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Meta What? Meta Who?*


Source: XR Today


If you’ve been paying attention to tech news over the last few months, chances are that you have been seeing the word ‘metaverse’ slowly infiltrating your timeline since Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s parent company’s name change to ‘Meta’ and that it was investing at least $10 billion in the metaverse. Some posit that it was Zuckerberg’s ‘escape hatch’, launched during a storm of bad publicity about Facebook’s business practices. PR stunt or not, it got the internet buzzing about the metaverse.


As usual, I had a lot of questions: What is it? How do we interact with it? What does it mean for marketing and branding? Here’s a basic breakdown for non techy people.


The Metaverse - a basic explanation.


The term metaverse was first used by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, “Snow Crash,” and then made popular in the tech world in the novel, “Ready Player One”. It was used to refer to a fully digital world that extends beyond our analog one.


In other words, think of it like the internet but fully immersive, merging virtual, augmented and physical reality. One can interact with others who are also in the metaverse, have experiences, be in different places and have assets - all virtually.


How do we enter the Metaverse?


Technically, entering the metaverse requires using a virtual or augmented reality tool like Meta’s Oculus headset or virtual reality goggles. Then you must create an avatar which is a graphic representation of yourself in the digital world. The next thing is find the metaverse that you would like to enter and then you’re off to the races! One example of a metaverse you could enter is Decentraland.


What’s all the fuss about?


I first heard about the metaverse when I read an article a few years ago about Decentraland, a virtual world that is created by its users and residents. These users were creating cities with jazz lounges, casinos, town squares…just about any location you can think about in real life, and buying property in prized locations for real money. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it but you know who did? Sothebys. The world’s oldest auction house built a replica of its London art galleries in Decentraland’s Voltaire Art District and had a show there.


People are donning avatars and going about their virtual lives in the metaverse. The intention is that we can interact with it (in it?) just as we do in the analog world. And companies are banking on the value of this interaction.


One of the earliest examples I’ve seen was with Fortnite. If you know the least information possible about gaming, you probably know about the über popular Fortnite. But did you know that in 2019 a DJ called Marshmallow had a historic concert in Fortnite which attracted more than 10 million people? This was then dwarfed by rapper Travis Scott’s 2020 Fortnite tour which attracted 48.5 million viewers across five shows.


The concert model was so successful that in 2021 Fortnite announced a global concert series with interactive experiences from each of the artists.


The numbers these experiences draw translates into opportunities for companies and brands to connect to consumers in an entirely different way than ever before.


Mixed Reality


The pandemic forced a lot of organizations and consumers to rely more on digital environments for meetings, events and experiences.


Microsoft Mesh

In 2019, I attended the Fast Company Innovation Festival and was in the audience for Microsoft CEO Satya Nadalla’s conversation about upcoming Microsoft technology. The company was already beta testing a kind of ‘mixed reality’ experience, using AR in a real life environment. He showed a video of a recent company meeting during which a speaker in the United States, attending as a hologram, addressed the meeting attendees in Japan and the hologram translated the speaker’s words from english to japanese in real time. The software, called Microsoft Mesh, launched in 2021 and will probably change the way meetings are done, especially after the pandemic.


Roblox Gucci Garden

Roblox, an online platform where users program games and play games made by other people, is another platform that is doing some great experiences in the metaverse. It may not sound like a big deal but it is. Because of the huge numbers of users on the platform, the developers on Roblox, some of whom are children, saw a $70 million payout in 2018 and the company went public in 2021 with a valuation of $41 billion.


In 2021, Robolox upped its game by collaborating with Gucci to create a very cool experience that ran concurrently with the unveiling of the House’s Gucci Garden Archetypes – an immersive multimedia experience in Florence, Italy.


Real Ownership in a Virtual World


The reason why brands care so much about the metaverse is, in part, because it enables a universe of real ownership in a virtual world. This ownership is possible because of non-fungible tokens or NFTs. Simply put, an NFT is a unit of data that uses technology to allow digital content to be authenticated and stored on the blockchain. The key thing to know here is that NFTs make it easy to own and sell digital content by creating a smart contract that lists the creator of the work, ensuring that they receive a royalty every time the NFT is sold.


Luxury brands see billions of dollars in value in the metaverse because they know that people will want to kit out their avatars with designer everything.


Whether we understand the metaverse or not, one thing is clear: it’s happening and it’s going to be big. The metaverse will change how we interact with each other, how we engage with brands and, one might even say, how we see ourselves.

 

*This is a throwback reference to a song on Jay-Z’s ‘Volume 2…Hard Knock Life’ album. If you’re a 90’s hip hop fan, you’re welcome.