Although the term “metaverse” was first used by Neil Stevenson in his 1982 novel, Snow Crash, its popularity seems to have increased exponentially in recent months. Stevenson's metaverse was a virtual place where characters could go to escape a dreary totalitarian reality. Today, the metaverse is an early framework for the future vision of the internet. It holds the potential to become one of the leading technology forces to shape the next decade of digital innovation. The business impact is still early, and there are a myriad of ideas on how broad-spanning the metaverse will become.
The metaverse is the next generation of the internet
The first generation of the internet, Web 1.0, was primarily centered around the desktop and consumer adoption. It focused on infrastructure and is dubbed the “Internet of Data.” Web 2.0 has been about the mobile and smartphone experience, synonymous with the sharing economy, and is thought of as the “Internet of Social.”
We're now in the early days of Web 3.0 (Web3, for short), which goes beyond simple people connections to elevate physical world experiences. It is focused on ownership and is taking shape as the “Internet of Place.” To bring these experiences to life, it relies heavily on technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), blockchain, and cryptocurrencies.
What does the metaverse look like today?
Of the different virtual worlds available today, leading brands are getting involved in public spaces such as Decentraland, Sandbox, and Roblox. There seems to be a virtual gold rush of corporations staking their claims in the metaverse, focusing on brand marketing and audience expansion to start. Here are a few examples that I find especially interesting:
- Nike created NIKELAND on Roblox as a place for fans to connect, create, and compete.
- Coca-Cola created Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Byte, a brand-new flavor born in the metaverse. (Disclaimer: I have yet to taste this flavor “inspired by the playfulness of pixels,” though it sounds enticing, especially in the midst of a summer heat wave!)
- JPMorgan Chase opened the first bank branch in the metaverse, including digital portraits, a visitor lounge, and a roaming tiger.
- Pokémon partnered with Selfridges to commemorate its 25th anniversary in 2021 and built a virtual city called Electric/City where fans could shop for exclusive virtual and physical Pokémon merchandise.
- Samsung and Hyundai held virtual recruitment fairs, while Siemens held a virtual conference, advocating that these event formats were a highly efficient exchange of data and information.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Corporate Innovation Summit at Collision Conference 2022 in Toronto and moderate a roundtable discussion of senior technology leaders. We discussed the hype around the metaverse and related technologies and the business opportunities for enterprises and corporate brands.
It was evident that there is no single “killer app” for the metaverse as yet. Innovation leaders all agreed that the metaverse is the next evolution of digital experiences; however, they also acknowledged that making a business case and articulating ROI was challenging since payoffs from metaverse-related investments aren't always immediate. The speed of adoption seemed to vary as some corporate brands were prepared to jump in head first while others were still standing at the sidelines formulating strategies.
Of the many use cases that were discussed, these are the ones that seem to be gaining traction:
- Training and onboarding of new employees and partners.
- Employee engagement via virtual water coolers and lounges, tying in gamification and tokenized incentives to drive active participation.
- Team collaboration and brainstorming, including whiteboarding.
- Immersive customer experiences delivered contextually via AR.
- Industrial equipment troubleshooting and remote assessment using VR to maximize uptime.
Some hearty discussion ensued with questions like:
- What relevance and impact would corporate metaverses have on businesses?
- How quickly can brands adapt to metaverse adoptions and deepen relationships with consumers?
- What are the challenges that early adopters are facing?
- Is there a (dis)advantage to being a “fast follower” i.e., letting others lead and following closely behind?
Is the metaverse the future?
As we enter the second half of 2022, many are wondering whether the hype will abate or whether the metaverse will truly emerge as a new vision of the internet that shapes collective digital experiences in the coming decades. My belief is that this new digital technology must bridge gaps and reduce friction before it goes mainstream. I'm optimistic about the future of the metaverse and think the time is ripe to shift the focus toward substance, interoperability, and the long-term vision.