What is the metaverse? A simple definition.

By Johannes Ernst


Mark Zuckerberg recently dedicated a long interview to the subject, so the metaverse must be a thing. Promptly, the chatter is exploding. Personally I believe the metaverse is currently underhyped: it will be A Really Big Thing, for consumers, and for businesses, and in particular for commerce and collaboration, far beyond what we can grasp in video games and the likes today.

So what is it, this metaverse thing? I want to share my definition, because I think it is simple, and useful.

It’s best expressed in a two-by-two table:

How you access it:
physically vs. virtually
Where it is:
in physical or virtual space
The virtual world, accessed physically:
Augmented Reality
The virtual world, accessed virtually:
today's internet and future virtual worlds
The physical world, accessed physically:
our ancestors exclusively lived here
The physical world, accessed virtually:
the Internet of Things

By way of explanation:

  • There is physical space – the physical world around us – and virtual space, the space of pure information, that only exists on computers.

  • Our ancestors, and we so far, have mostly been interacting with physical space by touching it physically. But in recent decades, we have learned to access it from the information sphere, and that’s usually described as the Internet of Things: if you run an app to control your lights, or open your garage door, that’s what I’m talking about.

  • So far, we have mostly interacted with virtual space through special-purpose devices that form the gateway to the virtual space: first computers, now phones and in the future: headsets. I call this accessing virtual space virtually.

  • And when we don our smart glasses, and wave our arms, we interact with virtual space from physical space, which is the last quadrant.

In my definition, those four quadrants together form the metaverse: the metaverse is a superset of both meatspace and cyberspace, so to speak.

This definition has been quite helpful for me to understand what various projects are working on.