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Is the Metaverse really the next big digital thing?

By Shannon Williams
Tue 28 Dec 2021

The Metaverse is a bit of a mystery at the moment. But if the internet is two-dimensional text and images on flat screens, then think of the metaverse as three-dimensional and multi-sensory, including touch.

That's the word of LocationTechNZ deputy chair Chris Morris, who says most agree the Metaverse represents a shared experience often in a connected 3D virtual environment.

"Understanding the metaverse is complicated, especially because it doesn’t exist yet. Since companies like Epic Games, Nvidia, Microsoft and Facebook won’t stop talking about it, there’s an evolving lexicon to describe the next iteration of the internet," he says.

From a location technology perspective, the Metaverse presents an interesting challenge. The real world obeys certain scientific laws, those of physics, thermodynamics and so forth.

"The first law of geography states everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things," says Morris.

"This law forms the basis of many of the fundamental concepts of location technology. Yet, like other scientific laws within the Metaverse, it can be bent, broken, or outright ignored."

The physical geography of the real world has been created over millennia. Mountain ranges are thrust skyward by plate tectonics, whilst deep canyons are eroded by mighty rivers. Physical geography often dictates human geography. Towns and cities rise where physical geography allows.

"Location technology has developed a set of practices, principles and algorithms which are based on the physical world. This means that location technology algorithms can’t be applied within the virtual world in their current form," says Morris.

Virtual worlds deal with real people who have real behaviours. Fortnite, by Epic Games, is often used as an example of the Metaverse. People from all over the world come together to do much more than game. Travis Scott held a virtual concert in the Fortnite platform recently, and the game has its own virtual currency.

"While the world is virtual, the players within it are human. They exhibit human traits and patterns of behaviour that we might recognise in the real world.

"For example, a player might take the shortest path between two virtual locations or might choose a starting place on a map based on the availability of resources at that place.

Alternatively, a developer might want to identify the best location of a virtual stage so Travis Scott is visible from as many places as possible within the virtual world."

Morris says understanding these patterns and challenges allows developers to improve the user experience.

"Epic might be able to answer some of these questions using proprietary tools. But for a location analytics industry to support the Metaverse a set of rules or standards are needed," he says.

"Without agreement, the Metaverse could become a series of unrelated, disparate geographics that reduce the cohesion of the Metaverse.

“Humanity faced a similar problem in the real world, but location tech experts resolved the challenge with datums," says Morris.

“The location technology industry has in-depth knowledge and experience of the real world, and that experience will be transferable into the Metaverse. 

"How do we as an industry influence the future and help build a Metaverse is a question which is still far from being answered.”

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