YOU’VE probably at least heard the term “metaverse”. Turn on the television, and there are adverts a-plenty.

Go see a movie, and it’s the same story. Meta – the company formerly known as Facebook – is particularly keen to let you know how much of a difference-maker it could be. But these commercials can be…a little nebulous. They suggest something new, something exciting – an immersive virtual world that will dramatically change our lives – without sharing much information as to how exactly this will work.

There’s a good reason for that. Hype and fanfare notwithstanding, the metaverse – or Meta’s version of it, at least – doesn’t yet exist. It’s a technological promise. If that promise is fulfilled – and given the amount of investment involved here, it almost certainly will be – we’re looking at the next iteration of the internet.

But what exactly does that mean? Well, in simple terms, it’s the internet we know today, but in 3D. To expand on that very basic explanation – once it’s up and running, you can expect an immersive, digital world that exists in parallel with our own word. A second reality, that changes the way we live our lives.

Big ideas that fail to deliver are hardly a new phenomenon, and, yes, it’s easy to roll your eyes at the bold promises made by the companies involved; but remember, people dismissed the world wide web during its early days too.

So why should the metaverse be of interest to you? Well, imagine catching up with a friend who lives on the other side of the world in a vibrant, virtual world without having to leave your home. How about the ability to shop in a virtual marketplace; with the ability to browse a realistic environment, and “stumble” across deals.

Imagine attending a virtual wedding ceremony, for which geography has provided no boundary. As the debate rages on regarding the benefits of remote working versus office working, perhaps the ability to interact in a lively, virtual workplace will deliver a middle ground both sides of the debate can agree on. The potential is enormous. Yes, some of these ideas sound fanciful, and perhaps even far-fetched. Here’s the thing, though – many components of the metaverse already exist, and are proving extremely popular.

If you ask almost any young person today to explain Roblox to you, they will be able to clearly explain how it allows you to seamlessly escape the reality of the physical world, to the exciting virtual worlds of Roblox.

With 204,000,000 active users, it’s little surprise that major companies have been looking to get their slice of the pie; the latest being the high street store Forever 21. Users can now manage their own stores, selling the latest fashion designs. Fun for them, and a great marketing tool for Forever 21. A generation of young people are already familiar with a precursor to the metaverse – it’s not at all difficult to imagine them “graduating” to advanced iterations of this concept.

There is another powerful reason for the metaverse to succeed – the rise of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). You might flinch at their very mention – but stick with me here. As the metaverse continues to grow, so will the use of digital forms of payment; simply because it makes it much easier to exchange resources on a global level. For some organisations, this means inevitable expansion – and that in itself is likely to spark mainstream adoption of this platform.

The belief is that investments in the metaverse will take around a decade to pay off; but the metaverse itself may well be here sooner than you might think. This, of course, depends on choices made by stakeholders; but ambitious metaverse development is already underway.

Microsoft’s $70 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard will create building blocks for the metaverse, and on a broader scale there has been an increase in the sheer volume of investments by tech giants such as Google, Apple and, of course, Meta. If they’re invested in its success, you can be sure that it’s not going to quietly disappear.

In fact, in a recent report, investment banking giant JP Morgan estimated that $1 trillion of company revenues could come from the metaverse by 2026. In short, just because you can’t see it yet, doesn’t mean that big moves to ensure it works aren’t being made.

Like the internet, the metaverse will shift and evolve; developing into something fit for widespread use. It’s success isn’t inevitable – but it certainly seems likely. If it does succeed, we will all experience a monumental shift over the next decade – something some will find exciting; others, slightly alarming. If it does not – we will have witnessed one of the biggest tech industry flops history has ever seen. Either way, the next few years will be interesting.

Dr King Omeihe is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Entrepreneurship at the University of the West of Scotland