For the first time since the dawn of the Internet, we are about to leave the 2D paradigm behind and enter the immersive Web 3.0. As with many hypes, the arrival of the Metaverse is accompanied by a lot of excitement. It almost seems as if current reality is about to be replaced by something radically new and all-encompassing. How can organizations and digital creative agencies successfully take the first steps in the Metaverse from this new perspective and with both feet on the ground?
What is Metaverse? To properly understand the concept of Metaverse, it is good to know something about the history of the internet. Web 1.0 was described by the "inventor" of the Internet, Berners-Lee, as the "read-only" Web that played primarily on the desktop. We are now in the twilight of Web 2.0, in which everything revolves around social interaction via mobile devices in particular, and we are on the eve of Web 3.0. The three dominating features of Web 3.0 are, in the blink of an eye, 'algorithmic', 'decentralized' and 'immersive'. In other words: smart, because it is based on AI, transparent, because it is anchored in blockchain, and three-dimensional through the application of augmented and virtual reality. In this article we limit ourselves to the latter characteristic.
Connection between virtual and physical A second phenomenon that is often mentioned in the context of, and in the same breath with, Metaverse is spatial computing. Where Metaverse refers to the immersive web, spatial computing refers to the way we interact with the Metaverse. In a hybrid world of interfacing and physical reality, we control more and more interactions through physical gestures, eye movements and voice. This means that Metaverse is more than just a virtual web. Clear connections between virtual and physical reality are realised.
Gaming as a glimpse into the future Gaming platforms such as Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox provide a nice glimpse into what the Metaverse is and will be outside the gaming context. Generations X, Y and Z spend much of their time in these online social gathering places that some even see as the new form of TV and Netflix (Daniel Li, 2021). The first steps towards Metaverse that are now making the 'normal' news can be observed on the gaming platforms. A historic milestone was Travis Scott's appearance in Fortnite during the pandemic.
Virtual fashion, art and ABBA The universe of Demna Gvasalia, the artistic director of fashion brand Balenciaga, is also expanding to the Metaverse. He released a collection to dress up your avatar in Fortnite. There are now fashion designers who focus purely on creating digital fashion. Not only in the game world, but also, for example, auction house Sothebys is working on the Metaverse: “Sotheby's Metaverse is a home for this new art movement that is built on the foundations of crypto and NFTs”. The revival of Abba that will soon appear in the form of avatars on a physical stage with a physical audience and the new positioning of Facebook, now called Meta, undeniably point to a new revolution, the transition from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0.
Utopia or a practical addition? What is striking is that the Metaverse is seen as something radically new and absolute that will replace all of the foregoing and will change our reality and our digital lives forever. Researcher and journalist Mirjam Vosmeer points out that the desire to temporarily reside in a virtual environment has existed for much longer than today. She refers to the classic novel De Toverberg by Thomas Mann from 1924 in which the eccentric residents of a luxurious sanatorium in the Swiss Alps look at pictures of exotic destinations with stereoscopic devices after dinner. An escape from reality and a kind of first VR experience (Vosmeer, 2021). Not so long ago we were in Second Life cleaning every night to earn credits for purchasing clothes for your avatar. There is an enormous attraction to a projected reality. A second observation and perspective that Vosmeer makes is that, according to her, it seems that the Metaverse adventure continues to consist of encounters between digital avatars in games and meeting rooms. The latter refers to Horizon Workrooms, meeting in VR. It is the first major step Facebook is now taking in entering Metaverse. Despite all skepticism, the Metaverse concept indicates a direction, it is literally the dot on the horizon that we are inevitably moving towards. The next section explores how we can put the Metaverse into practice in the here and now and make the web Metaverse-ready.
Take the first steps in the Metaverse A greater contrast between the artist's impression of the immersive Web 3.0 and today's average cross-section of e-commerce or informational digital platforms is hard to imagine. Many websites still look flat and fairly static. We run into 'walls' of products and content panels, certainly not a world we can step into. The current Metaverse hype can be a catalyst for breaking the current 2d paradigm of the website. The flat website, once started in the Web 1.0 era as 'bringing the folder online', can now make way for more spatial experiences. The interface is often seen as a frame, a kind of painting, within which the presented content must fit neatly. But the interface has now become a world you can step into, without frames and without limits. And especially with a VR headset. It is time for a new generation of digital designers to leave the 2d paradigm, the website as a collection of flat A4 sheets tied together.
