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Keeping up with the Metaverse

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Fiona O’Grady, content strategy director at The Youth Lab, THINKHOUSE, on a whole new era of the internet

Keeping up with the Metaverse

The Youth Lab at THINKHOUSE has been following all the metaverse gossip closely (and have written about it quite a few times). With Meta aka Facebook stocks plummeting in February, and conversation growing widely, we’re curious to explore what young people really thought about the metaverse, Meta, and the things growing alongside it, like NFTs and Web3.

We put some polls out on our Instagram stories to ‘read the room’ - aka ask our followers what they really think. We wanted to know how they felt about the next stage of the internet.

Disclaimer: this isn’t a wide reaching poll*, but the results are indicative of just how complicated this whole thing is.

 

SEEING SOME META POTENTIAL?

"We're in a period of great fluidity around norms. We see this in politics, where things that were previously unthinkable are now being widely practiced."  Tim O’Reilly via CBS Money Watch

The mood is mixed, to say the least. Fifty percent consider the metaverse ‘a flash in the pan’ and the other half are able to see ‘the big potential’ - this split highlights that many are not fully sold on its merits or future success. One key concern is its environmental impact. Digital footprints are massive and the impact of digital tech is rapidly increasing. Just look at the impact of crypto mining on the planet.  Companies like YouTube have lofty goals to be carbon neutral on the one hand, while also working to be able to facilitate NFTs and the metaverse on its platforms (building new blockchains). The big challenge is how these companies are going to rapidly meet their carbon neutral goals while also increasing the focus on carbon-heavy activities.

While big platforms are scrambling to get ready for these new trends, smaller collectives are working to create the new internet in better ways for people - to do better (because we all know the internet can be a dark place). There are many examples of organisations doing this through the lens of different initiatives and causes, from education to the arts. Crypto, Culture & Society Journal says: “We have an opportunity to change the modern perception of liberal arts and re-establish it as a foundation to not only creating a better web, but also participating in society and culture, especially as technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous.”

 

INCLUSIVE OR EXCLUSIVE META?

If we’re going to have metaverses, the general vibe is we don’t want it controlled by any one person i.e. Mark Zuckerberg. Meta (the company) is not going to lead the future of the metaverse, according to Scott Galloway, professor, from Vox magazine’s Pivot Podcast. “If he pulls it off, it’ll be one of the most impressive feats in — not even corporate renewal — but vision around maintaining growth. I don’t think they’re going to. I think this thing is already a giant flaming bag of sh*t.” 

Needless to say, the majority is in agreement - people are not interested in one created by big tech.  The wider narrative around metaverse real estate and ownership is huge. With the metaverse being positioned as a way of connecting with people in new ways be it work or play, it is discussed as an accessible opportunity for all. However, the rise of metaverse Real Estate firms is making it expensive and exclusive, losing access for those who might actually need or want to use these spaces. It’s early days but for Generation Alpha, they have been playing in the metaverse so will already be more receptive to the future iteration of the metaverse in a few years.


NFTs - OVER-HYPED OR MISUNDERSTOOD?

Along with Kanye West, who really did not want you to ask him to make an NFT right now, there is still skepticism surrounding NFTs. There are people concerned with fraud within the NFT and bitcoin world. This week, a couple has been caught laundering bitcoins and selling NFTs. Outside of the security scandal, what we find most interesting about the whole story is the unusual cultural surround sound of NFTs. The woman in this case, for example, is also an eccentric rap artist called ‘Razzlehan’ and has published music videos (also see here) which are…unique. The surreal nature of this content also reminds us of the viral Paris Hilton clip talking about NFT purchases with Jimmy Fallon- the whole thing just felt a bit strange. 

While there is a lot of bad mouthing, one good thing that has come out of the NFT world is a new experimental forum and revenue stream for artists. Artist Tabitha Swanson getting into NFTs has been a positive experience, “maybe it seemed a little scary or I built it up in my head, but when I started doing it, honestly, the community has been super nice.”  Of course some people are also just entering the NFT game for creative fun - like this student who accidentally made millions selling his selfies! From the World Wildlife Foundation to Bud Light, the reaction to brands getting into NFTs has also been mixed.

 

IS THIS A WHOLE NEW ERA OF THE INTERNET

A massive part of the evolution of the new internet is the idea of decentralizing the internet - moving away from the reality of a handful of massive companies controlling the majority of what most people do on the internet. Web3 is core to this concept. Nearly half - 46% - of  our poll’s participants hadn’t heard of Web3 yet (‘WebWHAT?’) and 54% agreed with the idea of decentralizing the web. One of the basic principles of Web3 is that it’s not on one server/with one company, but is verifiable and allows for builders to be compensated for what they are creating throughout the blockchain. 

However, there are questions around how we can build decentralized platforms to the speed of which we are used to and the challenges associated with decentralization and distributed ownership of servers. Founder of SignalApp Moxie Marlinspike describes it on his blog - “If something is truly decentralized, it becomes very difficult to change, and often remains stuck in time. That is a problem for technology, because the rest of the ecosystem is moving very quickly, and if you don’t keep up, you will fail.”

One space where Web3 appears to be working and evolving in a good way is the use of DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) described as being a future way of working for startups and inviting everyone in from the beginning. 

In conclusion - it’s complicated.

 

BRAND TAKEOUTS

Where we are from a marketing perspective is best summed up by Lindsey McInerney, Global Head of Technology and innovation at Anheuser-Busch when she says, “We need to be paying attention to the places where there is new human traffic” as we move into an immersive internet. From a marketing perspective it provides new opportunities and a new evolution of how we connect and engage with people but equally there are big questions and challenges posed (morally, ethically, environmentally). 

The big thing with NFTs and tokens is the added value it offers to the owner, such as access to exclusive events, previews or more. What kind of experience can it unlock or give premium access to? Creators or celebrities now can create and own their own digital economy, removing intermediaries and letting creators interact directly with fans.


The opportunity and spaces are multifold with the metaverse and that’s what is so exciting, but of course it all depends on how it is done. It’s about integrating with what’s already there while building loyal and engaged communities around your products and brand purpose.

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THINKHOUSE, Tue, 22 Mar 2022 13:59:00 GMT