Origins of the Metaverse
Let’s talk about the M word, shall we? (Meta)
Opinions vary. It’s very early. I have to confess that in the 20th century, I did read this book at the time it came out, shows how old I am, or gives you some idea. I thought it was great. It was actually, as it turns out, prescient.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson was a, whatever you call it, science fiction, science fantasy, but very much looking ahead to something after the internet.
At that time, the internet itself was only just being invented. They were already looking to this thing, which literally Neal Stephenson did call the Metaverse.
To my knowledge, that was the first mention of it.
Second Life to Third Life?
Also in the 20th century, I worked in something called Second Life, which is something to admit, isn’t it? Wasn’t actually in Second Life. Although obviously, had to go on the platform “into the space”, to explain it and to discuss it.
We were a consultancy that helped companies get into Second Life. I will happily admit that that one didn’t work very well, because it was just too early. Bleeding edge and leading edge. I think it was the former. It wasn’t quite good enough. The technology wasn’t quite good enough.
In a different field at that time, there was a company called BOO, and the fantastic book about the experience of BOO, which was a early version of ASOS, I would say.
It was a clothes retailer. It was at the height of the first dotcom boom. It was crazy times. I wasn’t involved in it and I’m not blaming anyone, but money was thrown at ventures, which were never going to work.
Rightly or wrongly, people were just drunk. They were crazy. Business models seemed to go out the window. Okay, it’s the internet, everything’s free. Let’s just get into it now.
Investors did a lot of rash things. Second Life was a bit like that. Second Life was a scramble. It had pains that I remember to point out, that we’re not a game. This is a place, it’s a space.
I’m ready to concede that it was 20 years too early, maybe, or 15, and that now maybe, the technology has advanced to a level that we can actually have a good experience in a place that feels real, but which is effectively virtual reality. I think that’s what Facebook is planning for. It doesn’t have to happen this year or even next.
You could call it Third Life. Maybe I should copyright that, or at least write a blog. Are we ready for Third Life?
The Metaverse is not clearly defined. What Neal Stephenson visualised way back could be how it turns out. Facebook have their own ideas about it, and Facebook have said, we are now called Meta, and we are going to be ready for the Metaverse, as it is created.
It extends computing ability way beyond what’s available today.
“It’s a persistent immersive environment with decentralised collaborative interoperable digital content. It’s the next evolutionary stage of the internet.”
This is according to Gartner, but everyone admits, most people admit that it’s going to be a while.
While the benefits and opportunities are not immediately viable, there are potential use cases, and Metaverse experience will not replace current digital interactions, but they may displace some of them. This is again, according to Gartner’s insights.
We were talking earlier, weren’t we, Rene, about the Metaverse and the fact that some companies are already dipping their toe in this growing field.
Yeah. I came across something on LinkedIn, again, at the time of recording this.
Real brands like Gymshark are working in the Metaverse
If you look up Gymshark, which is one of the sports retail brands, real success story, the last few years, young entrepreneur that set that up, a chap called Ben Francis, he was talking on LinkedIn with his social media person, and they shared some footage from a team meeting that they were having in this place, presumably with their Oculus Rifts on and the like. Whilst it looked very impressive, it did look a bit Second Life.
They were talking through, sitting opposite the table from each other, and how you have true 360-degree vision. You could run screen shares live in the app. It was taking the notion of virtual interaction on quite a few steps, because given where we are at the minute in quite, staid, Zoom, Microsoft Teams-style environments like this, where we can run some polls, we can do this live. We can pre-record, we can break out, we can do some chats.
It’s very one dimensional, isn’t it? We’re looking at a screen, and it’s not particularly … What’s the right word?
Yeah, engaging, immersive.
Yeah. Immersive is the right word. I think you’re right.
I think the technology has caught up with the concept now, such that we can deliver more ready experiences. I remember having one of these headsets that you … I think I put my iPhone in it, and then the kids would play silly 3D games on it. Oculus and the like take it to a whole different level, don’t they? They are, in some instances, probably 4K, very, very high-def, very rich environments. There’s quite a lot going on.
I think that’s where, with concepts like this, you want the big boys to go and get busy with it, and populate it, and make it work. Then, we’ll all follow later.
This is definitely one for the deep pocketed, early adopters, isn’t it?
Ready Player One is already a reality
It reminds me of the recent Spielberg film, Ready Player One, where people are living a quite dispirited existence. Then, they pay to go into this game with the headsets, where they are somebody else. It’s a very different thing, but they’re spending more time in there playing the game, if you like, than they are actually in their real life. You wonder, is that some kind of parable for a future to come? I don’t know.
Yeah. When technology catches up with quite crazy ideas, that’s where the sparks start to fly, isn’t it?
We’re going way beyond present-day marketing, aren’t we? Into this world that Facebook envisage. My take on it, for what it’s worth, is that Facebook’s just putting a marker in the sand and saying, okay, we’re even called Meta.
