The Internet as we know it, is coming to the end of its Web 2.0 era and is embracing the transition to the Web 3.0. Taking a step back, we can recall the introduction of Web 1.0 on the onset of Internet moving from an experiment to a real world platform for many new functions and capabilities that laid out the path for all the achievements afterwards. Web 1.0 introduced browsers, banner ads, eCommerce, and online financial transactions, and started a new focus on customer experience.
Web 2.0 took that to the next level by introducing mobile internet, app economy, subscription-based services, media streaming, social media, online banking, decentralized finance and more. It also witnessed the mass migration of many services from corporate data centers to public cloud to gain access to their quick, global, low-latency, highly available and elastic – virtually unlimited – service capacity.
The past few years of the Web 2.0 have been the era for accelerated adoption of new online customer value delivery mindsets, service and product personalization, AI/ML based online customer insights and analytics, and ultimately, Digital Transformation through “digitization” of products and services and “digitalization” of value offering platforms.
We are now on the onset of Web 3.0, with accelerating expansion of Augmented and Mixed Reality (AR/MR), Decentralized Web, Hyper-Customization, Creator Economy, Enforced Anonymity and Privacy and Metaverse-As-A-Platform.
Web 3.0 is going to be even more dependent on public cloud to provide its quickly expanding demand for cost-optimized, reliable, globally accessible, fast data communication capabilities and cloud-native managed services and tools.
Neal Stephenson, the fiction writer, first introduced this term in his novel Snow Crash that was published in 1992, at a time when Internet was a new and fancy idea with a lot of unknowns.
The term has been since used and abused by the online gaming industry over the past 30 years to mostly refer to a virtual world for gamers to play in, using their home computers and later smart phones.
Metaverse is no longer a potential future paradigm that may happen. It is already here and is now growing and enhancing and evolving by many large and medium-sized enterprises as you are reading this article.
Metaverse, is essentially a proposed and upcoming expansion to what constitutes today’s internet platforms and is expected to be a network of interconnected virtual worlds with strong focus on social connectivity, using Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), Virtual Reality (VR) and an array of Virtual World technologies.
Metaverse is expected to be the next logical shift in global consumption patterns and to reformulate the main customer digital offerings through gaming, avatars, virtual events (sports, concerts, ceremonies …), creator community, immersion, and many more Virtual-Enabled use cases.
Metaverse puts the customer in a simulated reality where “the self” is present and interacts with a linked and embedded immersive and emergent content.
Metaverses requires high data communication bandwidths which is expected to be paired with the connectivity revolution promised by the 5G technologies to expand into mobile and in-field applications.
A hypothetical group of two or more Metaverses would form a Multiverse, which needs a common set of governance, operational standards, and interoperability requirements to allow them to provide the needed hyper-connectivity and integration for the seamless customer experience.
Multiverses are expected to form in near future, as the next level in creating interconnected virtual realms where they join together to form aggregate customer journeys providing seamless experiences and forming virtual economic structures at sector, domain, or global levels.
Multiverses may be formed through integration of homogenic Metaverses, sharing and providing the same context, such as all being gaming Metaverses, providing online gamers with a unified platform, moving from one environment to another.
Multiverse may be created with heterogenic Metaverses, creating a compound-context congregation of many functions that would provide a Virtual Value Delivery Ecosystem covering the end-to-end customer experiences through aggregation of day-to-day activity flows or Value Streams. Example would be a Community Multiverse or Market Sector Multiverse, or National and Regional Multiverses.
This is the overarching term for the collective universe of all Multiverses and Metaverses that exist, and provides the existential encapsulation for them throughout their existence.
Omniverse may or may not impose a universal governance and set of co-existential standards and requirements and it exists as of the presence of the first Metaverse and will expand as more are added.
The Metaverse Value Delivery Model
Metaverses have already been part of a global digital transformation and has started serving as value delivery innovation platforms through creating and expanding customer requirements that did not exist in the world before. While they already cover many features of Web 2.0, their true lobal impact and power is yet to be established and brought to surface through Web 3.0.
- Enhancing the Virtual Customer Experience through a new model for interaction and shifting the Impact and Value of the Outcome: This is happening through changing the context and intrinsic value generating outcome of user interactions within the Metaverse. We are already seeing examples of online gamers doing “chores” in the virtual gaming worlds in return for virtual credit/money which they can then spend for in-game virtual items or paid activities.
This can extend into introduction of p2p or b2c virtual contracts in a Metaverse where virtual work can create real value which is transferrable to real money (I am not referring to creators economy here! As this is “virtual chore” value creation.)
