But there are a few people who have been talking about the metaverse for much longer than anyone else. These folks operate in a different part of the internet from most of us, and they've been working to create a truly next-level web experience for over two decades. If you haven't heard of them, maybe it's because they work anonymously and all sign their work with the same little logo: a cute beeple.

Beeple is actually one person — Mike Winkelmann — and he's been creating surreal short films and visual effects as an independent artist for as long as most of us have been online. He started sharing his work on the web back in 1998, and he has since amassed over 500,000 followers on Vimeo. And while Winkelmann didn't coin the term "metaverse" (that was Neal Stephenson), he has been talking about creating a new kind of virtual space for longer than almost anyone else.

Some of Beeple's early work is surreal, even dark. It's often hard to tell if he's being ironic or serious, but it always feels deliberate. For the most part, the scenes are sparse, flat and low-poly. They're like stills from experimental short films that never existed — almost like screenshots of a video game that doesn't exist either.

After a lull in Beeple’s work, things started to pick up again around 2014. The beeple logo began appearing on more and more pieces, and his surreal themes started to give way to depictions of recognizable digital objects — memes, Reddit comments, Facebook status updates — all over a stark black background.

Beeple’s work isn't just about the flatness of the internet though: he also experiments with the inherent limitations of virtual space. Sometimes, he’ll create digital paintings that show an impossible interaction between digital and physical objects — like a digital apple suspended in mid-air over a real table, or two characters sitting face to face on an actual bench. Beeple's work is like what you might see if Salvador Dali was painting the internet.

Over time, Beeple’s work has evolved in both style and scope. His critiques of the modern web aren't just limited to social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter - they also include augmented reality (AR) apps like Snapchat and Pokémon Go, smart home devices like Alexa, messaging apps like WhatsApp, and a number of other emerging technologies.

These days, it's easy to find examples of Mike Winkelmann’s work on Twitter or Facebook — even if you don’t know he's the person behind the beeple logo. But sometimes his influence is subtle, almost hidden. His ideas about creating an immersive web are everywhere, even if you don’t realize it.

In the early days of the web, most websites were just a page full of words and pictures, with no audio or video. It wasn't until the late 1990s that the first major platforms for sharing these richer multimedia experiences started popping up — platforms like YouTube, Flickr and Vimeo,  which now make up the foundation of our growing metaverse.

Today, VR and AR are widely seen as the next step in this evolution, but these new realities won't be like anything we've experienced before. Instead of just reading about an experience online, future users will be able to interact with 3D objects in virtual space — perhaps even opening up entire new worlds.