So what is “the metaverse,” exactly?

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These days it seems like everybody and their corporate parent company is talking about “the metaverse” as the next big thing that’s going to revolutionize our online lives. But everyone seems to have their own idea of what “the metaverse” means—that is, if they have any real idea what it means at all.

The term “metaverse” was originally coined in Neal Stephenson’s seminal 1992 cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash. In the book, the Metaverse (always capitalized in Stephenson’s fiction) is a shared “imaginary place” that’s “made available to the public over the worldwide fiber-optics network” and projected onto virtual reality goggles. In it, developers can “build buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in Reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows, special neighborhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored, and free-combat zones where people can go to hunt and kill each other.”

Meta (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues mentioned the word “metaverse” 80+ times in under 90 minutes during last week’s Facebook Connect keynote presentation, where the company announced its new name. But Stephenson has made it abundantly clear that “there has been zero communication between me and FB & no biz relationship.” That means Facebook’s interpretation of “the metaverse” might end up being quite different from what Stephenson originally described.

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