Business owners are very excited about the Metaverse.
Media speculation and vendor hype has driven them into a frenzy of anticipation over an immersive digital utopia that does not yet exist. The likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt and Satya Nadella promise a complete transformation of the digital experience and unprecedented opportunities for those on board.
In response, leaders are scrambling to secure their place, spending more than US$120 billion on Metaverse-related ventures in the first half of 2022 alone. This mad dash puts technical leaders in a difficult position. They are responsible for preparing the business to participate in and profit from something that has yet to be fully defined, let alone realized.
Even so, some Metaverse enabler components are available. Immersive streaming platforms are available to collaborate in a shared virtual space. Design tools for creating three-dimensional and even immersive environments are now within the financial and skill-level reach of even casual content creators.
User experience hardware, such as VR headsets and haptic gloves, are shifting from in-game curiosity to business necessity. Each of these tools and the emerging standards on which they are based can be used now to prepare and position the business to take full advantage of the fully realized metaverse as it emerges. If done right, these efforts can really help the Metaverse to come into being.
The idea for the metaverse originated with science fiction author Neil Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash where it is an immersive and all-encompassing virtual environment. In this fictional world, people use avatars to interact with the metaverse to work, play, and commit various cybercrimes.
Much like today’s Internet, in the novel, if a business wants to thrive or an individual wants to interact with society in any way, a presence in the metaverse is mandatory. This is not the metaverse we have today. This is unlikely to be the coming Metaverse.
Gartner defines the metaverse as “a shared virtual collective space created by the convergence of a virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. The metaverse is persistent; delivering enhanced immersive experiences. This definition introduces subtle but important features often missed when examining the metaverse.
First, the Metaverse is not necessarily a fully immersive virtual reality environment. Rather, it is an enhanced physical and digital reality. While some experiences may indeed be fully synthetic and immersive virtual reality experiences, others may simply overlay digital information on the user’s current physical surroundings as seen through goggles or goggles. compatible with Metaverse.
Second, the metaverse is a collective space, not a single monolithic environment. It will consist of many, perhaps countless, independent but interoperable applications and experiences. The metaverse itself will be a diverse ecosystem encompassing all of those experience-enhanced apps that can be considered metaspheres. These experiences should be able to interact more or less seamlessly across hardware and software platforms. While the Metaverse itself may not yet exist in its fully realized form, a wide variety of Metaspheres are already in place and provide value.
What is a metasphere?
A metasphere is simply an application that exhibits the characteristics of the metaverse, but largely in isolation. Realized use cases range from fully immersive training routines to non-intrusive process instructions projected into the lenses of safety glasses.
These applications are carried out with industrial and consumer tools. While large enterprises often develop their own solutions in-house, systems integrators and software development companies are emerging in this space to create custom enterprise metaspheres without sufficient resources or expertise to go it alone. The metaspheres currently in use all fall into one of three categories: augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality.
Many manifestations of the three types of metaspheres are already used in production in a wide variety of businesses and industries. Some use cases are more successful than others. Public-facing and consumer-facing apps, in particular, continue to struggle.
Among the most spectacular failures was an all-VR concert by pop group Foo Fighters hosted by Meta, Facebook’s rebranded parent. The high-profile gig for owners of Meta Quest 2 VR hardware succumbed to a plethora of technical issues. Of the 61,000 registered attendees, only 13,000 were able to access any part of the event. Those who got to see at least part of the concert were fierce in their criticism of the experience. As one tech writer commented, Meta’s Horizon Worlds platform “gropes at the first hurdle.”
While not all public-facing metaverse ventures fail to the extent of the Foo Fighter gig, they are without exception difficult, expensive, and risky to stage. Additionally, outside of games and promotion, few practical and monetizable, consumer-facing use cases have been identified, let alone implemented and deployed. Over time, these use cases and consumer metaspheres will emerge, mature, and converge into a fully realized metaverse. We are not there yet.
So where do Metaverse technologies provide value? Within the enclosure, virtual or not, of the company. Companies are preparing for the metaverse by exploring how these tools can benefit their people, their operations, and ultimately their bottom line.
Creating inward-facing metaspheres has many advantages over attempting to deploy services to the public. The company is above all a controlled environment. Even when you operate hosted services outside of the corporate data center, you control who has access, when, and to what extent.
Most failures with public-facing Metaspheres involve scalability and capacity issues with services, such as the Foo Fighters concert, being overwhelmed and collapsing. Keeping the metasphere in-house allows you to limit demand and scale compute resources as needed and as desired to achieve your goal.
Employees are also somewhat of a captive audience. You can select a specific group of users to provide a particular metasphere that will benefit both them and the business. You can ask these users to test different approaches to a solution and provide feedback in a way that is not possible with the public. This has the added benefit of keeping your mistakes and failures out of the public eye while gaining skills and expertise in what is decidedly a new discipline using new technologies.
This experimentation is perhaps the greatest benefit of starting with inward facing metaspheres. It allows you to learn both the tools and how they can be applied most effectively and to do so at the pace of business. As the marketplace determines how to monetize public Metaverse offerings, internal metaspheres can provide immediate and practical benefits to the business and potentially identify services that can effectively be made public and monetized.
As more and more of these repurposed metaspheres emerge, they will converge and merge. From this network of interconnected and interoperable metaspheres will emerge the Metaverse itself. But that can only happen if the use cases are selected wisely and implemented correctly.