Let’s Get Real Episode 26: What Is the Metaverse? It’s Not What You Think
Discussions on the Workplace and Corporate Real Estate Podcast
Key Takeaways & Discussion Points
- How can companies decide between all the tech tools that exist?
- Does historical real estate data have any value for organizations going forward?
- What is the metaverse?
- What is special about digital ownership in the metaverse?
- Does the metaverse even exist (yet)?
- What is its purpose — why even have it?
- Is there a dark side to the metaverse?
- What are some of the use cases that could be applicable to the metaverse for companies and organizations?
- What do organizations need to think about when considering their place in the metaverse?
- Sandra Panara on LinkedIn – Director of Workplace Insights at Relogix
- Henry Massey on LinkedIn – Senior Vice President of Workplace Technology & Strategy at Impec Group
- Decentraland – the first fully decentralized virtual world
- Roblox – online platform and storefront where users create and play games
- Sandbox – futuristic VR experience for playing games with up to 6 people
- XRSPACE – a new world for art, culture, music, entertainment, exhibitions, and events
- Virbela – a virtual world for work, education, and events
Hey everyone, welcome to Let’s Get Real with Sandra and Friends, a workplace consortium podcast brought to you by Relogix. I’m excited to be sharing conversational musings about current events and how we envision the ever-changing world of work. I’m Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Insights at Relogix. With 25 years of hands-on experience, I help value engineer global workplace portfolios and employee experiences by aligning workplace analytics with corporate real estate needs.
Have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future podcasts? Please drop me a line at [email protected].
Welcome, Henry! Very excited to have you join me today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi Sandra! Thank you for having me, it’s an honour to be on this podcast, I’ve been listening to so many of your podcasts and always thought about being on it, but hey, here we are! So thank you for the opportunity.
To give a quick introduction on Henry Massey, I’m Henry Massey, Vice VP at Impec Group. I lead the Workplace Strategy and Technology team. A little history about me: I’ve been in the industry for 20+ years now. Informally I started my career somewhere around 8 years old. I like to give this little story so people get a quick background on me: our family was one of the first pioneers in the Archibus implementation consulting world, back in the early 90s. Created a company called Asbuilt Information Systems. Part of this organization was doing as-built floor plans, physically going out and doing laser CAD technology or doing draft planning, so forth and so on.
But at a young age, I always saw plotter paper, pencil, rulers, lines, numbers all over the place, and I found it fascinating at my age. What is this amazing thing, it’s like a puzzle, how do I solve it? My father saw that, and he said, hey Henry, how would you like to learn AutoCAD? And that was the beginning of my “career plan”, if you will. My introduction into this career that I’m in now. Did I ever think I was going to continue it? No. I didn’t. I actually thought about going into medicine, but here I am now in this world, in technology.
But fast-forward, I was able to learn how to draw floorplans. But me being who I am, a creative expressive, I wanted to know what’s next with these floorplans? What do you do with this information? We’ve created these beautiful plans, but what’s next? And that’s when I started learning Archibus and obviously the implementation of Archibus and understanding the business process of organizations, so on and so forth. My maturity in technology naturally evolved through that. And now here I am, SVP at Impec.
What a story, I had no idea that your family was entrenched in corporate real estate to that extent. It’s pretty cool, being part of Archibus—Archibus has been around for a very, very long time, so being exposed to that at a fairly young age is fascinating. So what are you doing now at Impec?
So right now I lead the Technology and Strategy team. What we’re focusing on is providing agnostic consulting. We’re an advisory to organizations trying to resolve their business needs, their requirements, through technology. As I mentioned, back in my youth, it was all about Archibus, but right now, I’m focusing on: what are the different types of technology that are out there today?
What I’m sure a lot of us here and online have experienced is that we’re sold a certain amount of technology. We’re told, ok, it’s Archibus, it’s Manhattan, Centerstone—probably a handful of five. And not too many people know that there’s more than 200+ solutions in the marketplace today, and that’s where I’m really honing in and saying, hey, let’s educate the marketplace on truly what technologies do exist today, and align the technology with their requirements. Not, hey let’s go find a piece of tech that we’re invested in and trying to mould it into organizations’ needs.
We’ve created something called the tech ecosystem, about a good year and a half ago. For that sole purpose. Let’s pull back the curtains, let’s educate, here are all the different products out there. We work closely with vendors to understand what their value add is, and how they position themselves in the market and then with this type of data, we work with our clients and say alright, these are the value props of this particular solution. Let’s understand what your business requirements are, where you’re trying to go, what your scaling plans are, and then let’s fit you into that correct solution, if you will. So that’s one facet of what it is that we’re doing.
