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The Metaverse for dummies (like me...)

I’m finishing this week’s blog on Thursday morning. The war in Ukraine has entered its 29th day. A NATO meeting is underway in Brussels: a Russian ship has reportedly been destroyed in the Black Sea. The language from Moscow is ever more bellicose and – as we have all seen – ‘harrowing’ is not even close to adequate for what is happening in what’s left of Mariupol and other cities.

It’s tempting to think that every blog should be about Ukraine – that nothing else is relevant. But life goes on. However much our thoughts may be in Kyiv we cannot neglect our businesses – so I hope you’ll understand if the blog returns to ‘normal.’

About once a week I read an article on the Metaverse. I always have the same reaction: I find it slightly baffling and I can’t form a clear picture of it. My avatar can meet Dave McCartney’s avatar for a coffee in a virtual Costa? Why don’t I just make myself a coffee and call Dave on Zoom?

And yet Facebook – Meta, as we must learn to call the company – has hired 10,000 of the world’s brightest minds and is investing billions. According to City AM 18% of 16-24 year olds are already using the Metaverse, and ‘at least a quarter’ will spend an hour a day on it by 2026 (which I suspect may be a serious underestimate).

Clearly the Metaverse is something we need to understand – so I’ve made an effort to be less baffled. And here it is: the Metaverse for Dummies – including Ed Reid – as I attempt to answer three simple questions.

What is the Metaverse?

“We’ve gone from desktop to web to mobile,” says Mark Zuckerberg. “From text to photos to video.” The Metaverse is the next step – where you’re not looking at something, you’re experiencing it. You’re not looking at a picture of the beach: you’re standing on it.

The Metaverse will be a network of inter-connected 3D worlds that will have an individual ‘sense of presence’ (your avatar) and ‘continuity of data’ – so if your avatar spends some of its virtual currency in Café A, it’s going to have less to spend in Shop B.

What will you be able to do in the Metaverse?

According to the advocates of the Metaverse, pretty much anything. The Metaverse will allow you to create a complete digital life where you’ll be able to socialise, work, learn, go shopping and be entertained. Bill Gates has said he believes that all work meetings will eventually take place in the Metaverse. I sincerely hope not: to me that sounds like a vision of hell.

Anything else? Yes, you’ll be able to create wealth in the Metaverse. As well as selling services – training would be a good example of that – you’ll be able to build wealth by ‘owning and trading property.’ No doubt that’ll lead to headlines about some 17 year old who’s never left his bedroom being worth several million dollars, as he scales up from current games like Minecraft and Roblox.

For the rest of us? Right now I’m finding it hard to imagine paying real money to buy or rent a TAB UK virtual office. I’m finding it even harder to imagine trying to tell Dav I’ve spent five grand on a virtual house. ‘You could have bought a de-luxe garden shed for that, Ed. And gone to live in it…’

How will it impact our businesses?

It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the Metaverse – if it develops as currently imagined – could have profound implications for business. The travel industry is one obvious example. So much for the brochure or pictures online: you’ll be able to walk around the villa you’re thinking of renting. Walk down to the taverna and the beach bar. To give just one example, Disney has already announced that it will create its own Metaverse.

In a broader business sense the Metaverse will give us the chance to host ‘live’ events – which would clearly be more cost effective than real events – and extend the scope of training, masterclasses and panel discussions. For an organisation like The Alternative Board the possibilities are exciting – especially for working with colleagues around the world.

Imagine you own an engineering company. You’re already on a board in the UK, with colleagues who are anything but engineers. But through the Metaverse you could be a member of a TAB Engineering Board – sharing best practice and ideas with owners of engineering companies in seven or eight different countries.

The possibilities for recruitment and training are also obvious. We all know about the war for talent and skills shortages. In theory, the Metaverse will open up the whole world. I remember reading about Dropbox in its early days – when the company was boasting of 16 staff in eight different countries. Who’s to say the Metaverse won’t allow us all to do that? Recruiting, hiring and working with the very best people, irrespective of location.

The Metaverse will allow you – through your avatar – to deliver training and workshops, building up a library of content that anyone can access at any time. And yes, pay for.

Facebook – sorry, Meta – does counsel caution: the Metaverse isn’t going to be fully up and running for maybe ten years. In the meantime they suggest – easily winning the ‘Most Obvious Advice of the Year’ award – that you ‘shouldn’t neglect your business’ to focus solely on the Metaverse. Older, more cynical readers may also remember the VHS vs Betamax battle: who was the winner in the end? Neither of them.

The Metaverse and Augmented Reality may go the same way. But it would pay us all to stay on top of developments, as opposed to one day realising we need to play a serious game of catch-up.

In the meantime I need to turn my attention back to Dave McCartney. He says do I want to meet him for a drink? Apparently he’s bought a virtual beach bar in St Lucia. Pass me those goggles…

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