Metaverse? Demystify! Debunk! Design! Deliver!

The tech world has gone seriously crazy – as often happens – on a new trend: the Metaverse. Should you? Well, no. Continue to read this article though; the Metaverse has the potential to change how we will access and think about the Internet in the future.

It might not be immediate, but your daily life is likely to be different in a few years because of it. Reflecting on what is coming next could be a very profitable move for many companies. And getting a few facts under your belt might provide good protection from the current Metaverse-hysteria.


The Metaverse is Cool

Looking at what other big players are doing shows that the Metaverse is hugely important. As an example, Facebook changed its corporate name in honour of this trend. Microsoft’s CEO acknowledged that their latest and largest acquisition ($68.7 billion for the game maker Activision Blizzard) was a side bet in games but also a bigger step towards the Metaverse, and the next Internet.

The history of these two companies reveals that 1) they were slow to adapt to new technologies; and 2) now they do not seem to want to miss the next evolution. Microsoft initially underplayed the Internet and had to manage an expensive, though very successful, turnround. Similarly, Facebook was too slow to pick up the mobile internet. As a result, it had to acquire emerging competitors such as Instagram and WhatsApp which were threatening to eclipse the social network with their mobile apps.

Facebook is looking for a new growth story too, as its core business matures (user acquisition and usage in the social network is flattening). Both companies seem to have learnt from this and don’t what to miss the boat on this evolution of the Internet.

There is a growing number of companies offering a flavour of the Metaverse. Google is working on a Metaverse updated version of its famous interactive glasses. Epic Games has raised $1bn towards their internal development of a Metaverse. If you want to excite a venture capitalist the word ‘Metaverse’ will be a plus.


Defining the Metaverse

The Metaverse is a virtual digital world where interconnected platforms replicate and improve real-life experiences or create new digital and hybrid services. This definition may not provide the clarity we need.

Let’s look at this in context. The first time I used the Internet I saw green text codes on a black monitor screen accessed via a noisy dial-up modem. This was the ‘Web 1.0’: it had hyperlinks and it was connecting publicly available databases. Many millennials would struggle to understand this historic reality.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the web browsers, graphical interface with pictures, colours, audio, and eventually video became available. Nowadays we refer to this as the Web: a PC-based interface first, today more commonly a smartphone-based two- dimensional screen experience.

In the mid-2010s, for the experts, this was followed by ‘Web 2.0’ or the social element of the web including social networks. The web was not only a repository of content but also a platform to ‘meet people’ and create content and services. The concept of the Cloud fits here.

Now, ‘Web 3.0’ is emerging as a new form, where AI and Blockchain can cut out intermediaries and make information and services more readily available, more private, and potentially more secure. This is still very theoretical and debated, but it assumes that society will work out solutions/services to problems (a distributed architecture) and it will reduce our dependence on big technology companies running large services for all.

The Metaverse fits here, contemporaneous with Web 3.0. It is about the user experience rather than a grander role in technology or society. Imagine moving from the two-dimensional experience of a web browser screen to a three-dimensional virtual world where people, and businesses can create a new identity or presence.

You, or rather your ‘avatar’, will move across the different shops, theatres offices, and other meeting places in the Metaverse. The avatar will be able to chat with others, buy items, listen to concerts, conduct meetings and work, without being physically present anywhere in particular. A lot of this is available today as virtual services without the new 3D interface (web conferences, video channels, e-commerce site).

Of course, many of these three-dimensional worlds exist already in the form of games: Second Life, Roblox, and Minecraft are good examples of virtual games turned into virtual worlds.

How will you navigate this new world? Possibly by voice assistants (instead of URL addresses) and using Virtual Reality headsets or Augmented Reality interfaces – these will superimpose virtual objects on a smartphone screen pointing at the area next to you.

In future, rather than VR headsets you might be able to see holograms in front of you, and thanks to Web 3.0 the elements of digital currency (blockchain) and AI assistants will help navigation. It does sounds like an episode of Star Trek, that’s because much of the technology we use today would fit nicely in the original TV series.


The Metaverse Debunked?

