Steven Spielberg’s 2018 film “Ready Player One” introduced the audience to an entirely online universe – players with their avatars visit and perform activities on numerous worlds while interacting with (and fighting) each other. This remains fiction, but recent developments indicate that the wait might not be for long.

You may remember the “Metaverse” – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the future of the internet. It is yet to come, but the launch of the beta test of Facebook’s latest virtual reality (VR) remote workplace app Horizon Workrooms on Thursday is a step in that direction.

With this, you will feel that you and your colleagues are in an actual room as you converse and interact with each other, the only difference is that your avatars will do the actual interactions. This is a step up from the current Zoom or MS Teams meetings we have, and will be useful as the “work-from-home” trend continues to persist (and does not show signs of leaving anytime soon).

According to Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s VP of Reality Labs, The Horizon Workrooms gives “a good sense” of how the company envisioned elements of the metaverse. “This is kind of one of those foundational steps in that direction,” he said.

The app is free for users of the Oculus Quest 2 headset, which starts at $299.

Working across both virtual reality and the web, the app allows up to 16 VR headset users (a maximum of 50 participants) to meet and interact in a virtual conference room, which can be configured to suit the needs of the users. Each person will be represented by a customizable cartoon-like avatar. It is designed to improve the team’s ability to collaborate, communicate, and connect remotely, through the power of VR. Users can make presentations or share pictures on a virtual whiteboard.

You can also access your own computer from VR, take notes, and share screens. The high, quality, low-latency audio will make the conversations sound more lifelike.

If you are worried about how practical the new app will be, the fact that it is being used in Facebook’s internal meetings should assuage your fears.

Facebook has also allayed apprehensions on people’s privacy – your conversations while using Workrooms will not be used for targeted ads on Facebook.

Facebook, the undisputed king of social media, has been leaning towards VR and AR (Augmented Reality) for quite some time. It merged its AR/VR business into Facebook Reality Labs last year and acquired BigBox VR earlier this year. Its Oculus VR headsets and other AR and VR technology have been part of Facebook’s mantra of popularizing VR, as was evident from Oculus Rooms and Facebook Spaces (both were shut down later). The “Metaverse” remains Zuckerberg’s dream of a more virtual social world, and it seems that the Horizon Workrooms app is one of several tools to achieve that dream.