Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has laid out his vision to transform Facebook from a social media network into a “metaverse company” in the next five years.
To put it simply, a metaverse is an online world where people can game, work and communicate in a virtual environment, often using VR headsets.
The term was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, in which people don virtual reality headsets to interact inside a game-like digital world. Often considered stuff from science fiction, metaverse has become one of the hottest buzzwords in the tech sector in recent months, with companies pouring millions of dollars into its development.
“This is going to be a really big part of the next chapter for the technology industry,” Zuckerberg told The Verge last week. Over the next five years, he predicted, Facebook would transition from primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.
Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality, spending $2bn on acquiring Oculus, which develops its VR products. In 2019, it launched Facebook Horizon, an invitation-only immersive environment where users can mingle and chat in a virtual space with a cartoon avatar through Oculus headsets.
Zuckerberg admitted current VR headsets were “a bit clunky” and needed improving for people to work in them all day.
Games in which players enter immersive digital worlds offer a glimpse into what the metaverse could eventually look like, blurring virtual entertainment with the real-world economy. Way back as the early 2000’s, the game Second Life allowed people to create digital avatars that could interact and shop with real money.
With the help of augmented reality (AR) glasses, it might allow you to see information zoom before your eyes as you walk around a city, from traffic and pollution updates to local history. But metaverse enthusiasts are dreaming of a future in which the idea could be extended much further, say in the business sphere.
What’s interesting about Facebook’s metaverse is that it has a strong enterprise angle. This means another sweeping transformation in the workplace. As workers have grown weary of video-conferences during the pandemic, Zuckerberg is particularly excited about the idea that co-workers could be brought together in a virtual room that feels like they are face-to-face. As Zuckerberg said, it would be “accessible across… different computing platforms” including VR/AR, mobile devices and games consoles.”
In an article titled “Welcome to the Mirrorworld” Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine, describes how AR will spark the next big tech platform. “We are building a 1-to-1 map of almost unimaginable scope. When it’s complete, our physical reality will merge with the digital universe. In other words, get ready to meet your digital twin, and the digital twin of your house, your country, your office, and even your life.”
Many big businesses are getting involved in the Metaverse space. Microsoft bought Minecraft developer Mojang in 2014 for US$ 2.5 billion and is betting big on AR/VR. Gaming universe builder Roblox is now worth US$ 30 billion.
More recently, Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of NVIDIA also seemed particularly interested in the metaverse concept. “Every few decades, technologies converge to enable a whole new thing – Omniverse is such an invention,” he said. “The immediate applications of Omniverse are incredible, from connecting design teams for remote collaboration to simulating digital twins of factories and robots. The science-fiction metaverse is near,” he said at the NVIDIA GTC Spring 2021
The pandemic too has shifted businesses online – with more Zoom meetings and virtual events. Our personal lives too from shopping, banking, education and every form of entertainment is dominated in virtual medium. It’s inevitable that brands will play a significant role in the metaverse.
Needless to say, it also creates major opportunities to increase user engagement and create deeper customer relations. As Joris Beerda is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of The Octalysis Group, says, “Just like in gamelike situations, the metaverse can offer customers a completely democratized experience, especially when these experiences are hosted on the blockchain. Users can take full control of their identities, while at the same time collaborating with other users and interacting with brands.”
These could be some of the reasons why Facebook’s recent announcement matters to the business world. Wedbush tech analyst Michael Pachter said it was hard to predict whether Facebook could truly transform into a ‘metaverse company’ in five years. But they certainly have a huge advantage of having one billion people log on every day and if they offer infotainment options it’s likely they will succeed.
Marketing, media and communication professionals for now need to pay attention to the metaverse because it’s the next frontier for online interaction. Just like social media revolutionized the online marketing landscape, so too will the metaverse.