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Metaverses vs. Digital Twins: Here are the differences between the two

Facebook’s discussed name change could signal a focus on creating a metaverse

VR headsets are an example of how people can enter a metaverse (Photo credit: Vinicius "amnx" Amano/ Unsplash)

There’s a lot of talk about the metaverse these days thanks to an impending rebrand from social media juggernaut, Facebook. According to the Verge, the company could announce a new name for itself by the end of October and that move could be tied towards its focus on building a metaverse. 

But what is a metaverse, exactly?  

Well, that’s a little hard to pin down as it’s not something owned or operated by a single company (for now, at least). That said, current visions for metaverses revolve around a digital space where users enter to interact with other people virtually. That’s pretty true to author Neal Stephenson’s vision of a metaverse that he first coined in 1992 with his novel, Snow Crash.


Fast-forward to today and the closest examples of metaverses include video games like Roblox, where players can craft virtual avatars of themselves and interact with others, Minecraft where users can create open-world environments other participants can join in on, and Fortnite where players can battle to the death of custom-built islands or chill out and watch virtual concerts.

If that level of world-building sounds a bit like a digital twin, that’s because they share some similarities. Like Fortnite, 3D Cityscapes’ digital twins are also powered by EPIC Games’ Unreal Engine. But broadly speaking, a digital twin is “the connection between a physical asset and its virtual counterpart. By using IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, data connect the two to allow for real-time monitoring and can help run simulations,” says
Alex Ramirez, an associate professor of information systems at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business in Ottawa.  

Ramirez is also part of Imagining Canada’s Digital Twin, a federally funded project with Carleton University investigating what it would take to build a national digital twin of Canada. 

Much like metaverses, it’s possible to build entire worlds and populate them with avatars within digital twins. Both can scale and grow as developers see fit but there are some limitations. 

It's subjective but digital twins tend to offer a higher quality of visuals vs. metaverses. (Photo credit: allinonemovie/ Unsplash)

For starters, metaverses can be created from the ground up since they don’t need to be tied to any physically existing asset. Digital twins, on the other hand, require an object or process to mirror and that has to do with sensors.   

This brings us to our next difference-maker: data. Digital twins live and die by data integration. By utilizing sensors attached to a real-world asset, real-time data forms that bridge connecting it to its virtual counterpart. Metaverses don’t necessarily need sensor data to exist on their own, though the potential to connect with real-time data could be down the road.   

There is another aspect that separates metaverses from digital twins, according to Ramirez. 

“Metaverses require a level of immersion that digital twins do not.”  

While digital twins can be utilized by anyone in the real world, metaverses typically ask users to immerse themselves by entering a virtual space. That also means there is a certain level of accessibility separating the two. While a digital twin can be viewed on a tablet, phone, or computer, immersive metaverses often require a virtual reality (VR)or augmented reality (AR) headset. 

Given that Facebook purchased Oculus, a company specializing in VR back in 2014, that could hint at the direction the company will take when it comes to building their own metaverse.  

The metaverse is “going to be a big focus, and I think that this is just going to be a big part of the next chapter for the way that the internet evolves after the mobile internet,” Zuckerberg told The Verge’s Casey Newton earlier in the summer. “And I think it’s going to be the next big chapter for our company too, really doubling down in this area.” 

Facebook is expected to announce more at their Connect Conference on Oct.28.

What makes you more excited for the future of visualization: metaverses or digital twins? Let us know in the comments below. 

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