We also work with CAD, a lot of organizations have a big need to understand the floor plan perspective, and what their space inventory looks like. It’s typically the foundation of a lot of these floor plan tech tools. And of course, we also slap on best business practices in your workplace organizations. We try to look at it and assess, where are you going, what is your existing business process, and then how are you trying to put that into technology? Because in a lot of cases it’s the 80/20 rule. A lot of people think that technology is going to solve their issues. When the reality is the data you’re putting inside the tech that comes first. So, we try to work with organizations out there and say, let’s understand your data, your process, maybe tweak it a bit here and there to really align with the technology that you have, to get the output that you’re looking for.
Very, very true, the data certainly is the driver there, because I’ve been in organizations that have implemented technology thinking exactly that—that technology was going to fix the problem, and realized very quickly that it’s not the technology. You have to fix the data that’s going to go into the technology to fix the problem first.
An interesting thought that I had while you were speaking was, when you were talking about the ecosystem: do you foresee, from your experience and exposure, companies looking to consolidate their technology stack? Basically go to one service provider that does it all? Or are you still seeing that distributed model where you go for best in class?
I think I’m seeing both. So, right now, to take one step back, I think in pandemic world, a lot of people were trying to slap a solution on to fix the immediate issue. The Band-Aid. And I think a lot of organizations are now starting to realize, oh my lord, I bought 30 to 60 different solutions, and I never thought about if these solutions even talk to each other? There’s so much redundancy in terms of technology and data that now it’s, I need to go back to pre-pandemic status and figure out how am I going to find solutions that actually talk to each other? That’s the biggest thing I’m hearing right now. No one knows what data to look at. What is the master data? They’re again trying to figure out how do I resync my data to be able to rely on that? So that’s one thing.
Is that to say that IWMS is the answer for all of this? Not necessarily. However, there is large value in IWMS solutions, minus the price tag behind it. But it depends on who you have in your organizations. What is it you’re trying to resolve? Where are you going? How are you scaling as an organization? And of course, naturally with these types of understandings, then that’s when the company would say, IWMS makes more sense for you. However, if you are not scaling, if you are really just focusing perhaps on booking a space, and you don’t understand anything to do with space allocations, then a space management tool might not be for you. So a simple, room-desk booking tool might be the answer for you. So, I don’t think there’s one answer, but again it comes down to, who are you as an organization, where are you going, what is your strategy, and what is it you’re looking to do, now and in the long term?
I’ve often thought about this from the perspective of what’s happening right now in the market and as you said, IWMS solutions have quite the price tag. I know prior to the pandemic, a lot of companies who explored IWMS solutions always shied away from it specifically because of the price tag and either went for a less expensive option that maybe didn’t have all the functionality, the bells and whistles, or they used the good old Excel spreadsheets to manage their space.
But as I think about what’s happening right now with the uncertainty that we all are closely watching around what is going to happen, are people going to go back to the office, are companies going to continue to invest, or look to investing in technology when you’re starting to see a decline in the number of people that are going to the office space and does that require a different type of technology stack, because the needs are no longer about space planning, that type of stuff, which is more of the traditional way of thinking about space. Now it’s more leaning towards potentially the experience, and understanding supply and demand and how much that changes potentially from day to day, week to week, month to month, so that you can get ahead of it.
One of the things that I’ve always struggled with, both working in corporate real estate and then also working with companies that had corporate real estate teams was how reactive corporate real estate typically has been, and technology that has existed prior to this whole pandemic experience is always looking back. It’s always looking at data and then, how do we improve it? But it’s based on looking backwards.
What’s changed right now is all this stuff from the past really has very little significance in planning for the future, because the behaviour is completely out of whack. There’s no consistency in patterns, there’s no consistency in behaviour, it hasn’t normalized quite yet. We don’t know when that’s going to happen, it could be in a couple of months, it could be next year, it could be in a couple of years, and so when you think about it from the standpoint of companies trying to figure out, ok I need some kind of technology, but I don’t even know what kind I need, because there’s all of these moving parts to what’s happening—are you finding that most companies are just waiting, still?
They are waiting. However, the forward thinkers are not waiting. They’re starting to think about what technology they need. They’re having conversations with people like us to really map these things out. And again, it’s all coming down to strategy. It’s—who were you then, who are you now, where are you going? And how do I get there? What data do we need to get there?
So yes, a lot of companies are starting to reassess their technology. Can I say that they’re just scrapping it all and starting over? Not necessarily. They are actually just looking back at their data sets and saying ok, how do I make a story out of the data sets that we have? So we can’t say that all historical data is meaningless, because it helps us paint a picture of then and now. Yes, it is important to still have a space management tool, yes, it depends on what it is that you’re doing, are you reducing half of your portfolio, ok, that might mean that you don’t need such an expensive space management solution, but you still need a space management solution in order to understand what is happening today. You need your quantitative data still. People are still using space, sure it might not be a 1 to 1 assignment, however, people are still coming in at whatever percentage it is, 20, 30% now. But we still need to understand what is our current space inventory? How are things laid out? What is the distribution of my collaborative spaces versus my huddle spaces versus my conference/meeting spaces? And without these technologies to give us the data, the trends, we really don’t understand what is happening today.