We obviously are a Metaverse company, and it means they can do stuff like their acquisition of Oculus, and they can acquire other businesses, and hire 10,000 people to work on the Metaverse in Europe.
It’s as if they’re growing up or want to be seen to be growing up beyond just being a social network, or two or three social networks, or two social networks and two mobile apps.
This is allowing them to be a much broader company. It’s also saying the Metaverse is going to happen, it’s going to get bigger, and we’re going to be right in there in the middle of it. I’m sure Google have other ideas, and Amazon.
I’m sure they do. I think from a business perspective, it makes sense, because it makes the world smaller, and we’re all interlinked now, anyway.
We’re all working on a global level, and we’re all equally reliant on each other from a business perspective.
I think the really interesting thing that might drive this is the social side, and the fact that we’re already spending hours every day, looking down into our phones and engaging with stuff that we’re seeing there, and not looking up as often as we should. You just think, some of this stuff is the next iteration of that, isn’t it?
You think Ready Player One, and it might come around a lot sooner than we think. There will be these commercial opportunities there, and there will be social opportunities coming out of that as well, I’m sure.
Yeah. Also, it may get to the stage where marketers can’t afford to ignore it, which has happened with social media.
If you think how different today’s social platforms are from bulletin boards and the things we had in the 1990s, this may be as different from our current social media again.
Mark Zuckerberg from Meta, practicing saying that, I nearly said Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta said it’ll take five to ten years before the Metaverse is real. Whatever, however you define that. Some of it’s already here.
We’ve got ultra-fast broadband speeds. What’s ultra? We can always use more speed, can’t we? Like we can always use more bandwidth, et cetera.
Compare with what we had. I remember someone saying a two-meg pipe is pretty exciting. We’ve got massively improved speeds, at least we can say that. We’ve got less clunky headsets, and the revisions of the Oculus Quest turning into something, which is like a pair of glasses, or even, that becomes contact lenses. That’s not that far away in terms of … Not 30 years away, it might be five or 10.
Applying Meta thinking at a smaller level
I think the reason that you’re including this in the presentation today is, it’s something everyone’s talking about. One of the biggest companies in the world is very much into it, which puts it on the agenda. For most marketers in most companies, they’re a world away from that.
Absolutely. That puts it very clearly, I think.
One of the takeaways for us as marketers in much smaller businesses, maybe more niche, it’s, what can we take from it? Brand is going to be important. Content is going to be important. An understanding of technology, video, these sorts of things, creating experiences for customers.
These are the things that businesses need to be thinking about, to be able to compete effectively in the next decade or so, because platforms like this are going to be the future of all of this stuff.
Yeah. I think marketers in their business might be expected to have an opinion on Meta. I would recommend that if questioned, one says something like that, the way you just put it, Rene.
They’ve renamed themselves. It sounds exciting. We shouldn’t get carried away.
Also, to be a little cynical, Facebook haven’t had a great time recently, in terms of PR. They need a bit of a facelift, and a bit of good news, and something positive to talk about. PR people say, once you’ve apologised for data breaches and Cambridge Analytica and accusations of manipulating your customers, and being careless about personal data, when you’ve apologised, the next thing to do in your recovery is put some good news out there, which is, at this stage, I think exactly what they’re doing.
Also, as I say, they’re putting a stake in the ground and saying, okay, we’re Meta now. The future’s bright, and isn’t it exciting? I think even Facebook are saying, this isn’t going to happen in the next two to three years. It’s five to ten years minimum.
We’ll see. I completely agree, if you’ve got a limited budget, which most people have, this would not be the place to be putting the money yet.
In fact, it’s not even clear how you’d spend the money. However, putting ads on Facebook and Instagram may still be working really well for you. I would suggest, keep doing that before we invest everything into the Metaverse.
Interestingly, by the way, Quest 2 requires your Facebook account to log in.
We know that all aspects of digital and technology are interconnected. We’re connecting to our later topic of privacy and personal data (separate post), and Facebook’s missing no opportunity to gather data. They know everywhere you’ve been going in virtual reality. They know all of your virtual behaviour.
That will, of course, be something that they can track and subject to GDPR and relative privacy legislation, which may change in the future.
Facebook’s making sure that they’ve got a stake in this whole business. Of course, their success in selling advertising to brands has been largely based on the data they’ve got about their customers and users.
If you can target very exactly, that’s a compelling proposition to a brand advertiser. I meet a lot of clients who say, “We don’t particularly like Facebook or Instagram, and we know they’re making tonnes of money out of us, but actually it works.”
They keep doing it. Whereas if we throw money at XYZ channel, including a lot of offline, we have no idea whether it’s working. We struggle to justify that to the CFO. With Facebook ads, we see return. Of course, if Facebook keep doing that, they’ll keep making money.