- Enrichment of the Virtual Customer Experience through self and guided Social Exploration Opportunities: Interaction through new experiences in a vibrant and intelligent environment will not only enhance customer delight and sense of self-fulfillment but can also be utilized in creating live social experiences at personal network, community and even national and international levels.
Online gaming environments currently allow players to find their friends and allies and join them in the games they are playing. Social media apps provide users with information on what their networks have liked or been doing.
The new enrichment will take it to the next level by allowing customers to join live scenarios and participate in joint activities (such as attending a sport event as a spectator or player, participating in an arts class or join a book review session and more, where their virtual self will attend the event and interact with others and the environment that is provided.
- Hyper-Personalization of the Virtual Customer Experience through Continuous Intelligent Behavior Monitoring: The concept of personalization of advertising, product offering and support is not new, but the post-pandemic rise in demand for it has pushed it above 75% and has turned it into a major driver of customer loyalty and repeat business.
Metaverses have unique abilities to closely monitor customers behavior throughout their entire online experience. Customers’ interactions with the available immersive content and functions, their socialization, environmental preferences and even the way they move in the virtual world will become a source of data that is now streamed to the Smart Analytical Engines propelled by Machine Learning Algorithms that can create live insights, and trigger customer specific fine tuning in their personal experience in the environment.
- Hyper-Care of the Virtual Customers through new Health and Mental Care and support opportunities: Metaverse can provide the health and mental care service providers with the closest level of access to customers than was ever possible.
Intelligent monitoring of Virtual Customers’ environmental and social interactions can provide valuable insights to their general health and mental status – which after getting the legal clearances from the regulatory bodies – would be able to trigger certain services to provide support during the online experience and / or extend that into the real world and physical care for customers that need them.
- Empowerment of Creator Economy in service of Customer Experience Enrichment: A new economical model is forming and expanding through Metaverse, where content and function creators can use their talents and skills in making value for the customers and earn real money from a virtual world.
The creation will happen at many levels, but the most pure artistic value addition will be done using the tools that would allow the creators to free themselves up from technical details of the underlying platform and focus all their artistic and intellectual power on innovative, rich and attractive immersive content generation.
We will see the new wave of Avatar fashion services, designing and deploying a wide variety of virtual attire and gear that can be leased or purchased.
The Creator-Economy would also allow for collaboration of Virtual Customers in content and function creation, making credits or real money on the side.
It can also open a new job market for participants to seek employment in the Metaverse and go through the entire hiring process without every leaving the virtual environment!
We would also see crowd-sourcing services, like a virtual version of the Amazon Mechanical Turk, to enhance into Metaverse where people can do job-based and part-time engagements for credits or real money.
- The upcoming Decentralization of Customer Experience’s hosting platforms:Metaverses at their existing structure today resemble virtual islands in the ocean of internet. As decentralized as this may look, in reality each one’s architecture is centralized on the hybrid-cloud infrastructures owned and managed by their companies.
Once Metaverses expand and start forming Multiverses, so will start the dilemma of maintaining ownerships and yet sharing the infrastructure among the enterprises in the form of a globally distributed micro-service based orchestration.
This will become more enhanced - and at the same time more complicated - with the incorporation of Blockchain ledgers and Decentralized Finance use cases where NFTs and Cryptos create the value transition medium for micro-transactions among the online peers.
- The Advancement of Metaverse-Customer Interface Experience:When it comes to immersive virtual experience of today, Customers have a better experience using wearable audio-visual devices that would simulate the online world by engaging their senses in an encapsulated experience, shutting off the interference of the physical world.
As the innovation and progress of Metaverse-Customer interfacing continues, we will expect to see lighter yet more powerful devices (enhanced by Intelligent Edge Computing) to enter the market. We should also expect to see efforts from Metaverse platform enterprises in lowering their cost of wearables ownership since their current cost is prohibitive for low income customers.
As the imagination would allow, we would be expecting to see progress in Metaverse-Customer connection done by Neural Interfacing (implants) as well. We would also expect solutions where no physically attached devices (like goggles) would be needed for experiencing the Metaverse (through holograms and multitudes of cameras).
- The Advancement of Mixed Metaverse/Physical Customer Experience:Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) integrate the virtual and physical reality to create an enhanced Physical experience and provide a real-world impact from the virtual functions.
You have already seen AR used in consumer products. Pokémon Go is one of the pioneering games that uses superimposed rendered graphics on a live image that players can see on their smart phones. The IKEA Place app lets customers see how a new piece of furniture would look like in a room, trying several options in models and fabrics as the image is superimposed on a live picture of the room on a smart phone. You have also seen mobile apps that let you visually size the height and lengths of items or walls of your home.