So, you can’t say just eliminate space management, you can’t do that. You need a baseline at least, to understand. Or a tool to be able to capture that type of data. So I guess this is where the argument comes in, does utilization have a higher importance than space management tools? Probably, absolutely. IOT is coming in, a lot of companies are coming in, and that’s the big emphasis, how is space being used today? But on top of that, we also need to be grappling with qualitative data. Is Henry sitting in the space? How long was Henry there, but at the same time, was I getting what I needed? Am I getting what I came to work, to the office, for? Was I productive, was I just sitting in a chair from 8 to 5? Was I on Amazon buying things all day? That’s where the qualitative data comes into play.
So, there’s a lot of things that need to take place right now. 1) Let’s get all your portfolio information into a system. IWMS, a point solution, get into a solution. Understand your baseline space inventory. 2) understand what is the utilization? Are people coming in? so you understand the trends that are going on. And then 3) get the qualitative data. Why are people coming in? are they finding it useful? What’s going to enhance their experience? Once you have that type of information, then you can start mapping out, ok, this is how space is being used, this is why people are coming in, this is their satisfaction rate, and how do we mould or create this experience to grow and scale? If that is your plan.
Yeah, I completely agree with that, I think the layering of the data, the technology, is key, in terms of—you’ve planned your space a specific way, you’ve designed it specifically with an activity in mind, the behaviour is the layer that basically validates, are people using the space the way you intended it to be used? And then once you understand that as well as what’s changed from the employees’ perspective, you bring all 3 of those points together to then think about, how do we need to think about space going forward? So completely agree with that.
This is a great segue into the next part of our conversation—you and I have talked in the past a little bit about the metaverse. The last time we talked, you were exploring the metaverse and I’ve been very excited about talking to you about this, because I know how passionate you are about it, and how much work has gone into exploring what that is all about. Why don’t we start the conversation with you just explaining to our audience: what is the metaverse?
Ooh! Big one. We should probably take the opportunity and have everyone in their own minds think about, what is it that they’ve learned, how they’ve been educated, what have they heard in the headlines about what the metaverse is?
And so while you’re thinking about that for a second, the definition that I might provide is going to be very different from what we’ve heard. And better yet, I think this definition is going to help really refocus what the metaverse is, and what it’s not, and the fact that the metaverse isn’t quite here yet. I know that concept’s going to be a little mind-blowing. What I mean is, a lot of organizations have really slapped that term on top of everything, and now everything is “the metaverse”. And for me in my journey, that was very confusing.
So hopefully this is enlightening to folks when I provide the definition which is this: a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds, that can be experienced synchronously, and persistently, by effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence and with continuity of data such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments. That is the definition of the metaverse.
It’s important to break down this definition. When I do that, hopefully it’ll make more sense when I re-read the definition, so you can understand what it truly means.
The number one to talk about is 3D. Virtual worlds come in many dimensions. 3D is a critical specification for the metaverse. Without 3D, we’re technically talking about Web 2. What is Web 2? Before I drill down more into the metaverse, let’s talk about the evolution of the web. Web 1 was when the internet was first created, in 1991. Actually, the federal government and a couple of universities were talking to one another to collaborate and share information back and forth. One day they probably woke up from a dream and said, you know, we should probably open this up to the world. This shouldn’t just be us. So they made a tweak in some code in the back end and opened it up to the masses in 1991. That was the infancy of the internet. People were able to go in, read, and consume. That’s it. They weren’t able to edit or do anything with the data, just read it.
Several decades forward, there’s Web 2 where we’re able, as users, readers, consumers, to read, write, and edit too. So if you think about what we’re doing now, we have the ability as users to collaborate with other users and expand our definitions. In Wikipedia for example, we have editing rights, we have the ability to post pictures. We can buy things. That’s all Web 2. That’s our interaction with the web.
However, the data we put into these platforms are not owned by us. If I post a picture on Facebook, they own the rights to it. My entire story, my sentiment. I don’t own any of that.
That’s where Web3 comes into play, which is the evolution that’s happening now. I can read, write, edit, consume. I can also own. That’s the missing part. Web3 is about owning whatever it is you’re contributing. So, when I post the picture, I own that picture. Those are my rights. Where I have my identity posted on the internet, I own my identity versus my identity being owned by massive advertising companies who sell my information. Now I have the right to sell my own information if I want to and monetize that. So that’s huge.
Hopefully I didn’t get off on too much of a tangent, but that’s the evolution of the web. So when you hear Web3, that’s what it is. And the metaverse is a layer within Web3. Web3 is the umbrella, metaverse is under that umbrella. Meaning I can buy things in the metaverse, and they’re mine. My identity is mine inside the metaverse. So those are just components. I don’t want people to think the metaverse IS Web3—it’s just a component inside of Web3.
