Last year will be remembered for many things. For more Covid variants and further lockdowns; for being the last year of the golden age of low inflation and low interest rates. And, for Helm members, the return of in-person events after a long, Covid-induced hiatus.
Helm is an exclusive, peer-to-peer community for the founders of scale-up businesses beyond £1m.
But for the founders of US tech giants, 2021 was the year of big launches. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos were busy playing with their rockets (as was Sir Richard Branson), while Mark Zuckerberg had a different focus, relaunching Facebook as Meta.
Putting that presentation to one side (is it too early to sneak another peek at its jaw-dropping horror?), in doing so Zuckerberg kickstarted a rush for information on what, exactly, a metaverse might be.
Was he offering a Black Mirror style future, where we can go to the cinema, the shops and the pub without leaving our sofa? For anyone still not entirely clear, this excellent article by Eric Ravenscraft in Wired explored the possibilities and limitations of such a vision. In summary, there are huge hurdles to overcome before we can even begin to think of the metaverse as the obvious next iteration of the internet.
If you don't know what the metaverse is, you are not alone
The degree of confusion as to what is meant by the term metaverse is well demonstrated by some research from MRS Digital, which showed the huge spike in search activity in the immediate aftermath of the Meta presentation and the range of terms people were searching for to try and understand it all.
The fact that there was a large pinch of the impossible with a side order of the improbable about the Meta relaunch raises the question of where all this talk of the metaverse puts it in the technology “hype cycle”. For those not familiar with Gartner’s hype cycle, it maps visibility over time for various emerging technologies. It also notes how long it will be before each one will have a meaningful impact. There are five key stages: the innovation trigger, the peak of inflated expectations, the trough of disillusionment, the slope of enlightenment followed by the plateau of productivity.
There is no official line on this yet. But at a guess, the huge and unexpected boost given to the metaverse last year by the likes of Zuckerberg and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (who made some predictions for an enterprise metaverse), means we’ll be pitched more quickly than usual into the trough of disillusionment. In the meantime, we are still scaling the heady heights of the peak of inflated expectations.
There remains a lot to be written, said and explored about what is and isn’t possible as well as more discussion on what is and what isn’t a metaverse.
Are there any live examples of the metaverse?
In terms of being metaverse-ready, two of the more developed branches of existing consumer technology are gaming and retail. This is what makes bzar an interesting platform.
Created by the global brand storytelling agency [Invnt Group], bzar takes elements of virtual reality gaming and combines them into a shopping mall environment.
With tie-ups with real world consumer brands (including luxury fashion and automotive brands), the idea is for consumers to be able to shop for virtual clothes for their avatar “in game”, while at the same time buying “real world” items for themselves.
They will also be able to join virtual events in bzar, potentially tethering with a group of friends so they stay close to each other. Events might include gigs from star DJs or product launches and new store reveals. And all the time you’ll be able to do fun things, like chase penguins.
Here, at last, we get to the higher purpose of the metaverse. Because who hasn’t wanted to break up a trip to a shopping centre with a bit of penguin chasing?
Scott Cullather CEO and President of [Invnt Group] presented his vision for the metaverse and how brands can exploit the opportunities it presents at a Helm Future View event. Members only, avatars may be required.