The term "metaverse" originated in the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash as a portmanteau of "meta" and "universe." Metaverse development is often linked to advancing virtual reality technology due to increasing demands for immersion. Recent interest in metaverse development is influenced by Web3, a concept for a decentralized iteration of the internet. Web3 and The Metaverse have been used as buzzwords to exaggerate development progress of various related technologies and projects for public relations purposes.Information privacy, user addiction, and user safety are concerns within the metaverse, stemming from challenges facing the social media and video game industries as a whole.
In 2019, the social network company Facebook launched a social VR world called Facebook Horizon. In 2021, Facebook was renamed "Meta Platforms" and its chairman Mark Zuckerberg declared a company commitment to developing a metaverse. Many of the virtual reality technologies advertised by Meta Platforms remain to be developed. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen criticised the move, adding that Meta Platforms' continued focus on growth-oriented projects is largely done to the detriment of ensuring safety on their platforms. Meta Platforms has also faced user safety criticism regarding Horizon Worlds due to the occurrence of sexual harassment on the platform. In 2021, Meta made a loss of over $10 billion on its metaverse development department, with Mark Zuckerberg saying he expects operating losses to "increase meaningfully" in 2022.
Dependence on VR technology has limited metaverse development and wide-scale adoption. Limitations of portable hardware and the need to balance cost and design have caused a lack of high-quality graphics and mobility. Lightweight wireless headsets have struggled to achieve retina display pixel density needed for visual immersion, while higher-performance models are wired and often bulky. Another issue for wide-scale adoption of the technology is cost, with consumer VR headsets ranging in price from $300 to $3500 as of 2022.
There has been no wide-scale adoption of a standardized technical specification for metaverse implementations, and existing implementations rely primarily on proprietary technology. Interoperability is a major concern in metaverse development, stemming from concerns about transparency and privacy. There have been several virtual environment standardization projects.
In a February 2022 article for The New York Times, Lauren Jackson argued that the metaverse is "stalled from achieving scale by a lack of infrastructure for both hardware and software, a monopolistic approach to platform development, and a lack of clear governance standards."
In December 2021 Raja Koduri senior vice president of Intel said that "Truly persistent and immersive computing, at scale and accessible by billions of humans in real time, will require even more: a 1,000-times increase in computational efficiency from today’s state of the art."
Information privacy is an area of concern for the metaverse because related companies will likely collect users' personal information through interactions and biometric data from wearable virtual and augmented reality devices. Meta Platforms (previously Facebook) is planning on employing targeted advertising within their metaverse, raising further worries related to the spread of misinformation and loss of personal privacy. In 2021, David Reid of Liverpool Hope University argued the amount of data collection in the metaverse would be greater than that on the internet stating "If you think about the amount of data a company could collect on the World Wide Web right now, compared to what it could collect with the metaverse, there is just no comparison."
Virtual crime like sex abuse and other user safety issues such as harassment are significant challenges with current social virtual reality platforms, and may be similarly prevalent in a metaverse. The potential presence of child predators on metaverse platforms is another concern, along with the potential for worsening child depression and loneliness. In February 2022, investigations by BBC News and The Washington Post found minors engaging in adult activities in applications such as VRChat and Horizon Worlds despite an age requirement of 13 years or older.
Metaverse development may magnify the social impacts of online echo chambers and digitally alienating spaces or abuse common social media engagement strategies to manipulate users with biased content. In 2022, Keza MacDonald of The Guardian criticized the utopianism of technology companies who claim that a metaverse could be a reprieve from worker exploitation, prejudice, and discrimination. MacDonald stated that they would be more positive towards metaverse development if it was not dominated by "companies and disaster capitalists trying to figure out a way to make more money as the real world's resources are dwindling." Marketing professor Andreas Kaplan, citing their experience studying Second Life users, argues that the metaverse may have a generally negative societal impact due to their strongly addictive potential.
Neal Stephenson's metaverse appears to its users as an urban environment developed along a 100-meter-wide road, called the Street, which spans the entire 65,536 km (216 km) circumference of a featureless, black, perfectly spherical planet. The virtual real estate is owned by the Global Multimedia Protocol Group, a fictional part of the real Association for Computing Machinery, and is available to be bought and buildings developed thereupon.
Users of the metaverse access it through personal terminals that project a high-quality virtual reality display onto goggles worn by the user, or from grainy black and white public terminals in booths. The users experience it from a first-person perspective. Stephenson describes a sub-culture of people choosing to remain continuously connected to the metaverse; they are given the sobriquet "gargoyles" due to their grotesque appearance.
Within the metaverse, individual users appear as avatars of any form, with the sole restriction of height, "to prevent people from walking around a mile high". Transport within the metaverse is limited to analogs of reality by foot or vehicle, such as the monorail that runs the entire length of the Street, stopping at 256 Express Ports, located evenly at 256 km intervals, and Local Ports, one kilometer apart.
^Grimshaw, Mark (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Virtuality. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 702. ISBN9780199826162.
^In the acknowledgments section following the text of Snow Crash, Stephenson writes: The words "avatar" (in the sense it is used here) and "Metaverse" are my inventions, which I came up with when I decided that existing words (such as "virtual reality") were simply too awkward to use.