Making sense of metaverse – a primer

Making sense of metaverse – a primer
It’s probably not the most apt name. One would assume, a metaverse is something that self-references the universe, which, if you think about it, doesn’t mean much.

We can go to the science fiction novel Snow Crash, which is commonly accepted as the origin of the term metaverse., or we can get right to what this buzzword is about today. This article aims to untangle some concepts around the metaverse and explore what it may hold for businesses tomorrow.

We notice the interest in the term taking off just around the time Facebook changed its name to Meta, as confirmed by a quick Google Trends analysis. While Facebook (we should now say Meta, actually) may have sparked this excitement, we must note at the outset that Meta, the company, and metaverse, the concept, are not the same.

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Like any concept, metaverse can have multiple implementations, and indeed there are. It’s also true that Facebook (aka, Meta) also has one such implementation, called Horizon.

So, what is this concept?

There are definitions and analogies galore. But let’s try this way. It’s a ‘world’ ‘created’ where users enter (or ‘live’ for some time) to meet their friends, or just go for a walk, check out stores, learn in a classroom, and so on. Of course, all of this virtually.

At this point, if it is sounding underwhelming, that’s because it’s only one part of the concept. Where the metaverse comes to life , is with the addition of virtual reality and augmented reality which can immerse the user into the metaverse.

If you can recall the immersive experience of a really good 3D movie, say Avatar , and imagine being in that kind of (virtual) reality yourself, it begins to describe the experience. You are a character in the metaverse, walking around and doing actions to interact with others.

Or, think of it this way: until now, the social media platform and its users are two separate entities. The user is on the outside, as it were, navigating by clicking links and typing messages out. Metaverse is social media plus plus. The user is in the metaverse, and instead of clicking a link, will walk to different places. There’s more, but knowing this key difference suffices for the purposes of this article.

What does it mean for businesses?

For exactly the same reason businesses have presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and actively monitor and engage with potential and existing customers, businesses will get on to the metaverse.

Businesses want to be where their customers are. Whether it is a hoarding at a busy intersection, conventional social media, or metaverse, it’s the same driver. If social media brought about a revolution in instant two-way communication between business and customer, and that being good enough for businesses to put social media in their top priority list, then metaverse is only more lucrative.

With metaverse, the promise is more than just interaction. It is that of life-like-experience. Consider how real estate and automobile businesses are offering 360 degree tours of their apartments and cars already. Now imagine walking into a car expo in the metaverse, being greeted by salespersons as you enter the booth you choose, being shown the car, a quotation given based on that interaction and negotiations happen.

You then choose to move to a different booth, compare quotations, and so on. Just like you would in the real world. An entire mall can be replicated in a metaverse. The possibilities around this make a metaverse presence attractive for businesses, especially B2C.

While customer engagement and experience is a draw, metaverse opens up possibilities for virtual team meetings that are more immersive than virtual backgrounds that we see in today’s video conferencing platforms. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook (now Meta Platforms), in fact made this a pitch while describing what his company’s metaverse, Horizon, can do for businesses.

Preparing for metaverse

While it’s too early to predict which of the metaverse platforms will make it big and which ones will fold up (not unlike what happened with social media platforms as we know it today), what’s also true is the first mover advantage. Unlike with conventional social media where anyone can make a page any time, with metaverse, because it is meant to model the real world, you need to buy a plot. Obviously, the more prime the location, the more it costs. On a side note, someone spent $450,000 to buy a plot next to Snoop Dogg’s in the Sandbox metaverse.

You have a plot, and you set up your shop, more or less. What you can and cannot do next depends on the features available in the specific metaverse platform. With time, one can expect a sort of equity across platforms in terms of what they allow you to do. Again, just like any other technology in which there are competing providers.

The idea of a world created online, one you can be a part of, rather than observe from outside, is not new in itself. Think PC games (Second Life, explored what was possible nearly two decades ago).

Now, the time appears to be right for the concept to go mainstream. One, virtual / augmented reality technologies can solve some of the “everything is ultimately flat of on the screen” limitation, and two, people are seeing online life and rest of life overlapping with each other and therefore metaverse won’t seem as alien.
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