Getting back to the definition, the next concept is virtual worlds. I’m going to list a couple of names: there are virtual worlds like Decentraland, Roblox, Sandbox. People throw the word metaverse on top of all these virtual worlds, which is not necessarily correct. These are just virtual worlds, they don’t speak to each other. They’re not interoperable, which is the next word I’m going to talk about.
In short, the metaverse can’t be the metaverse unless it’s interoperable. Again, I want people to really think about this one—when you hear all of these different names to focus on, like Roblox, these aren’t the metaverse, they’re just virtual worlds. They are standalone products that are usually created by one specific organization of people. They don’t connect, they don’t talk to each other yet. And when they do, that’s when the metaverse will be here. So that’s something to focus on.
The next one is real-time rendered. When I say real time rendering, that’s the process of generating 2D or 3D objects or environments using a computer program. To give a perfect example of this, think about the Pixar movie Monsters. If I were to try to render that movie on my personal computer, it would take 2 years to render this particular movie, which is an insane amount of time. What rendering means is making something visible. You need a supercomputer in order to really reduce this time. This is what large organizations like Disney use massive supercomputers to be able to render these kinds of movies quickly, to make it available to us. Now, in order for a virtual world to be alive, real-time rendering is required. Which means ideally 120 frames must be rendered per second. We’re not there yet in technology, and that’s the goal. We need to be there. We need to provide real-time rendering for that to manifest itself.
The next is interoperable network. I talked a little bit about it inside the virtual world concept, and that refers to the ability for computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information sent from one to another. So, what this means is we’ve got 160+ virtual worlds right now, and no one speaks to one another. If I create my identity, for example, in Decentraland, I create my avatar, that avatar cannot enter other virtual worlds with that same identity and appearance and so on and so forth. If I spend money in a particular virtual world for clothing, for example, that doesn’t carry on into other solutions. Nor does your identity. You have to have multiple identities. So, you need that interoperable network in order for the metaverse to exist. That’s why I’m saying, the metaverse isn’t here yet, and we don’t know when it’s here. But mass adoption is expected within 5 to 10 years from now.
The next concept is “massively scaled”. In order for the metaverse to be the metaverse, it needs to be massively scaled. As we know, on the internet, there are an infinite amount of web pages, and it’s constantly growing. Every new LLC creates a website immediately; that’s how they market themselves. That’s how they’re so-called “alive”. What’s being said is, for the metaverse to exist, an infinite number of virtual worlds need to exist. And within 5 years, which is what I consider mind-blowing. In 5 years, every company’s going to have a virtual world like they do a website. So, instead of going to a website to find information, to find out who is Impec Group, who is Relogix, they’re going to go to a virtual world and go get experience with this company from a different perspective. They can walk into HQ, they can be greeted by an individual. They can get an understanding of your mission statement and what you’re about. This is our services, and so on. Myself, as a visual person, I’d prefer to walk into a visual HQ than going to a website. I think that would sit a lot better in my mind.
The next one is persistence. I love persistence. This is a very interesting one. To give an example of what persistence means and why it’s important: think about the Super Mario Bros. You jump into a level and you have to defeat turtles and these brown wolves and so on and so forth. You jump on the turtle and fall into a hole. It continues the journey, and then it’s dinner time, and you have to turn off your console and when you come back, you have to defeat the same little things you defeated before. So persistence in the metaverse is: if I jump on the turtle the turtle goes away. It’s gone forever. And not just for me, but for every person who’s experiencing the metaverse at any time. Not just for that time, but literally forever. I never have to jump on that same turtle again. The same concept is, if I were to cut down a tree or throw a baseball through a window in the metaverse, the computational formulas that are showing on the back end are saying, ok, Henry just broke the window, do we keep this change forever? The answer is yes. That’s a massive amount of energy that’s needed, just to understand and sustain change now, forever, and for everyone. That’s the idea. Persistence is that my change, that I didn’t reverse, is a permanent change, and it’ll be seen by everyone.
I know I’m throwing a lot of words around, and that’s why I’m going to re-read the definition at the end, to paint a full picture.
Then, synchronous: when you’re on a Zoom meeting in video, you think that you’re speaking to the person live, like right now, you and I think we’re speaking live. I put my hand up and you think I’m doing that right now. So, the question is, are we in a synchronous connection right now? The answer is no, which is mind-blowing. What’s happening in the technology is that, let’s say in this case Meet or Zoom is recording my hand motions, my voice, and it’s packaging and sending you little snippets at a fast enough pace so that you think this conversation is live.
Something that I never even thought about until now is that maybe you’ll see that your partner is all of a sudden talking really fast, and then they slow down, and then it goes back to normal. That’s because someone at some point experienced a disconnection. You’re offline, and technology is still capturing your recording and sending it to the other person fast enough to hopefully catch up to the conversation and psychologically make you think there was never a disconnect there. That is mind-blowing to think about. So again, for this to truly be the metaverse, we need to have a truly synchronous connection. It can’t be these little snippets going back and forth.
