all of our different computing platforms; VR and AR, but also PC, and also mobile devices and game consoles. Speaking of which, a lot of people also think about the metaverse as primarily something that’s about gaming. And I think entertainment is clearly going to be a big part of it, but I don’t think that this is just gaming. I think that this is a persistent, synchronous environment where we can be together, which I think is probably going to resemble some kind of a hybrid between the social platforms that we see today, but an environment where you’re embodied in it."
The History of the Metaverse (2021 FuturistSpeaker)
Metaverse Primer (2021 Matthew Ball)
Oct 21, 2021