1. WebVR content To create immersive content that can be displayed in the browser without plugins and other restrictions, digital designers can use accessible frameworks such as WebXR API, WebGL, Three.js, and A-Frame. Relatively simple code can be combined with more advanced 3d objects from 3d software such as Blender. Low hanging fruit for brands that already have many 3d models available and want to make them accessible to a wider audience (with VR headset). Products in the web store can be offered in a VR view. Even without a VR headset, WebVR provides a spatial experience in which you can navigate with keyboard and mouse (desktop) or via gestures (mobile). Spectacular virtual representations of the pavilions can be seen on the website of the current World Expo in Dubai.
2. Immersive branded experiences Where magic is needed, a campaign or a product experience, the application of VR is obvious. Like no other emerging technology, VR meets the basic need to escape reality for a while and immerse yourself in a fairytale world. Just like the residents of the sanatorium in De Toverberg did. Bijenkorf recently introduced a beautiful WebGL-based digital experience, 'Admire and Wonder', in which the Bijenkorf takes you on a journey through products through a kind of fairytale forest.
3. Immersive Branded Utilities A more practical alternative is the immersive branded utility, a functional application based on AR or VR that promotes the brand in an instrumental way. IKEA has been offering the option for many years to project furniture into your current living spaces through AR. The application offers both brand and consumer lasting practical value. Fashion house Dior offers an AR filter on Snap with which designer sneakers can be tried and shared. The Metaverse can be that simple and practical.
4. Immersive UX Gaming interfaces consist of a three-dimensional world and a flat graphic layer that provides orientation, status and navigation. Also websites, unlike the usual completely flat layout, can follow this combined 2d-3d interface construct. In this way we move from websites to webspaces without literally using VR directly. In this way we make the web Metaverse-ready. Apple's operating system uses spatial presentations of, for example, the open browser windows.
5. Gaming platforms As indicated earlier in this article, the gaming platforms offer a good glimpse into what the Metaverse already is and will become outside the gaming context. It is therefore a good idea as a digital designer, product owner or CMO to spend time on platforms such as Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft to understand the dynamics of the target audience and follow the initiatives of progressive sports and fashion brands.
6. Crypto Fashion There is a lively trade in clothing and accessories for avatars. DRESSX sells metafashion that can be tried in the AR try on app. The Zepeto gaming app offers endless options to personalize your avatar. In the Zepeto clothing app you can easily create and sell avatar apparel. Sansar and The Materialized are other popular marketplaces for digital fashion. Although the focus is currently rather strongly on fashion and accessories, it is useful and fascinating to think about Metaverse product propositions as an extension of the physical product range and to experiment with this on a small scale as a product manager or CMO.
Conclusion For the first time since the dawn of the Internet, we are about to leave the 2D paradigm behind and enter the immersive web 3.0. Like many hypes, the Metaverse is presented as something radically new and universal. Therein lies the risk that many organizations will see it for a while. However, plenty of first steps can already be taken in making the current, mostly flat websites, Metaverse-ready.
References - Laat Facebook je het plezier van virtual reality niet ontnemen, Mirjam Vosmeer, Volkskrant 13 november 2021 (Url: https://www.volkskrant.nl/columns-opinie/laat-facebook-je-het-plezier-van-virtual-reality-niet-ontnemen~b402af84/) - The Metaverse: From Websites to 'Webspaces', Charles Read, 2021 (Url: https://hackernoon.com/the-metaverse-from-websites-to-webspaces-with-charles-read) - Into the Metaverse, Wunderman Thomson Intelligence, 2021 - How to Build Ecommerce Experiences for the Metaverse, Dominik Angerer, 2021 (Url: https://retailtouchpoints.com/topics/digital-marketing/how-to-build-ecommerce-experiences-for-the-metaverse) - Metaverse: Hype of echt een blijvende ontwikkeling?, Erdinç Saçan, 2021 (Url: https://www.emerce.nl/achtergrond/metaverse-hype-of-echt-een-blijvende-ontwikkeling) - WebXR Device API, W3C, 2021 (Url: https://www.w3.org/TR/webxr/) - Cavemen of the Digital Age, Jasper van Eck, 2020 (Url: https://www.mirabeau.nl/en/articles/news/2020/articles/cavemen-of-the-digital-age) - AR and VR Using the Webxr API: Learn to Create Immersive Content with Webgl, Three.Js, and A-Frame, Rakesh Baruah, 2020. Creating Augmented and Virtual Realities, Erin Pangilinan & Steve Lukas, 2019.