The next is unlimited users and individual presence. Some of the most successful gaming companies with the most powerful computers have a hard time sustaining 150 users in a shared simulation. 150 users. So, if you put more than 150 people in the simulated game today, that means you’ll start to experience a lower quality of experience, so it won’t be equal for everyone. Or there might even be a server crash. For the metaverse to be the metaverse, we need to be able to have an infinite amount of people. Thousands of people who are able to again go into any virtual world and cross that back and forth. Your experience needs to be exactly the same. Because if you don’t have this, people are not going to adopt this solution. Or the technology.
So, I provided a big definition of the metaverse and I pinpointed certain worlds to hopefully highlight aspects of the definition. I’m going to re-read the definition: a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence and with continuity of data such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.
So hopefully now with the context, reading the definition makes a little more sense.
Yes, absolutely—it definitely adds clarity to where the gaps are, especially when you talk about what we think the metaverse is versus what it actually is, and realizing that there’s still a lot that’s forthcoming. It’s not quite there yet.
I wrote a couple of notes as you were talking initially. You were talking about the ability to upload photos and that sort of thing, you were talking about ownership. This is the first thing that jumped into my mind, and I’m sure some of our listeners are thinking the same thing: how does copyright play into that? Right now when you upload your photo, they own the rights to it. But technically, when you post something on the internet, depending on where you post it, you do retain copyright, that doesn’t necessarily go away. Are you saying that in the metaverse, copyright stays with you regardless, until you decide whether or not you want to assign it away to someone else?
Right. That’s the beauty around blockchain technology, and we’ll talk a little bit about NFTs later, but I know a lot of people think about NFTS as being those funky looking apes. That’s a component of NFTs, but it means: a non-fungible token. And with the way that NFTs are developed, they’re supposed to be smart contracts, essentially. Like a gym membership, like my Disney pass, or any of that kind of stuff. They can even be for real estate, like a lease. It’s just a smart contract that says, this is my lease, these are the dates. These are the terms and conditions, etc.
So, to your point about copyright, if I post a picture, I have to first convert that into a smart contract. I convert it into an NFT that says, OK this NFT was created by Henry Massey, here’s his IP address and so on. Here’s the details of this specific piece. So, if I were ever to transfer it, meaning to sell it, it shows the origination. It shows where it came from. The history of the transaction will always be there. That’s technically the copyright, if you will.
Interesting. The second part you were talking about was persistence. You said if you were to break a window in the metaverse, that would be maintained in the metaverse. Does that mean it gets maintained for you as part of your experience, or is that for everyone? I kind of look to Wikipedia for an example: if I go into Wikipedia and make an edit, everyone can see it. Not just when I log in. The version of Wikipedia that I see shows the changes I make, and everyone can see them. Is that kind of the metaverse experience as well?
Same exact concept. Let’s say I’m in front of a building and I throw a baseball through a window. Not only will I hear the window crashing, everyone around me will also experience seeing me throw the ball, hearing the window shatter. Everyone gets the experience at the same time. And that change will be there forever. Everyone will see that broken window, that Henry did for whatever wild reason.
It sounds like fun! And then the third point is around synchronous or asynchronous working. I was thinking about the Sims, and Second Life. Based on your definition, those worlds are more VR worlds than the metaverse, but very much along the lines of you building whatever you want, it’s there, and you can go back. There’s that persistence aspect. You can go back into it a day, a week, a month later. I went back into my Second Life recently, and my avatar was still there from the 90s.
Is that different from when you talk about persistence and synchronization in the metaverse? I guess it’s probably tied to the previous idea of the turtle in Super Mario—when you talk about that experience and then you don’t have to go through the process again. So, if you build something in the Sims or in Second Life, it’s there until you take it down, you don’t have to go through that process again. It’s something that you build upon over time, and it’s available to people who are in that community, and not to people who are outside of it. They can experience going into your space and interacting with you. How close is that to the concept of the metaverse, or is that still VR, technically speaking?
So, unfolding a couple things you were saying: one is about persistence. If I’m building something, if I have something in the virtual world, it’s there not only for myself when I come back a decade later. That’s the whole concept of persistence. Persistence exists in a lot of virtual worlds. I think that’s the beauty right now, is that a lot of these virtual worlds, they’re not on insane tech stacks right now. They can bring in the experience people are looking for, they can bring in synchronous connections because they’re still small.
But in order for the metaverse to be the metaverse, we need to enhance that type of technology tenfold. Because we need to keep that integrity, that experience not only from the virtual world, but across an infinite number of virtual worlds, connected. So that’s why I’m saying, right now, if you were to try to do that, you’d lose your persistence, because there are some serious computational mathematics going on. They’re solving problems and trying to answer questions as algorithms, all kinds of things. So again, on a small scale you can do that now, but again, to this huger scale, it’s not here yet.
