Since its early days, the Internet has evolved into a very different version of the thing it started out as. Look anywhere online today, and you’ll be swarmed with news headlines and social media posts. Media content has exploded in popularity, and the market is hungry for more.
Of all the biggest headlines at the moment, there is no question that the Metaverse is one of the hottest topics of conversation in 2022. CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg and Satya Nadella from Microsoft talk about the Metaverse being the future of the Internet and, while this may be hard to determine at this early stage in its development, it’s clear people are starting to take an interest in this emerging tech.
On October 28, 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was rebranding Facebook to Meta, dedicating full focus on its future to the Metaverse. A Metaverse is a virtual universe with endless possibilities, where real life users can connect to a virtual reality. Yes, like one of those virtual realities you see in movies.
The truth is, this term is not as new as you may think. It was actually originated by sci-fi novel author, Neal Stephenson, in his 1992 book, Snow Crash. In this novel, Stephenson describes a “Metaverse” as a digital world with its own ecosystem, existing alongside the real world we currently live in.
Although many technology experts in 2022 believe that the Metaverse in question might not be able to evolve into a world that parallels real life, one thing is for sure: it is impossible to separate Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the Metaverse with this idea.
An Emerging Business Tool
Many companies are beginning to jump on the bandwagon, realizing their own vision for a new digital world and, more importantly, a new world economy. A place where users can create, buy, and sell goods just like they would in real life. In the Metaverse, users will take virtual items such as clothes, cars and other assets from one platform to another, utilizing new technologies like NFTs, and interact with them in ways they haven’t even dreamed of yet. While this is a lot more complex than it sounds, Facebook is already ahead of the curb in solving these complexities and dozens of others.
The most important characteristic of the Metaverse is the virtual world which you can explore using your computer, mobile device, gaming console, wearable technology or other devices capable of creating 3D graphics and connecting to the virtual world.
On March 25, 2014, Facebook announced the acquisition of Oculus VR, Inc., the leader in immersive virtual reality technology, for $2 billion. At the time, several different industries were experimenting with the application and reach of this technology beyond “just gaming”. Facebook saw this same opportunity for VR, as a powerful candidate for the emerging social era of future communication, media, entertainment, education and social connectivity.
Facebook is known for employing some of the most talented software engineers and developers and consistently exceeding the limits of what is possible with their technology. In July of 2021, Facebook announced further information pertaining to the ongoing Metaverse project, specifically identifying the team responsible for building it out. In October of 2021, Andrew Bosworth, who is serving as the current head of hardware, was elected to the role of chief technology officer, starting in 2022. As part of their third-quarter earnings report in October 2021, the company announced the implementation of their hardware division, Reality Labs.
A Major Investment
In addition to the announcement, Facebook revealed its plan to invest a breathtaking $10 billion over the next year to develop the necessary technologies that will help build the foundation for the Metaverse. “Our hope is that, within the next decade, the Metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers,” Zuckerberg wrote in October.
An interesting part of these recent developments is the understanding that this development will make communication more natural compared to what people are currently familiar with, ie. basic video conferencing. As the current limitations in single video square frames will highlight, in the meta, you have far more room to maneuver. Your character will have the ability to walk around and turn your head to look at other people, creating a more realistic experience, similar to if you were to actually attend that meeting in person.
Changing the Technological Landscape
When the Internet first arrived, it started with different types of technology connected to each other in series, a network which slowly grew and shaped itself into what it is today. For example, the ability to let computers communicate with each other across great distances, or even the ability to hyperlink one website to another. These features were the building blocks that laid the foundation we know as the Internet, leading the way for future applications, sites, social networking, and everything else that uses the Internet for its core operation.
With the Metaverse, a similar foundation needs to be deployed to create this vision of an emerging future. Some of the foundational building blocks of this work include things like being able to host hundreds of people in a single server instance, platforms growing from thousands to tens of millions, all joining the virtual world at once, and motion tracking tools to accurately distinguish where a person is looking or how their body parts are positioned.
The best features of what new technology has to offer are also usually exciting and futuristic-feeling for the end user. It’s important to keep in mind there are possible limitations and roadblocks that need to be overcome to successfully establish this tech. At the moment, VR headsets aren’t 100% clear in terms of visual resolution, and many people experience motion sickness or various physical pains if they wear a headset for too long. Augmented reality glasses also face similar challenges, as it isn’t clear how or even if people can be expected to wear them for long periods of time without issues.
