The term “metaverse” is a combination of the words “meta” and “universe.” Primarily, it refers to an anticipated future iteration of the internet, often hailed as Web 3.0. It will likely produce an increase of online 3-D integrated environments, providing users access to virtual reality and augmented reality experiences, designed to foster social connections.
The metaverse was first mentioned in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, which described it as a shared “imaginary realm” accessible to the public through a global fiber optics network and projected onto virtual reality goggles. Today, the metaverse will be poised to impact both future customer experiences and how businesses operate. It will not be one digital space but multiple spaces, combining both the physical and virtual worlds.
Currently, Web 3.0 does not yet exist. It is in developmental stages, with some of the best-know tech companies including Amazon, Google and Meta actively working on how to integrate both current and future technologies in order to create this virtual or augmented reality.
Zuckerberg addressed this in his Oct. 28, 2021 Founder’s letter (when he rebranded to Meta), stating, “The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence—like you are right there with another person or in another place. Feeling truly present with another person is the ultimate dream of social technology… In the metaverse, we will be able to do almost anything you can imagine—get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create—as well as have completely new experiences that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today.”
Entering the future
Once companies master the technology, consumers and businesses alike will enter a world that was once considered the realm of science fiction. Operating in the metaverse will change customer behavior and buying habits, including (but not limited to) using non-fungible tokens (NFT) and crypto currency. In turn, the metaverse also will generate more openness and trust between customers and businesses because the technology will decentralize businesses. Transactions will take place in real time, thereby negating the need for third party evidence of trust. The metaverse will be permission-less, distributed, open source, and with no central authority controlling it.
Examples of the potential benefits of the metaverse potentially could include VR doctor’s visits. In addition, as the Covid-19 pandemic showed, there was a major shift in people moving out of larger cities to smaller, more affordable towns. In the metaverse, there could be virtual 3-D tours of homes with a real estate agent for buyers and sellers. This would be particularly beneficial for those who move out of state and find themselves selling their home, packing up and moving, but still having to spend time once they arrive in their new city to search for an appropriate property.
Already, consumers are willing to use their smartphones when visiting Amazon’s website to virtually “place” a piece of furniture in their home to see if it fits and how it looks. As for the use of crypto currencies and NFT tokens, there are already open-source tools for these currencies, which will make it possible to use them for transactions in the metaverse.
Today, customers make purchases with cash, check, debit or credit cards. With an eye on the future, companies are starting to ask, “Why shouldn’t we have NFTs and NFT tokens and cryptocurrency?” Exploring and embracing these options now will make it easier for people to accept that the metaverse can exist and that it is possible to sell products in it. “Real” money will not be viable in the metaverse, so a virtual currency will be required.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, it changed the way people thought, behaved, and acted. People adapted to doing more online, from attending corporate meetings and school classes via Zoom and other platforms, to embracing Clubhouse and cloud-based voice services such as Alexa or Google Voice. Also, that shift translated to an even greater reliance on online shopping for everything from groceries to furniture, with customers curtailing their in-person visits to stores. That’s why it makes sense for companies to start thinking about bringing their businesses into the metaverse.
Nonetheless, to adopt this radical new way of doing business, people must learn both how to use the new technology and feel comfortable doing so in a realm that is likely to include virtual reality headsets, digital glasses and smartphones that allow consumers to see 3-D virtual realities.
While there are plenty of 3-D video games or exercise classes that now employ various iterations of virtual reality techniques, it’s one thing to don a helmet to hit a ball or follow a dance step, it’s another to make people feel comfortable entering a virtual doctor’s office, bank, or open house inspection, and interacting with customer agents in those environments in real time.
Another major concern is that of security. Both companies and the individuals doing business with those companies require guarantees that their data will be safe. According to research by software company NordVPN, while 66 percent of Americans think the metaverse can eventually replace social media, half fear it will be too easy for hackers to impersonate others; 47 percent do not trust that their identity will be legally protected; and 45 percent fear that even more data can be collected and used against them. At this stage, with the technology just emerging, there is no way to know the potential security implications that might emerge.
Facing the future
While the metaverse is still in its early stages and has obstacles to overcome, it will become part of society’s future. According to Garter VP Analyst Marty Resnick, by 2026, 25 percent of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social media and/or entertainment.
The gaming industry has already embraced virtual and augmented reality, and NFTs and crypto currency are already operational. The innovation of a virtual currency along the lines of NFTs and crypto currency that will be able to be utilized in the metaverse, together with the embracing of a much greater customer experience, make for an exciting future. At the same time, these innovations must be tempered with the knowledge that in these early stages, there are still many unknowns about exactly how the metaverse will work. As such, it’s important to be mindful of the potential risks in this brave, new world.
About the Author:
Poonam Garg is an engineering leader at a Fortune 10 Fintech company who has 12+ years’ experience in IT. Her technical skill sets include multiple scripting languages, programming languages, web technologies, Java frameworks, relational databases, operating systems, open-source tools, cloud technology, security tools, engineering architecture and more. She is a speaker at many tech-industry events, an advocate for women in technology, and an active member of the global Women in Technology (WIT) Network. She holds an M.B.A. from the University of Minnesota.