Same thing with synchronous. That is the concept of making a live conversation really live. Because you and I right now, it’s weird to say it isn’t really live. What does live really look like? We can’t tell the difference from a technology perspective. Technology is not quite there yet.
Yeah, pretty confident that we will be too at the rate things are going.
So, what would you say is the purpose of the metaverse? Now that we understand what the metaverse is, what would you say is its overarching purpose? Why have it?
I think that’s a very loaded question. I think right now the use case can be everything and anything you want. But I think what’s probably more important to talk about is the possibilities—what is the metaverse allowing us to do? And then I think, from there, we can talk about its use cases. Where are we, what are we doing, what are the possibilities?
One, I think digital identities using avatars is the biggest component. Right now it’s number one. A lot of people are saying, well, why do I want to create a digital identity using an avatar? That’s just funky to me. And it depends on the generation you’re talking to, too. Gen X’s prefer real life, but if you’re talking to a Millennial, if you talk to a Gen Z, they’re going to give you a completely different response. They’re going to say, my digital identity is more important than my physical identity. Because I’ve spent countless hours developing and forming my digital presence. Everything they do is on a digital platform, social media, TikTok, Instagram and so forth.
So, they already have their avatar. This is already how they identify themselves. That’s the beauty though, around the metaverse—it’s allowing people to come into the metaverse and create themselves how they please. If you want to go in to the metaverse as a completely different person, you can. You can be a robot, a unicorn, or you can be you. You can come in and identify yourself however you please. That’s the beauty around all this.
Another perfect example is that I was talking to a Gen Zer, 25 years old, and I was asking the question, what is it about digital assets and avatars and all that is so important to you, and they flipped the question and said, let’s talk about physical mail and emails, which one would you eliminate today?
And with physical mail—why bother? My Gmail has decades of information on it. If someone got rid of my Gmail account today, that would destroy my day. I think I’d be mad about that for quite some time. It has a lot of information in there. So, it’s exactly right. We spend a lot of time building our digital assets, and we’d prefer to trade in our physical assets for that. That was a real tangible example for me.
And also, with digital identities, there’s no bias from gender, no segregation. It absolutely eliminates this concept, which is something we’ve been fighting for for hundreds of years. I think that alone is a massive possibility that’s coming in, and people are saying yeah, this is incredibly important. We need to pay attention to this.
And then of course, global citizenship, which is another important facet, is that there are no boundaries. There’s no racial segregation or questions about where you come from, what’s your sex, gender, identity, religion, none of that. We’re just all part of this. It’s a concept without boundaries, which I think is beautiful.
The second possibility is true digital ownership. Owning a piece of the internet is massive, like I was talking about owning your identity. I don’t think enough of us have thought about that. We sign terms and conditions without even thinking about what it means. “Click here” and you’ve sold your soul to Facebook and they own you. Digital ownership is massive. I don’t even know what I’m going to be able to do with that, to have that type of power back in my hands. That opens up all kinds of possibilities.
Three is the concept of time and space. I know this is another one people like. We can fly, we can jump around, we eliminate all physical laws or barriers of the real world. We were all born on Earth where we have gravity, and we’ve accepted those terms. I can walk, I can jump, but I can’t fly. Someone asked me in my leadership program at CoreNet, Henry, what’s your spirit animal? I said, an eagle—I wish I could fly. That would be phenomenal. If I can go jump and hover over the clouds over the mountains and see the sunset, the sunrise, get to locations faster, all while experiencing whatever I’m hovering over, that would be incredible. And that’s the whole concept of eliminating time. How do I change the reality of time? Because I can’t jump in an airplane all the time. I can’t get into my car and just teleport, drive across the world, it’s not possible. But if I can fly, I can get to most places a lot faster and experience a lot more. No accidents and all that jazz.
So those are the possibilities I think we’re going to be looking at and again, to answer your question very specifically, I don’t think there’s one specific use case. I think everyone who’s coming into the metaverse has their own idea of why they wanted to be there or how they want to augment their existing reality, not replace it. The different ways I could potentially use the metaverse are massive for me.
I’ll talk about me specifically—I work from home. I’m a remote employee, 100% of the time. My connectivity with my employees, colleagues, friends, and family is very limited. So, if I had the ability to capture all these individuals, bring them into the metaverse and have a little more “real life” experience—instead of a conversation on Zoom or Teams, which is a 2D image. I can literally be with you somewhere experiencing something, which will enhance my experience with you.
A real-life story here, I was part of a Masterclass I talked about a little bit on LinkedIn, and this class had around 100 people, and as the icebreaker, we jumped into a virtual world to meet each other and play a game of bingo. The concept was you had to run around, go talk to as many people as you could, learn about them, and match their name to their bingo card, and whoever got to meet the most people, they’d win a virtual world for example. And I thought ok, that’s fascinating, that’s interesting—being the type of individual that I am, I jumped in, but I found myself doing quite the opposite. I was intimidated. I was vulnerable because I felt like I was in a room with 50 different people. Sensory overload. I wanted to stay away from people and get more familiar with my surroundings first before I interacted with anyone. But we had 15 minutes to do the game, so I can’t spend 10 minutes walking around this place and trying to figure out my controls, and then spend 5 minutes at the end talking to people.
