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Explainer: What is the 'metaverse'?

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Facebook is planning to rebrand itself with a new name to focus on the metaverse.

South Korean millennials and Gen Z are gathering on virtual alternative worlds.

The term "metaverse" is fast becoming a buzzword in tech and business.

But do you know what it means?

Here’s Reuters technology correspondent Elizabeth Howcroft.

''So the word metaverse is quite a broad term, but generally it refers to online spaces that allow people to interact in a more immersive way than in traditional website. This could be for the use of that's reality, so wearing a VR headset. But people also use the term metaverse to refer to virtual environments where you have an avatar, a literal cartoon person representing yourself, and you can walk around and interact with other people's avatars, like in a video game.''

Fans of the metaverse see it as the next stage in the development of the internet.

CEO Mark Zuckerbeg said in July that Facebook will transition from being a social media company to a metaverse company in the next five years.

They’ve already invested heavily in developing virtual and augmented reality headsets and glasses…

and will reportedly create 10,000 jobs in the European Union to bring their metaverse plans to life.

Zuckerberg avatar: ''…we shouldn't really have to physically be together to feel present or collaborate or brainstorm.''

And Facebook is certainly not alone.

Other investors and companies are getting excited about being a part of the next big thing.

The term ‘metaverse’ is popular in Silicon Valley,

with Microsoft also talking about converging the digital and physical worlds.

'‘Because of the global health crisis, over the past 18 months, more people have been working from home and going to school remotely, spending a lot more time online and missing out on human interaction. At the moment, we connect to people who aren't physically near us by going to websites such as social media platforms or using messaging apps and video calls. But now some people think there's more demand for online spaces where people's interactions can be more multi-dimensional and lifelike, allowing people to immerse themselves in digital content rather than simply viewing it. ‘’

There is also a specific type of metaverse which uses blockchain technology – the same technology that’s behind bitcoin.

One of such blockchain-based virtual world is Decentraland.

In there, users can buy digital assets such as clothes, and even land using cryptocurrencies.

Fashion companies are noticing the trend – experimenting with making virtual clothing, which people's avatars can wear in metaverse environments.

While the metaverse offers a new space for people to socialize, trade, game and even attend music concerts….right now, it’s still no comparison to the real world.

''So you might have seen the science fiction films that are set in thrash metal vessels or alternate digital worlds, they're almost indistinguishable from real physical life. But this is still the stuff of fiction at the moment. Most virtual spaces I've seen look more like the inside of video games than in real life.''