What is the Metaverse and how will it affect my business?
In currently understandable terms, the Metaverse is, or rather will be, a 3D version of the internet, with way more presence and engagement thanks to immersive means of access such as VR (virtual reality) headsets and wired gloves that can read your finger movements.
The internet (and I'm including the World Wide Web here) as we know it today is a largely unregulated global collection of millions of computers, following mostly common connection and communication protocols, accessed by predominantly 2D browsers and web services. If we expand that concept into a 3D virtual world and add globaly-persistent avatars (icons or figures representing real people), we will have what most technical pundits are currently referring to as the Metaverse.
The future is here already
The technology to do this already exists, and various versions of Metaverses with limited scope have been around for decades. Books and films such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One have already imagined how such a globally connected virtual world might work in the future, albeit within the standard fictional setting of fantastical graphics amid a dystopian future. But nonetheless it already exists as an established concept with participants of multiplayer games in particular, already well-versed in the pros and cons of interacting with real people, in real-time, in ways that have an immediate effect or 'presence' in their real world, despite physically being on different sides of the country or planet.
If you have participated in a Zoom meeting during the recent lockdowns, you might find this analogy easy to grasp... imagine that instead of looking at a screen of video tiles of your colleagues, you put on a VR headset and gloves, and suddenly you are sitting around a 3D virtual boardroom table, turning your head to look at digital representations (i.e. avatars) of your fellow participants, whilst the scene out of the virtual window might be anything from a rain forest to the Singapore skyline. You could actually be sitting up in bed wearing pyjamas, yet the context of your meeting will be 100% professional ...unless your hand movements give the game away that you are actually eating cornflakes during the CEO's briefing!
So what needs to happen next?
As explained, the internet is a collection of common standards for the connection and communication of basic data. It already allows for the sharing of data representing 3D objects, and it already facilitates financial transactions and even common (ish) virtual currencies, but each of these standards and constructs are 'walled gardens', operated and ultimately controlled by an organisation with responsibilities to third parties, and hence an agenda, be that altruistic, commercial or nefarious.
So if all these separate operators of walled-gardens can agree common standards for the connection and communication of each of the types of data required for a shared, 3D, more 'immersive' version of the internet, where ownership of a particular 'look' (e.g. one's avatar) or personal data and/or finances persist throughout the entire system, then that will be the illusive Metaverse that all the current hype is proclaiming will be 'the next big thing'.
This is why Facebook is currently throwing tens of millions of dollars at the concept - because it wants to be able to control and profit from whatever emerges from these formative days of the internet's replacement or expansion. And what better way to do so than by establishing new standards of connection and communication for the types of data required, and then driving the adoption of those standards by the world's biggest players on the global 'virtual scene'!
Whilst the 'new frontier', 'anything can happen' days of the internet are largely now behind us, a new digital frontier will soon be opening up in front of us. The Metaverse, as it is currently being called, is undoubtedly about to be the most talked-about, over-hyped, financially wasteful, multi-dead-end-aspects project that the world has ever known. But like it or loath it, it is going to affect real people in very real ways, regardless of what it ends up looking like when the dust settles.
To quote a line from a popular Metaverse film: "Buckle your seat-belt Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye!"
How might it affect my business?
Obviously nobody knows how things will pan out, but it doesn't take a huge imagination to think of a currently flat ecommerce website as a 3D virtual store that you can look around, tapping a few virtual buttons to see the latest Zanussi washing machine revolving in front of you life-size (virtually), and able to change its colour with the flick of a finger, all from the comfort of your home lounge.
Or if you run a hotel, how about being able to offer an immersive 3D virtual tour of a hotel room prior to a booking? ...or being able to offer your clients a seat in a fabulous virtual meeting room, or in the middle of a virtual forest, or on the surface of a virtual moon, just to show that you are a forward-looking company that is riding the wave of technological advancement?
Wherever the Metaverse concept leads us, we can be sure of only one thing: that however we try to imagine its final form, it'll be totally different once we get there. But as with most technical advancements, the early-adopters will most likely be the ones to benefit the most, so at Sinclair Design, we will be keeping a close eye on developments, ready to help our clients respond to whatever it is that websites morph into, and whatever business tools prove to be useful as the Metaverse takes shape before us.
Author: Roy Sinclair has been designing and developing websites since Noah tried to buy the domain the-ark.com. He likes to remind clients that due to the ceaseless progress of web tech, websites inevitably start to become dated on the day they are first published.