So that was my first experience literally jumping in, thinking, cool, I get to hide behind an avatar, so my shyness isn’t going to manifest, but it was quite the contrary. So, when people do start to think about jumping into these things, they need to think about certain things. If companies start strategically thinking about building the metaverse and bringing it into their company, and then just throw everyone in, I think there needs to be instead some kind of onboarding where you get familiar with your surroundings. And then when you’re ready to interact with people, great. Do that at your own pace. So, it was definitely a lesson I learned. So, hopefully I’ve answered your question on where we’re going and why people are using it.
They’re all good takeaways. The possibilities are so exciting, when thinking about the potential use cases and all the cool things you could do and just how our experiences as people on Earth could be enhanced, because it creates opportunities for you to do things you weren’t able to do in the real world. The opportunity for a more generic term is there, in the sense that you need to get on a plane, or a car, you need to go somewhere to interact with people, whereas in the metaverse, it’s just there at your fingertips, whenever you choose to participate in this world, you know you can have just as much impact or significance as if you were doing it in real life.
I think the flip side of that is, as with everything that relates to technology, although it’s probably true of humanity as well: there’s a dark side. You’re in this world that has no rules, because really, there wouldn’t be any rules. So, there’s a level of vulnerability from that perspective as well, because you’re going in in good faith that people are there for the right reasons. As I said, there’s other thing we’ll probably have to experience before we come out on the other side of this, where all those hiccups will have been worked out.
You bring up a great point, which is security. A lot of people are questioning what sort of security they’re going to have inside the metaverse. You have a lot of creators that are starting to finally think about that because, if you have a great idea and just throw it in there, they don’t take into consideration your mental well-being, your physical well-being in that particular space.
People are starting to implement that heavily now. There are solutions that are, for example, creating invisible rings around you, that don’t let others in unless you let them, as a default rule. This is really cool, because I’m sure you’ve seen the news article a couple months ago about the individual who felt harassed, and because of that we’ve implemented this sort of thing inside our virtual worlds. We’re going to see a lot of that come up still, because we haven’t necessarily peeled the onion back far enough, to think about all these different concepts yet.
This very much reminds me of my Second Life experience, in that you could actually work and make money, which you could convert into real dollars. And when I learned that concept I thought it didn’t make any sense, but people were doing that and continue to do that. But I remember HP had an auditorium in Second Life. And another recruitment company whose name I don’t remember. They had a place where you could go in and there was a bank of computers, so if you were looking for a job, it was almost like you were in their office interacting with this recruitment companies. And when they’d have their meetings, depending on if it was a public-facing or private-facing meeting, you could be in the auditorium and listen in, kind of like a virtual webinar. This is going back to the late 90s, maybe the early 2000s, when I first saw that, and I thought it was pretty cool.
From a business perspective, it was mostly social stuff. People were there to have fun. But it was that same concept of creating worlds where you walk in through some doors and you don’t really know what you’re going to experience until you’re there. So, when you’re talking about Decentraland and some of these companies that are in those locations, it’s almost similar to walking into the Nike Space or the Lego Space. It’s all in the same community, but the experience that you’re going to have will be different. I can kind of see how the connection to the other virtual worlds would play into what that experience might be like. So the cartoony look and feel might be better suited to the Lego space versus a more real life kind of experience if you were to walk into Nike. That’s really cool.
It feels like it’s light years away though, because how in the world would you ever bring all of that together? But I think the key is, if you have communities of people working together for the greater good, so that the experience isn’t just for one group, it could be extremely, extremely beneficial.
So what are some of the use cases that you think would be applicable?
So we’re seeing eight that have popped up. Right now we’ve done some studies, some polls, some surveys, all kinds of questions to the audience to figure out what people would like to see implemented. We’ve implemented our own thoughts on this as well. But to talk about this really quickly:
One is virtual onboarding. We’ve seen three large organizations do this internally. They’ve expressed that it created a fantastic user experience. If you have everyone from around the world, and they can’t do it in real life, they still all get that baseline experience, which is massive.
Two would be as a learning and training center, which I think is starting to take over as the number one most critical concept. Everyone’s talking about baselining. How do I baseline my training provided to my employees and teams, and how is this helping eliminate language barriers, eliminate technology issues? I can give the same information to anyone all around the world, and everyone’s getting the exact same experience.
Three would be as a company library. Think about all the different areas where you get information now—your HR handbook, employee handbook. What are the benefits? We could find all these things in the Metaverse. I can walk into a room and I can see that all in a room that creates an amazing experience. I can quickly find my HR guy here, I can quickly view the mission statement modernization. Then I can learn and I can re-engage with the company that way.
