- Long before Fortnite became a global gaming phenomenon, the beginnings of the metaverse were providing new social opportunities for interaction.
- The desire to interact is an important aspect of the metaverse and why it matters to businesses. If the user wants to be there, they will be more open to interact—including with sales and marketing departments.
- Making the metaverse 3D and more immersive will, at least initially, tether it more to our world—if only so users can understand it.
By Colin McMahon
In a Keypoint Intelligence podcast about the digital collaboration platform rooom, the word “metaverse” was mentioned several times. This might have caused some confusion, because what is the metaverse anyway? The word itself might be new, but the concept is not. People have been dreaming of cyberspace since the 1980s and, in some ways, the metaverse is a continuation of this theme. When we hear tech evangelists discussing the metaverse today, what they’re really talking about is user-driven interactions within virtual realities.
While many of the recent metaverse gains have come in the form of gaming and other entertainment content, businesses should not be quick to discount the concept. The metaverse is nothing less than a new form of communication, interaction, and collaboration—a place where literally anything can happen (provided that it’s been coded!).
What the Metaverse Means for Social Interaction
For many, the metaverse—at least a primitive form of it—has already come. Tens of millions of fans recently had the opportunity to see numerous live concerts in Fortnite, a free-for-all competitive game that seems to have decided to leave its genre and its boundaries behind to become a social platform. Famous historical events like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech have also been broadcast on the platform. In reality, though, the beginnings of the metaverse were providing new social opportunities for interaction long before Fortnite became a global gaming phenomenon.
Arianna Grande featured in Fortnite. Source: Epic Games
Players have been meeting romantic partners and even getting married in massive multiplayer online games (e.g., Final Fantasy XIV) for years, and this trend only increased during the social lockdown phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is simply more proof that the digital world has been slowly but consistently trickling into our physical lives for some time now.
I bring up these gaming platforms to showcase an important truth of the metaverse—form does not necessarily dictate function. Neither Final Fantasy nor Fortnite developed as these types of social experiences; they were built for something else. Nevertheless, they found success in their flexibility. By enabling user interaction and a certain degree of freedom, both products took on new life and a new significance to their users.
These days, the metaverse involves more than just gaming. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter can all be considered early metaverses. These solutions were built with even less concrete direction than gaming software—there is no clear way to “win” Facebook (apart from maybe deleting it!). Even so, people stay for the freedom to converse how they chose, be that about a shared passion, a political ideology, or even the hunt for collectable merchandise.
What the Metaverse Means for Marketing and Sales
The desire to interact is an important aspect of the metaverse and why it matters to businesses. If the user wants to be there, they will be more open to interact—including with sales and marketing departments. According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook made $25.44 billion in advertising revenue in 2020 alone. Sure, this was helped along by the conditions created during COVID-19, but it is still significant.
Metaverses are also making money in more creative ways than simple product links. In a previous blog, Keypoint Intelligence noted that the massively successful Animal Crossing: New Horizons is home to a whole slew of branded islands—locations that users can visit to see and interact with new product announcements and displays. In these experiences, no direct salesperson is required. A designer constructs the location to showcase the brand’s appeal, then allows users to wander and interact as they choose. Although it is passive, it remains effective because the entire location is the advertisement. Here is an example:
I bring up Animal Crossing: New Horizons because it can be seen as a blueprint to how the future of the metaverse may look. For starters, there likely will not be just one metaverse. Think of the internet today: it is broken into pages so users can quickly find what they’re looking for. The islands in Animal Crossing are similar—every user has an island, and this island can be used to express whatever they desire.
What the Metaverse Means for the Future
As new immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) shape the modern metaverse, the spatial component is becoming more prominent. Be they users, administrators, marketers, or companies, everyone needs to start thinking of the digital world as a 3D space. The metaverse has some depth to it now. We see this happening in early VR online communities. Each app is its own little world, a land of curated experiences where like-minded users can meet and perform a variety of tasks.
As noted in another Keypoint Intelligence blog, rooom is looking to be part of the metaverse, a digitally constructed environment where all of the space is built around online business interactions—be it an event, a product display, a location tour. And while it can be accessed from a smartphone, there is little doubt that the programmers behind it envision a more immersive potential when VR headsets are more mainstream, at least in the business space.
To be clear, space really is a critical component; that is in part why investors are already looking into buying and leasing virtual space. Making the metaverse 3D and more immersive will, at least initially, tether it more to our world—if only so users can understand it. Where a company is and what its brand looks like in this digital space will matter. It will matter to consumers who are looking for new products to purchase, and it will matter in terms of how competitors view a brand’s image. This is a status symbol, not unlike the millions that some firms shell out for downtown offices.