Many confuse the elements of Web 3.0 with the Metaverse. In the future, the terminology is likely to be adjusted to provide greater clarity and separation. However, I expect continued confusion for a couple of years. At present, the Metaverse refers to the customer experience elements only. But even these are far from simple to deliver.

We do not have a ‘Metaverse’ yet. The idea of the Metaverse is still based on a similar concept of the World Wide Web – it should be a global interactive platform where interoperable worlds are connected. Currently, there are many meta-islands, or meta walled gardens, and smaller communities where you can build a service.

The global standard for interconnections is missing. History has not been very kind to digital walled gardens, the Internet model has displaced the non-connected services. The same will apply to the Metaverse. We will not see real global mass take-up of Metaverse services until there is an interconnected model of the digital world.

Get ready for a long list of companies that want to build the new web interface: HyperVerse, Sandbox, Decentraland, Naka, Nakamoto, MetaHero, Star Atlas, Bloktopia, Roblox, Stageverse, and Spatial are some of the names you will encounter. Few will still be here in three years’ time – many will be bought, merged, or abandoned.

The real innovation will arrive when, either a platform becomes dominant, or when a global virtual standard will take place. Neither seems to be close.



Design: Time to Design a New World

Many companies seem to love the potential of the Metaverse and are happy to join in. However, before a hasty move we would suggest taking a moment to reflect. The creation of a new Internet experience is a big step: it allows us an opportunity to look back and see what needs to be adjusted or improved. There is much that needs to be improved in today’s customer experience before we all start jumping into holograms.

Today, cyberspace is a great tool but one that suffers from some big flaws. Customers and businesses do not have a ‘real’ identity on the Internet. A libertarian view would welcome that, and the potential to create secondary or anonymous persona should be supported. However, the history of fraud and crime on digital shows that society needs to address identity, not as secondary after-thought, but as a key issue. It is time to take decisions that will positively impact the life and security of many, including the vulnerable and minors.

Navigating the Metaverse today is a traditional experience. To enter Nike’s ‘Metaverse’ experience in Roblox you need to download the Roblox app, search for Nike (by typing) and then clicking on a 2D picture of Nike showing in the results. After that you will be able to play a basketball game against other real players.

There are still a lot of old-fashioned web/app interactions in the early Metaverse experiences. New models and interface modes are needed to bring a new fresh experience. Otherwise, the Metaverse will die after a short gimmick-laden life.

Payments were not built for the web, and while credit cards are now commonly used this is another after-thought with shortcomings. The concept of web 3.0 would often include a reference to ‘Crypto Currency’, or more simply digital currencies. In fact, most metaverse platforms have built their own blockchain currency in their system.

There is more work to be done there to clarify the legal compliance and security for most of these. The multiple attempts by Facebook to create a global digital currency (Libra/Diem) were crashed by local and global regulations. It takes more than a blockchain solution to create a digital currency: the legal framework for real digital money does not yet exist.


Delivery: Adopt New Technologies Now

So, is the future already here? NO. But that is what makes the entire topic of the Metaverse so interesting. A new wave of usability improvements is coming, which will change the way we experience the Internet. These might not replace the web as we know it, but they will complement and expand it. We have time to understand, plan, test and deliver a new experience.

We might want to drop the term Metaverse for a while, but the technology behind the concept is worthy of a deep review. If you run a business this is an important moment to plan and prepare for what is coming next. Let other people fight on definitions and discussion around the hype of Metaverse.

However, you should consider the opportunities that a virtual 3D world provides for your business. It might not be the true Metaverse yet, but today virtual reality or augmented reality can help you build an advantage. Understand where there could be valuable for you. Do not join in just because of the trend.

It is important to consider the digitalisation of your value creation: how can AI and blockchain help support a new customer experience or increase production efficacy? How can a better digital payment better support your transactions? How can you secure the digital identity (or identities) of your business and your customers?

These are important and exciting questions to ask. Then create a strategy to focus on those advances that could make the biggest difference to your business.

Dario Betti is CEO of MEF (Mobile Ecosystem Forum) a global trade body established in 2000 and headquartered in the UK with members across the world. As the voice of the mobile ecosystem, it focuses on cross-industry best practices, anti-fraud and monetisation. The Forum provides its members with global and cross-sector platforms for networking, collaboration and advancing industry solutions.


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