The next generation of Mixed Reality can enable customers to interact with daily physical devices (through Edge computing and remote functions) and even go further with operating machines remotely in manufacturing, excavations, emergency responses and more.
We can also see a new generation of AR soft-gadgets that can be rented to be used inside the Metaverse such as a virtual TV or music player.
- The Revolution in Flow Management of Customer Value Delivery Pipelines:The concept of flow in value delivery is not a new paradigm. Value Stream Mapping goes as far back as 1918, when the global supply chain disruptions of post-WWI made it necessary to look deeply into how value is created in manufacturing, where the waste is, and how to optimize the entire process to deliver more while spending less.
These days, the study and optimization of Flow has evolved into every aspect of value delivery model and monitoring its quality through measuring several metrics on its features and characteristics is wide spread across all sectors and especially in IT business models.
Metaverse is intrinsically positioned to perform continuous and live monitoring of the customer value delivery flow as it is happening across numerous value streams. It will become even more critical when, in the future, Multiverses form through collective sets of inter-related Metaverses, creating Cross-Metaverse Value Streams that would not only extend the customer journey but also enrich it on the way.
As Flow elements are connected to both virtual and physical worlds, they can be distributed across decentralized functions and immersive contents of Metaverses, some autonomous and some guided, promoting continuity of the value delivery flow through a holistic, sustainable and regenerative approach.
- The exponential demand for Spatial / Virtual Processing power:As Metaverses expand into becoming the new socio-commercial platforms so will rise their demand for spatial (3D) computing power at an astronomical escalation level.
Real time rendering of virtual worlds, hosting a rapidly growing number of people’s avatars and providing them with the needed background computing, network bandwidth and data storage capacity to process their big data streams coming in at nano-second latency needs a global ramp up of cloud service capacity that can easily break through the technical ability of each of top tier public cloud service providers.
This demand for accelerated capacity is now ramping up at a time when the semi-conductor supply chains are already strained and there is a Chip shortage worldwide due to the production disruptions from the pandemic and the newly expanding competition between the rival economic superpowers.
We can expect this shortage to act as a hinderance for Metaverses’ expansion over the next few years, slowing them down while raising the pressure on the public cloud service providers to fill-in the gap.
As is the case with everything coming in contacts with humans, there are going to be concerns and risks that we would want to pay attention to and start tracking their potential impact as Metaverses start to expand.
None of the following has happened yet, at least not at the scale mentioned below, but I would like to raise them today as concerns to be considered when policies are being created and features are being prioritized and the impact of Metaverses, especially in Mixed Reality, are going to be assessed and monitored.
- Candy store for Malpractitioners: As the Metaverses expand beyond the data-centers of online gaming enterprises, and online businesses start to join the flow, there will be doors and windows opened to many actors in the field, including a next generation of scammers, hackers, or high-tech thieves. This would soon become an on-going fight between Metaverse security enforcers and culprits.
- The Privacy would become an newly ramped up struggle: The ability of Metaverses in closely monitoring people’s interactions, interests and behavior in a wide range of scenarios and the Machine Learning empowered insights at personal and demographic levels will be very attractive to some government, agencies ( and social engineering companies active on the dark side of virtual world), which would create the fuel for a ongoing clash between advocates of privacy, regulatory bodies, dictatorships and general population, leading to a developing roster of national and international policies and regulations and their metrics and audit practices.
- The Platform Abuse problem will continue and evolve: Today’s Fake news, racial and gender discrimination and public manipulation through fear mongering and distribution of false or mixed information will evolve into the virtual model and will become more complex and sophisticated and will continue infest social environments in the Metaverse. Unless regulators take a proactive position and start embedding the needed compliance mandates into the Metaverse service policies, we can expect today’s problems in this area to take new shapes and have much stronger impacts.
- Deeper Neural Detachment from the Real world: We already have a growing number of mental and physical problems among the online gamers due to losing contact with the dynamics of physical social environment. Depression, over-stimulation, neurological fatigue, anti-social behavior, and a long list of other problems are already on the rise which would only exacerbate if proper measures and solutions are not put in place.
- Exacerbating Self-Image issues:In a virtual world where people’s image are identified by Avatars, we are already seeing online gamers using graphic representations of themselves that do not resemble real life. While creativity and exploration is valued and encouraged, many hide their self-image issues behind their Avatars that would now represent what they are mentally pressed and misguided to desire to look like, instead of how they actually do in physical world. To make it worse, this would also cause a new type of peer pressure among participants in any kind of virtual social interaction. If no support and guidance is established in Metaverses, this can grow into a serious social problem.
