The call came in from our marketing department…“Team, we need a position on the metaverse. Where are we?” It felt like something out of Succession and a Roy clan gathering. “Are we behind it or are we calling bullshit?”
In The West, it appears there is only black and white, good and evil, heroes and villains. There’s no middle ground anymore. And with the pace of the media cycle if you’re not part of the conversation and ‘out there’ with an instant position then you’re nowhere.
What I enjoy most about our business at Zappar is the exact opposite position. We don’t rush in. There’s a new AR announcement, start-up, meet-up, conference, must-attend event and new killer feature pretty much every quarter. And that’s great. But you need to take a long view. Understand. Take stock. Consider. Execute. Don’t rush.
And so here we are again: caught in the classic tech debate as to whether the next potential chapter in digital development heralds wholesale change or just more choice as channels and available platforms continue their evolutionary and inevitable expansion in line with product and hardware developments over time.
The metaverse isn’t meta
Here’s where I’m at on the Metaverse from a personal perspective. I say that as there are so many constituent parts that form the dialogue on the metaverse that I don’t feel qualified to comment on all of them.
The metaverse was catapulted into public consciousness last year by the appropriation of all things XR and digitally interoperable by Facebook as they annexed the term Meta. It was a bold early mover position to take. On the one hand, it has undoubtedly propelled awareness, interest and investment in the space; whilst also brilliantly repackaging so much that was already in development across XR, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, NFTs, CloudXR, Web3 etc. under one unified and gloriously misunderstood term.
However, it does feel like digital groundhog day.
For anyone who’s been involved in the rise of desktop computing, the internet, mobile and AR over the last 50 years - and perhaps the last century if you include media and the first radio broadcast in the 1920s - we’re here again. In the 90s agencies got the call from brands, ‘We need a website’; at the end of the noughties that changed to, ‘We need an app and pronto’; and in the 2010s, ‘We’d like some AR, immediately’.
Here we go in the twenties with, ‘Can you build me a metaverse?’.
The best tech is built on delivering a benefit against a genuine human need. The technology itself disappears effortlessly into the background in helping meet this need better, more effectively, efficiently or more elegantly than what went before. No one cares how you did it. They care that it works and heightens their experience, increases their productivity or reduces their cost typically. Asking to ‘build some AR’ or deliver ‘a Metaverse’ is not only looking from the wrong end of the telescope but belies a misunderstanding of what these concepts fundamentally mean.
The cynic in me would say that the introduction of the term the metaverse as with Mixed Reality before is really a marketing affectation designed by corporates and investors to reposition, repackage and jumpstart the future potential of a number of different technologies all of which are exciting in their own right.
Yes, we’re sexing up the digital dossier to kickstart the hype cycle and further investment in all things crypto, NFT, VR, AR, 5G, CloudXR, Web3, DAOs and WebXR related. I shouldn’t complain, we’re mixed up in this melee! But no one wants an overheated market where expectations aren’t managed properly. It’s a sure way for a lot of brands, businesses and investors to get burnt and undo a lot of good that fundamentally exists around these technical leaps.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
At Zappar we’ve always described AR as a marathon rather than a sprint. In our 12 years in the space, I’d say we’re only just beginning to see how the foundational approach of the last 10 years is now beginning to really demonstrate the power of spatial computing and a camera strategy for brands, businesses and end-users. It’s taken 10 years for phones to improve, cameras to get better, battery life and CPU/ GPU enhancements to take hold as well as the advent of WebAR etc.
It’s fair to say that technological advancements take some time to bed in. We’re still on that journey but the case studies, research and data shows how AR empirically and quantifiably increases engagement, memory recall, sales enablement and sales conversion.
