There’s an exciting new buzzword on the block that’s promising to change the internet experience. But what exactly is the ‘metaverse’ – and can businesses gain just as much benefit as private users?
It’s been a busy week for the metaverse. The term exploded in popularity on Google search results pages following two major announcements: Facebook’s rebranding as ‘Meta’ to reflect its foray into the metaverse, and Microsoft’s demonstration of Teams’ new metaverse features during their annual Ignite event.
While the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and various tech commentators are hailing the metaverse as ‘the future of the internet’, it’s easy to be caught up in the sense of science fiction around the new innovation – quickly missing what it actually means for consumers and businesses alike.
Are you ready to see what the future has in store?
What is the Metaverse?
While the term ‘metaverse’ is still navigating its way into common usage, it’s clear that the newly launched ‘Metaverse Race’ has already started to accelerate its transition into everyday parlance.
Originating as a science fiction term coined by Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash, the metaverse has gone on to symbolise a rapidly approaching reality where persistent virtual worlds are used en masse by individuals, who are usually represented by avatars. The scope has also since widened to include the full spectrum of augmented reality (AR).
In essence, the metaverse will move the internet from a two-dimensional tool to a three-dimensional, living experience.
If you’re wondering how this is possible, the answer lies in the cumulative evolution of various technologies and experiments. In gaming, the metaverse has been present in small iterative steps since Second Life became massively popular in the early 2000s, while comparatively huge strides in virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud computing have made it possible to expand the concept from sci-fi to reality in a few short years.
Not Just for Consumers
Initial reaction to the likes of the metaverse might make it seem very much like an experience aimed only at consumers and private users, evolving how individuals keep in touch across social platforms while offering new ways to interact with brands. The reality, however, is that the metaverse is a game-changer for everybody.
For consumer-facing businesses, the metaverse offers the opportunity to tap into the popularity of NFTs and cryptocurrencies to offer something that is – for the time being – ahead of the curve and of great additional value. Further in the future, it’s expected that brands will be able to invite consumers to try on clothes and test products from the comfort of their own home.
Those in the business-to-business arena needn’t miss out, either – the metaverse isn’t all about leveraging the likes of Fortnite to push a product. These businesses can utilise the metaverse to supercharge their remote working efforts, bringing people together across continents in virtual environments. There’s also the opportunity to host virtual events, meetings, and even conferences in a whole new way, drawing on new audiences and making the most of new functionality to increase attendee engagement.
In this respect, it’s perhaps Microsoft’s announcement that is the most exciting of the two for businesses. Announced back in Spring 2021, Microsoft Mesh showed us the future of Teams meetings, using HoloLens to bring three-dimensional environments to life, enhancing collaboration regardless of distance. This was followed by news at Ignite that Microsoft Teams would introduce an avatar feature, using AI to animate representations of individuals either in a normal environment, or a virtual space – directly tackling challenges around cognitive overload and an increasingly-remote workforce.
As with any innovation and its benefits, there are an equal number of challenges – and this is especially true for businesses looking to make the most of the metaverse.
At the core of these challenges is security, with implementing the metaverse opening up new considerations around identity, privacy, and trust. This is partially due to the need for providers to work together to ensure the metaverse is accessible, persistent, and united. Questions have already been raised around the standards that should govern the metaverse, and those looking to be big players in the space need to consider applying standards sooner rather than later.
Elsewhere on the security side, businesses will need to ensure that the metaverse is being used responsibly and that security training and measures are adapted for the potential threats that could be lurking in this new internet.
Finally, there’s also the considerable pressure businesses will feel to adopt the metaverse, without actually working out for themselves how it’ll add value to their offering, operations, and bottom line. Although information remains light, now is the time to consider the art of the possible, preparing organisations for the dangers – and benefits – of tomorrow.
The Future is (Almost) Here
While it’s true that it only took a week to catapult the metaverse into the spotlight and at the forefront of many excitable technological innovations, it’s also true that the future isn’t quite here yet.
What these exciting announcements do, however, is create the buzz that will feed the curiosity and exploration of the metaverse. We shouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing more announcements, technological developments, and predictions surfacing very soon – all sparked by Facebook and Microsoft’s busy week.
In the meantime, while we wait for the metaverse, businesses can plan ahead for how leveraging the technology will put them one step ahead of competitors while strengthening hybrid working initiatives.
Although it’s early days, there’s a lot to be excited about – and we’re looking forward to seeing how the great ‘Metaverse Race’ might heat up in the coming months and years.
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