The new metaverse is already taking shape in VR. Companies like Facebook are building new VR-first platforms as they strive to remain dominant players when interfaces transition. Google, Valve, Microsoft, and Apple are also in pursuit; each is trying to build creation tools to help cultivate the metaverse of tomorrow.
I know I may have lost some readers by using video game references in a business-focused article, but the point is that the lines are blurring. Video games have done much to inform and influence the rules of digital space, positively as well as negatively. Video games also represent a fine example of rapid evolution in the digital space. The creators of Fortnite likely never dreamed that players would someday use it as a way to experience Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, yet here we are.
The Bottom Line
So after all that, what is the metaverse? Simply put, it’s the next evolution in the internet. It’s a new platform for everything from social interaction to point-of-purchase sales. It’s an area of tremendous growth and investment. It represents the future, although it is already here in many forms. What will change in the coming years is the level of immersion, the degree of complexity, and the variety of operations performed within this space. Businesses should be aware of the metaverse—you’ll likely be doing business in that space one day, if you’re not already.
Colin McMahon is a Senior Editorial Analyst at Keypoint Intelligence. He supports most of Keypoint’s Production services with podcasts, blogs, and other types of deliverables. A graduate of Concordia University, Mr. McMahon is a published author, an avid researcher, and enjoys working with the latest in imaging hardware.
By HARVEY LEVENSON on Nov 13, 2021
Response to WhatTheyThink Commentary:
What Is the Metaverse, and Why Should Businesses Care?
For my entire professional career as a student, practitioner, researcher, and professor, I’ve had a fascination with linguistics, and particularly with lexicology and etymology: the study of words and their origin.
Merriam-Webster defines lexicology as “a branch of linguistics concerned with the signification and application of words,” and etymology as “an explanation of where words come from,” i.e., the history of words. I began with these definitions because I was intrigued with the WhatTheyThink Commentary & Analysis of November 11, 2021: What is the Metaverse, and Why Should Businesses Care?
The rhetoric of the popular and business press makes it appear that Mark Zuckerberg’s change of the name from Facebook to Meta is a seminal and creative coining of the word, Meta, and that the term metaverse is new and creative.
NOTHING IS FURTHER FROM REALITY
My initial thought when I heard of the name change from Facebook to Meta was, “Aha, Mark Zuckerberg is finally naming the product (Facebook) for what it’s really about—metadata—a term that identifies the hidden data that Facebook controls and manipulates, and that users never see or know about. So, what is metadata? Metadata is typically known as data about data. It is the beneath-the-surface data including information about the user that users rarely think about.
According to Harvard Law School, “Metadata is information stored within a document that is not evident by just looking at the file. It is an electronic fingerprint that automatically adds identifying characteristics, such as the creator or author of the file, the name of individuals who have accessed or edited the file, the location from which the file was accessed, and the amount of time spent editing the file.” It includes information about user name, company, computer name, location of document on local or network server, attached template, hidden text, comments, track changes, non-visible objects, file properties, summary information, and much more about users.
So, taking Merriam-Webster’s definitions of lexicology and etymology, and undergirding it with Harvard Law School’s definition of metadata, you have the initial sequences identifying Meta’s i.e., Facebook’s workflow, and that of other social media sources as well.
Yes, “Meta” is a name that really gets to the core of what Facebook is, but the term “metaverse” begins directing users away from the core of Facebook’s manipulative potential.
SO, WHAT IS METAVERSE?
Back to Merriam-Webster: “In its current meaning metaverse generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work. Awareness of this term grew on October 29, 2021, when Facebook rebranded itself Meta and released a video in which CEO Mark Zuckerberg says, ‘I believe the metaverse is the next chapter for the Internet.’”
Actually, Neal Stephenson coined the term metaverse, and established a vision of a computer generated universe, in his 1992 novel Snow Crash: “…this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse.” Further, “Meta conveys the idea of transcending reality…being knowingly distinct from the conventional and literal world.” People live in the literal world. Metadata creates an invisible world that users do not see and cannot control.
In his video, Zuckerberg says that “meta comes from the Greek word for beyond,” and that’s correct—beyond the literal world. “Etymologically, meta meant after in Greek.” Therefore, metaverse also implies a world or conception that requires the real world in order to move beyond it and acknowledge another reality that users do not live within, but social media does.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Meta (Facebook) openly tells that it knows things about users, personal and confidential that, using its new name, Meta, can control, manipulate, and distribute without users knowing about it…and cannot know about. I believe that’s a good thing because it lends some transparency to what Meta, i.e., Facebook, is all about, but also provides a more overt level of caution for businesses as well as individuals regarding their vulnerability when using social media.
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