- Worsening Physical Health: The WFH model that has been imposed by the COVID19 pandemic has led to a number of physical health issues due to the significantly reduced amount of daily physical movements of home staying employees.
WFH has been adopted by many organizations in response to the interest from the employees to work remotely, and also the fact that these organizations are saving a lot of money by not having to keep or expand their commercial footprint. There is also the added benefit that these employers can search for and hire talent from outside their commute range.
Metaverses may worsen the health issues with lack of adequate physical movement if they do not have solutions in keeping their online participants physically active and engaged on a daily basis.
- Brain-drain in Manufacturing and Physical services: the expected gold rush in the new job market that Metaverse expansion will create with high pay rates can become an irresistible magnet that would pull smart people out of other sectors, lowering the power of innovation, optimization and even regular operations management and maintenance in physical goods and services, raising their costs, lowering their quality and pushing them further into the arms of Full-Automation through Robotics and Machine Learning.
- Starving Physical Environment Initiatives: as Metaverses grow into de-facto virtual realms for business, education, entertainment, socialization and even jobs, people would spend most of their time in them and that would take away attention to the issues and needs of the physical living environments.
This lack of live attention and change in prioritization can in turn take away a lot of funding from maintenance and enhancement projects that are needed for the livelihood of the Physical Environments.
- The Rising Conflict between Advocates of Free Virtual Access and Dictatorships on Censorship, Mass Control and Social Encapsulation: In the recent years we have seen a growing conflict between the West and certain countries in Far East and the former Eastern block, as well as some smaller countries, in definition of what constitutes free global access to information and services or freedom of speech and opinions.
We have seen those countries blocking many freely available services provided by North American and European enterprises and now even demanding direct censorship of content and comments that their governments would not approve. Some have started penalizing blue chip North American and EU enterprises for not censoring content that they would render as harmful against their national interest.
As we can imagine, Metaverses - which will evolve the current 2D internet connectivity experience into a new immersive 3D model with seamless customer experience moving from one environment to another - would instigate a rising conflict against these censorship and control measures and would only worsen the existing conflict, leading to dictatorships trying to create their own Metaverses where they not only continue to control the availability and flow of information and crush any kind of freedom, but can also do their public monitoring and personal tracking at a much more granular level.
Acceleration of AI takeover of Roles and Jobs: As it would be expected, Machine Learning algorithms will find the Metaverse a rather native environment for watching creators and learning from them.
As booming as the next chapter in the virtual economy may look for creators, if left unregulated, the rising capabilities of Machine Learning algorithms - through exposure to unprecedented learning opportunities - will become more prominent into taking away those roles by replicating human artistry and literacy.
Some governments or agencies would find it beneficial to add AI-driven Avatars that can mimic human actors to infilitrate social circles and even individuals’ online private lives to take the monitoring and tracking of people to a new depth that was never possible before.
As much as this concern may look fitting for a Sci-Fi movie, AI-driven Avatars can also be further developed into virtual espionage, mass manipulation and many other abusive use cases.
In general, every issue that we are facing today with Web 2.0 and also due to the introduction of long durations of working with computers and smartphones can be extrapolated into its Metaverse version, and more!
Metaverses are already here in the form of immersive online gaming platforms and are about to start down an accelerated path of exponential growth, spearheaded by high tech enterprises like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Meta (Facebook), that are pushing the concept from the limited framework of gaming platforms into new virtual realms where customer value can be created and delivered, and revenue can be generated in revolutionary ways!
As the progress is ramping up, unprecedented opportunities will rise, but special care must also be invested in measures, controls, and mitigations to address the rising concerns and risks of pushing humans deeper into a virtual realm is open to the world and its current and new players.
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Enterprise Agile Transformation Coach, CIO and Chief Data Scientist
Arman Kamran is an internationally recognized executive leader and enterprise transition coach in Scaled Agile Delivery of Customer-Centric Digital Products with over 20 years of experience in leading teams in private (Fortune 500) and public sectors in delivery of over $1 billion worth of solutions, through cultivating, coaching and training their in-house expertise on Lean/Agile/DevOps practices, leading them through their enterprise transformation, and raising the quality and predictability of their Product Delivery Pipelines.
Arman also serves as the Chief Technology Officer of Prima Recon Machine Intelligence, a global AI solutions software powerhouse with operations in US (Palo Alto, Silicon Valley), Canada (Toronto) and UK (Glasgow).