While AR and VR technologies focus on the experience of an individual user, the logical endpoint of these technologies is a shared digital world where all of us can work and play. In 2021, Meta (formerly Facebook) announced the Metaverse, an immersive and collaborative virtual world. If Meta is to be believed, the Metaverse will someday be the place humanity spends a lot of its time. We’ll go to our virtual offices, shop in virtual stores, and hang out with our virtual friends at virtual pubs (via Interesting Engineering).
They probably aren’t wrong in concept, but this particular launch likely missed the mark. Time will tell. Still, this latest metaverse is only the most recent in a long line of similar products, each with varying degrees of success.
Active Worlds launched in 1995, allowing users to create their own virtual worlds to share with others. You can think of it almost like a Minecraft server, where you are responsible not just for populating the world, but also creating it. Today, several decades later, Active Worlds is still operational, but boasts only about 400 users at any given time.
Perhaps the most well-known metaverse, aside from Meta’s, is Second Life, but even it is struggling. It launched in 2003 and nearly 60 million people have signed up. As of 2018, however, active monthly users were around half a million, down from a million five years earlier (via New World Notes).