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The mega announcement last week of Facebook rebranding as “Meta” and its commitment to leading the development of the metaverse, couldn't be ignored even in our current two-dimensional mobile world.

For some of us, the notion of the metaverse may bring up visions of “The Matrix” or maybe of Pink Floyd’s immortal Welcome to The Machine. Yet, regardless of your associations with the metaverse, there are several questions everyone should be asking now: What is the metaverse? Why is Facebook so aggressive with their goal to lead metaverse development? What is NFT’s role in the metaverse? And, why on earth should we care?

The Metaverse Explained

The term “metaverse” generally refers to shared interconnected virtual world environments that let people interact with digital objects and avatars – all of which can be accessed via the Internet.

Metaverse can also refer to digital spaces which are made more lifelike by the use of virtual reality (VR) and/or augmented reality (AR). As such, many use the word metaverse to describe gaming worlds, in which users have a character that can walk around and interact with other players.

In more technical terms, the metaverse represents the sum of all processes and protocols that power the emerging Web 3.0 and are coalescing into a fluid and interoperable space. In this realm, communications, finances, game worlds, personal profiles, NFTs, and more, where the physical world is bridged to these virtual worlds, uniting them to one continuous experience space.

Is it a PR Stunt or a Real Avenue for Growth for Facebook?

The cynics will say that Facebook (FB) is changing its name to Meta in order to divert attention from its whistle blower and leaked “Facebook Papers” trouble. Though there may be some truth to this, I believe FB is sincere in its focus on the metaverse. This focus is not new, given some of its past acquisitions, like Meta’s $2.3Bn acquisition of Oculus, back in 2014. Oculus produces virtual reality headsets, including the Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest lines.

As the world’s largest social media network, Facebook’s user-base currently sits at around 2.89 billion – more than a quarter of the world’s population. As such, Meta is seeking avenues for growth, especially since Facebook has seen steady declines in its young user base since 2019.

Leading the creation of an entirely new and exciting (and possibly even addictive) experience as part of a social network may be a solution to this growth issue the company has been longing for.

As the Metaverse Takes Off, So Will NFTs

The metaverse and NFTs have become almost analogous because of the explosion of NFTs in blockchain gaming. For many, the metaverse will materialize through virtual worlds, and interoperable games are an obvious vehicle for this. Real-life identities tied to digital avatars are just one way that the NFTs provide access to the metaverse.

Many gamification projects are moving to capitalize on the intersection between the metaverse and NFTs – promising to transform the way we interact online. NFTs may come to serve as the deed to a ‘virtual’ property, as well as a digital key that allows the owner exclusive access to enter a particular location in the metaverse, grant access to others, as well as sell the property to another inhabitant of the metaverse.

Taking this notion even further, NFT-controlled access could span a range of use cases, including VIP access to real-life events such as conventions and festivals (see my previous NFT article), as well as those occurring within the metaverse.

NFT-based augmented experiences are likely to become a cornerstone of social media experience. However, the metaverse has much further reach than just social experiences. The development of blockchain-based ID systems may accelerate the adoption of financial services in the metaverse.

All in all, NFTs can and will serve as a great bridge between the physical world and the metaverse – providing a frictionless experience for users.

Web 3.0 is the Collision of the Metaverse and Blockchain

The Metaverse is the next evolution of our connected world – combining social, gaming, digital finance, search and so much more. The transition for a metaverse existence is happening now, whether we like it or not.

While Facebook may have been the first major tech giant to make the metaverse move, we will likely see more social networks and ecosystem players heading in this direction. TikTok for example, already started flirting with NFTs last month with its TikTok Moments.

Unlike the explosion of NFTs in the digital art and collectibles arena, the metaverse evolution will take time as it involves connecting multiple worlds, an undertaking that will require evolution, maturation, commercial accessibility and seamless integration of many technologies, like VR, AR, Blockchain/NFTs etc. While this transition into a fully functional metaverse experience may take years, with smaller incremental advancements over time, there’s no doubt that the entire world is heading in this direction – impacting our lives in noticeable ways.