Social community platforms like Reddit have been swarmed with rumors of Facebook’s potential collaboration with next level smart contact lens technologies to develop contact lenses that last for long periods of time without needing to shower or even remove the lenses during sleep. This sort of complex technology could be potentially life-changing to the Metaverse market, addressing the issues of motion sickness, wearability, and need to remove the unit from your eyes. In fact, users will have the ability to shut the technology side of the lens down and enter into the real world anytime they desire. This would completely change the way we interact with our technology, as this implementation would potentially eliminate display screens, shaping our reality into something more futuristic, advancing more than a few of the ways in which we live.
Of course, these rumors haven’t been confirmed by Facebook officials, as of yet, and this is only Internet speculation, connecting dots across various breaking advancements that are taking place across the globe.
A Whole New Digital Life
Historically, the one platform to come close to embodying the idea of the Metaverse is the game Second Life. This is a simulation designed to give users a real life interactive virtual reality experience through designated avatars. These online avatars can eat, sleep, shower, shop and various other things imitating everyday life.
But the reach of modern technology has pushed this idea much further. As the biggest movers and shakers in the business industry begin setting up their own shops in the Metaverse, we are seeing the early blueprints for how people will absorb the digital environment. Moreover, how money can actually be earned inside this digital realm.
For fashion brands, toy manufacturers and other companies with their own value propositions, this online world would let users interact with their products on an international scale. Avatars are able to wear different designer clothing, wear your favorite jewelry, and decorate your actual house with your favorite art. Shoe giants, Nike, recently purchased a virtual shoe company that makes NFTs and sneakers strictly for the Metaverse. Companies like Jimmy John’s and Pizza Hut have also joined, and are building their own versions of this infrastructure. Yahoo is launching Metaverse events for Hong Kong residents. Lowe’s has also entered the Metaverse, with aims to help consumers visualize their projects.
While the vast majority of big name brands and lesser known companies are eyeballing the Metaverse for advertising, some already have started to make money. Gucci and Nike are two well-known brands that have sold and are currently selling products in the Metaverse, according to the latest reports. In January of 2022, Gap Inc sold digital hoodies through NFTs, part of an early test conducted to outline what doing business in the Metaverse could look like. It wasn’t long after the first batch of NFT hoodies to completely sell out. Gap released more in April, quickly selling out after the release. The company claims to have bigger plans to help contribute to the advancement of the Metaverse.
Experts suggest companies wanting to enter the Metaverse do their due diligence before investing. This research is just like any other marketing decision a business owner could make before taking the leap. It’s best to use tools like Google Trends to identify which Metaverses are getting the most attention in terms of traffic and see the most popular regions. It is safe to say that, knowing which Metaverses are acquiring the most traffic, you can identify competitors who have created profitable integrations and marketing activities.
Twitter is a great outlet for doing deep dive research. Users can often discover more information about certain topics that will complete the information puzzle. For example: Dolce & Gabbana is working on Decentraland, which is a Metaverse fashion week. Just by searching for relevant hashtags, you can gain feedback on the success of the activation. Identifying competing influencers can expose you to future Metaverse campaigns which can bring you opportunities to design assets for your own brand.
As of right now, it is still too early to determine a full vision for how this evolution of the Internet will play out, but experts describe it as far more immersive than the existing surface of current online offerings, with much higher quality, three dimensional imagery, and more interactivity. Users of this tech will feel as if they are connected to a digital world and are able to feel everything from the digital content they interact with, enabling them to experience what’s even impossible in the real world.
The idea of being able to socialize, meet others and do things your physical self is limited from doing has many supporters excited about this idea. As Facebook continues working in secrecy to find the opportunities this new technology can bring to light, Stephenson’s original vision is clear on the benefits of the Metaverse entering the lives of everyday people. This is a development filled with possibilities for both harm and benefit. Anything from addiction to actual crime is as on the table as standard business operations.
Stephenson’s Metaverse is controlled by big name corporations, with governments regulating the rules. The Metaverse we eventually see might not necessarily be like the one from science fiction, but rather an evaluation of Internet technology and the way we connect. It may take some time for the masses to adapt, but despite those who say otherwise, Metaverse is here to stay.