The Metaverse (singular, like the Internet) is defined as a persistent and interconnected network of 3D virtual worlds that will eventually serve as the gateway to most online experiences. It has been the hottest topic in the tech industry for the past two years, seen as the future of computing and the successor to the mobile internet.
However, the Metaverse buzz has faded in recent months, with Google Trends data showing that search activity for the term has now dropped back to roughly where it was before the hype train accelerated in 2021.
There are several reasons behind the stalling of this vision which expose the challenges of making it happen in reality.
Firstly, it is fair to say that generative AI such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT has stolen the Metaverse’s thunder. The technology is set to have a sprawling impact on our lives, and even Meta says AI applications will be a key priority in 2023.
Secondly, the sheer enormity of the challenge of creating the Metaverse is daunting. The computing power required to allow millions of people access to a hyper-realistic, persistent 3D world is some years away due to limitations in bandwidth and processing capability.
Thirdly, the Metaverse’s hype became self-defeating. It attracted snake-oil salesmen selling branded experiences in spaces like Decentraland with just a handful of visitors, while others re-defined spaces like Roblox and Fortnite as ‘the Metaverse’ when in reality they were talking about gaming.
Fourthly, many people lumped the Metaverse in with the decentralised vision of ‘Web3’, tied to such tech as cryptocurrency and NFTs, which have seen their own hype bubbles burst.
Finally, there are no current killer apps for the Metaverse, as nothing can be done in today’s proto-metaverses that can be considered transformative.
However, fading interest in a decelerating tech category isn’t proof that it’s destined to fade away forever. The decades-old field of AI is famous for going through multiple ‘winters’ when pessimism reigned. The Metaverse could bounce back when the technology finally catches up with its vision.
The arc of technology has always bent toward more immersive, interactive modes of computing; and computing power is increasing exponentially. So, it’s only natural to assume we’re heading for something that delivers on this promise. It just might look very different from what Zuckerberg and others had in mind and may take decades to achieve.
Time to re-focus on what’s in front of us in the present.