DON’T PANIC! The metaverse is coming
The metaverse is growing in popularity with consumers and businesses alike… but what is it and how will it change the world of telemedia, telecoms and payments? Dario Betti looked
The Metaverse is on its way – but should you care? Yes. The metaverse has the potential to change the way we access and think about the internet in the future; your daily life will probably be different in a few years because of it. There’s a fair amount of metaverse hysteria going on right now, and thinking about what’s next could be a very profitable move for many companies. And a few facts under your belt could provide some good protection against the current level of metaverse hysteria.
What is the Metaverse?
The Metaverse is a virtual digital world where interconnected platforms replicate and enhance real-life experiences or create new digital and hybrid services. If that didn’t help clear things up, let’s back up a bit – context will help with understanding.
The first time I tried the internet, I was watching green text codes on a black screen through a very noisy dial-up modem. It was Web 1.0, or its first incarnation: it featured hyperlinks and connected publicly accessible databases. There are millennials who will find it difficult to understand what I have just described.
It took until the end of the 1990s for web browsers, graphical interface with images, colors, audio and possibly video. It’s what we call the Web today: a PC-based interface first, but today more commonly a smartphone-based two-dimensional screen experience.
For experts, it was followed in the mid-2010s by Web 2.0 or the social component of the Web – social networks, for example. The web was not just a repository of content, but a platform to “meet people” and create content and services. The concept of the Cloud fits well here.
Web 3.0 is now emerging as a new form, where AI and Blockchain can cut out the middleman and make information and services more readily available, more private, and potentially more secure. This is still very theoretical and debated, but it assumes society will build solutions/services to problems (a distributed architecture) and reduce reliance on big tech companies running big services for everyone.
The metaverse fits here because it will be a contemporary of Web 3.0 – it refers to user experience rather than a larger role in society or technology. Imagine moving from the two-dimensional experience of a web browser screen to a three-dimensional virtual world where people, businesses and services can create a new presence or identity. You – to be more exact, your “avatar” – would move around the various shops, offices, theaters, meeting places of the Metaverse. The avatar will be able to talk with others, listen to concerts, buy items, organize meetings and work, all without needing to be physically anywhere in particular. Many of them are now available as virtual services without the new 3D interface (web conferencing, video channels, e-commerce site).
It’s also worth noting that many of these three-dimensional worlds already exist as games: Second Life, Minecraft, and Roblox are good examples of virtual games turned into virtual worlds.
How would you navigate this new world? Possibly through voice assistants (rather than URLs) and using Virtual Reality headsets or Augmented Reality interfaces (which will overlay virtual objects on a smartphone screen pointing to the area next to you.
In the future, instead of VR headsets, people might see holograms in front of them, and thanks to Web 3.0, digital currency (blockchain) items and AI assistants will make browsing easier. Yes, it sounds like an episode of Star Trek, but a lot of the technology we use today would fit well into the original TV series.
Many confuse elements of Web 3.0 with the Metaverse. Expect that in the future the terminology may be adjusted to provide better clarity and separation. But I expect continued confusion for a few years. So far, the Metaverse only refers to customer experience elements. But even these are far from simple to deliver.
We don’t 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, small communities where you can create a service. The global standard for interconnections is lacking. We won’t see truly global mass adoption of Metaverse services until there is an interconnected model of the digital world.
Many companies seem to like the potential of the metaverse and are happy to join. However, before a hasty move, we suggest taking a moment to reflect. Creating a new Internet experience is an important step: it allows us to look back and see what needs to be adjusted or improved. There’s a lot to improve in today’s customer experience before we all start getting into holograms.
Today, cyberspace is a great tool, but it suffers from major flaws. Customers and companies do not have a “real” identity on the Internet. A libertarian point of view would appreciate this, and the possibility of creating secondary or anonymous characters should be supported. However, with the history of fraud and digital crime in mind, society must address identity not as an afterthought, but as a key issue. It is time to make decisions that will have a positive impact on the lives and safety of many people, including vulnerable people 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), then click on a 2D image of Nike displayed in the results. After that you can play basketball game against other real players. There are still a lot of old-school web/app interactions in early Metaverse experiences. New models and interface modes are needed to bring a new experience. Otherwise, the Metaverse will die after a short, gadget-laden life.
Payments was not designed for the web, and while credit cards are now commonly used, it’s another afterthought with shortcomings. The concept of web 3.0 would often include a reference to “cryptocurrency”, or more simply digital currencies. In fact, most metaverse platforms have built their own blockchain currency into their system.
There is still work to be done there to clarify legal compliance and security for most of them. Facebook’s multiple attempts to create a global digital currency (Libra/Diem) have been crushed by local and global regulations. It takes more than a blockchain solution to create a digital currency: the legal framework for actual digital currency does not yet exist.
So, is the future already here? No. But that’s what makes the whole subject of the metaverse so interesting. A new wave of usability improvements is coming that will change the way we experience the internet. These may 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.
Dario Betti is CEO of MEF (Mobile Ecosystem Forum)