I’d be prepared to say that we’re entering an exciting new decade where the potential of interconnected technologies like blockchain, NFTs, virtual and augmented reality; coupled with 5G, cloudXR and WebXR developments; underpinned by new hardware including head-mounted displays and eyewear will coalesce to make for an exciting new computing age. All at a price point that is within sight for most people. You can call this the Metaverse if you have to based on the potential of interoperability for your new digital persona across systems. Throw in the term Web3 if you like. But don’t be fooled that there is some magic bullet here now and as a brand that this is about ‘creating a metaverse for brand X’.
This is another ten-year journey of understanding the potential of a gaggle of fundamental and foundational technologies and what they might mean for your business. Focus on the end benefits, not the clever acronyms and incredible technologies. And oh boy beware the infosec challenges here. Globally our scorecard for regulating cyber security, safety, mental health and creating social discord in an age where our legal systems simply cannot keep up is pretty woeful. We can drink the kool-aid of the Metaverse but let’s be realistic, this is a pandora's box of new inputs and outputs that we really do not understand yet at a societal level.
Start small, think big
My point is I’m a tortoise versus hare kind of guy when it comes to technological understanding, delivery and adoption for the mass market. By all means, start your journey now, but don’t pull a Metaverse muscle sprinting out of the blocks.
Build an immersive team in your organisation tasked with exploring all these relative technologies. A centre of excellence. Give them a budget and a direct line into the board. They need teeth. It needs a C-Suite sponsor. If this group is reliant on brand teams for the money you will end up in POC hell confusing activity with progress as more people use the ‘M-word liberally in any marketing meet-up. Find the right partners with a track record of understanding and executing in their disciplinary areas.
Get excited about the potential of the Metaverse (once you’ve understood what it means and what it does not mean!) but break it down into building blocks and milestones like you would any project to explore and test and learn. Anyone can score PR points by buying up virtual real estate, NFT-ing everything that moves and peppering every marketing update and event presentation with the M-word.
But that’s not a strategy.
Utility before novelty
I’ll leave you with this. I woke up this Sunday morning and turned the radio on (you know, that 1920s technology). I went and bought The Sunday Times (yes, words on a paper written yesterday for consumption today - nothing better with a morning coffee). I checked out Instagram and WhatsApp (the family posts stuff and cat and dog videos are family obsession). I went to the cinema (pure escapism) and listened to a record (love vinyl) whilst Spotify is pretty much on 24/7 in our kitchen.
Our Apple Mac scrolls through our photo album from iCloud in the background (wow, we used to go on holiday!); I checked in with my mum in Portugal on FaceTime; ordered a new skipping rope on Amazon (I swear by the Reebok speed rope for £5); in the evening my wife and I checked out Netflix, Disney+, Apple+, NowTV, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer before settling on something to watch.
Whilst my teenage son could be heard at the top of the house having a blast with his mates on his latest PlayStation 5 game and our two daughters were on Minecraft and Roblox respectively (they’d finished their homework). I read my book before bed (still love the physicality of the printed page, sorry Kindle). I’m grateful for all these platforms and channels. They all fit my life.
My point is, that for any technology to ‘cross the chasm’ as Geoffrey Moore put it, it needs to provide real value and improvements in productivity in our everyday lives. Sure I’ll embrace new ones when they do the same. I don’t need a clever term to categorise them or give them a new umbrella term.
Show me what the metaverse can do for me. Don’t just say it. I’ll be happy to give it a try…when it’s ready.
There’s lots of exciting stuff coming over the next decade like every decade that has gone before. Call it the metaverse if you like. But ultimately for me, this is just the coming together of many existing technologies that have been interconnecting and working for a long time now.
Before you rush in, understand which are important and relevant to your business. And if you want to know where AR sits in this brave new world and want to develop a camera strategy for your company I’d suggest calling us. We’re certainly excited at Zappar in furthering our partners’ understanding of what the next phase of immersive experiences can look and feel like enabled by AR, VR and MR.
So if that’s of interest we’ve got you covered based on our eleven years of experience exploring the space.
Co-Founder & CEO, Zappar