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May 19, 2021

A Panel on the Metaverse Explores Where Virtual Reality Goes Next

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Extended reality experts recently convened at the Future of Work in the Metaverse,  a one-of-a-kind, interactive panel discussion. 

The panel included Virbela founder Alex Howland, AR/VR Futurist Cathy Hackl, and Second Life and High Fidelity founder Philip Rosedale. Moderated by Charlie Fink, the futurists shared their thoughts on collaborative platforms, hybrid realities, virtual worlds, and more.

What Is the Metaverse?

Think of the Metaverse as the space shared by the physical and digital worlds. Pretty  vast, right? It’s getting there.

In many ways, the Metaverse is the natural extension of the internet. 

Hackl breaks it down into easy terms, acknowledging that multiple definitions exist: If Web 2.0 brought social media to the forefront, the Metaverse is Web 3.0: online connections brought to life by a sense of physical presence. 

That sense of presence—of really being there, wherever “there” is—lets people feel like they’re actually doing . . . well, anything. Work and monetization, gaming, socializing, retail, art and design, communications. Nearly anything you do in the real world is ripe for the Metaverse.

“I’m of the mindset that there can be multiple Metaverses, and Virbela is a piece of that,” explains Howland. “I distinguish what we’re doing versus other typical collaboration tools in that you have that sense of presence, particularly as you start to use it a bit. 

“You get this feeling that you’re in the  room with folks, even though you’re looking at an avatar. The last year, we’ve grown the team from 20 folks to 190 or so now—and I feel present everyday with my team.”

Going forward, avatar-based interactions will drive much of how people interact. 

Already, younger generations are perfectly comfortable as avatars. Popular games and platforms like Minecraft and Second Life mirror what’s important to anyone—hair, outfits, interior design, music, dancing or sports, and academics.

As Gen Z joins the workforce, the Metaverse will be as natural to them as getting in the car and going places is to Gen X’ers.

Leadership in the Metaverse

The younger generation’s experience with avatars and socialization platforms primes them to take over the Metaverse—or any Metaverses, as the case may be. 

That doesn’t mean companies should just wait for the inevitable, though. As developers experiment with new ways to connect online, leaders are discovering how to bring their offerings into extended reality. 

But what’s considered an offering is evolving alongside the Metaverse. Hackl shared a story of her child attending a birthday party. The child wanted a new shirt, and asked if his mother would buy him one—only the party was in Roblox, and so was the shirt for sale.

This makes sense to Rosedale, who explains how his company’s economy is built on self-expression, “Second Life today has about a $6oo million economy, which is entirely people buying and selling things from each other, not the company. I believe the largest single category of products in that very large economy is hair for avatars”

At a level that might speak to more of today’s companies, Howland explained how the Metaverse can enhance productivity and innovation at any scale. 

For instance, in a Virbela campus, staff experience what he calls “casual collisions,” those chance encounters that lead to big ideas. Sharing virtual spaces—like hallways, conference rooms, expo halls, concert arenas, or even a virtual beach—feels like a real office environment. 

In fact, more and more people eventually prefer the virtual environment for its ability to provide work-life balance, control over self-expression, and tech-enabled workflows.

Building New Virtual and XR Worlds

Howland is testing what’s possible at all times. The Metaverse is in a period of experimentation, as developers create new platforms and worlds to explore. 

For Howland’s team, FRAME is the next frontier. The web-based world features customizable 3D spaces where avatars can interact with each other and the environment. It’s similar to Virbela, but easier to access: no downloads, for one thing. And it’s a lower financial commitment. 

Virtual worlds already beat out physical real estate on cost by multiples. But a quick and easy way to get together with friends, colleagues, or monetized audiences is exactly how the Metaverse gains traction. 

Just like the internet spaces of Web 2.0, developers will continue to create settings and features, while users gather to connect, interact, converse, message, trade, share, and like. 

To hear the full discussion, watch The Metaverse: A Glimpse into the Future of Work or follow Virbela on LinkedIn to stay up-to-date with events and articles.

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