Number four would be as a company helpdesk, HR, IT. I know in my experience, in my career with HR or IT I have to go find the IT group and then wait in line. You can do this in a virtual world, you just pop in, go to a kiosk for example, and there might be more resources to help you in this area. I don’t have to go anywhere and it’s a little more seamless.
With virtual work, people say, what’s the value? With virtual work I can go in and, to use myself as an example, I’m in Tucson, Arizona. I don’t have an HQ around me. So, I would love to pop into the HQ on the Metaverse, sit and collaborate with you somewhere around the world would be awesome. People are finding value in the ability to just pop in and pop out of wherever you’d like to be.
Six is creating engagements. A lot of people are saying, I want to be able to just interact with people in a different way. Whether it’s a yoga class, a wellness class, an event, a concert, whatever that may be. I just want to engage with people, and that’s a huge use case that people are looking for. How do I engage with people in a different environment?
Seven is for functional venues. People are trying to find virtual worlds that are providing infrastructure, like a conference room, a building, an event location, whatever it may be. So I don’t have to go in and buy land, I can just go in and find something that fits my needs and use it for what I need.
Eight is digital twins. I think this is going to go in multiple different directions. It can go into literally mapping out your existence with data and all that good jazz. But we’re not going to go there—keeping it simple, digital twins is duplicating your reality. My reality is what I have around me. What if I want to experience this reality in a digital fashion? I can jump around, I can fly over Tucson if I wanted to. Right now I can’t do that in real life. Same thing with HQ, or creating digital twins of their buildings, where people can pop in.
So those are eight different use cases that are totally dynamic. They aren’t static in any way. The platform will continue to grow. But these are the big eight that we’re seeing as the primary use cases.
So if we think about what we’ve talked about from the business side of things, is there anyone currently that you can think of that’s leading the charge with respect to certain genres, or even just organizations that are leading the charge in the metaverse space?
There are definitely a few creators who are creating virtual worlds—I’ll give you some mainstream ones and then I’ll give you a few that aren’t so mainstream but are starting to make a name for themselves. So of course, you have Decentraland, Roblox, Sandbox, all VR spaces. Those are the main names you’re hearing right now. A lot of those are decentralized platforms that are again, just open worlds. They’re open to everyone and anyone, from a child to a senior individual who can come in and explore the space. If you’re thinking of getting into this space, these are the things everyone needs to step back and think about: what is the use case for these specific lands? For Decentraland, I’m sure everyone’s heard a lot of headline news with Snoopdog and Decentraland, Nike and Decentraland. It fits their strategy as an organization. Does that fit your strategy? Is that the type of user experience you want, or are you allowing the world to come into your organization? These are things you have to think about from a strategy perspective.
So you have a couple names like that in the corporate world, if we’re talking about being able to see or be in a virtual world that provides meeting rooms to meet with internal and external colleagues, 3D showrooms, so on and so forth. You have XRSPACE, which is a pretty cool virtual world that’s fully enabled to provide those things. They provide wellness activities, events, brand experiences, so on and so forth. They use it for onboarding, where you can create your own digital avatar, still a little cartoony, but it looks more like you than what some of the other products look like. So again, that one’s focused on virtual meetings, conferences, and events for brands and businesses.
Then you have another one called Virbela, which for real estate also offers virtual workspaces to bring people together and learn, take meetings, train, interact from anywhere. These are all non-decentralized platforms, meaning a corporation’s creating these virtual worlds and you’re probably paying a subscription fee to come into this type of environment.
Now, if I’m going to peel that back, there is another option called Cornerstone. They were a decentralized platform, and the beauty of this particular virtual world is that it’s hyperrealistic. So if you want to have that real-life, mature type experience, this is probably where a lot of people of our generation, Gen X, the Baby Boomers, will be able to assimilate more, because when you go into this land, you notice that the grass looks really real, the trees are swaying in the wind. They map the weather to a city and it mimics it. What’s awesome about a place like this virtual world is that they actually vet you before you can enter it. You say, I want to buy land in this area, and they will evaluate you and say, who are you? Are you a speculator? What’s your deal? Are you a creator or are you just coming in to buy land, let it sit for 5 years and then make a profit at some point?
They’re looking for creators who are going to come in, present their plan. They want you to actually build on the land. And not just for you—how is it going to benefit the community? Which is phenomenal. You actually have a virtual world that’s not just interested in making money, but it’s interested in building a community where everyone works with each other in some interesting fashion. There’s a use case—I was in the Discord the other day, and saw that someone bought land so they could build a cemetery and have their family plots there, so people could come in and mourn there, and visit their family in a virtual world. I never thought about that use case, but people were finding value in that.
Or on the contrary, you could build your corporate buildings as masterpieces and you could bring in people as virtual guests, have events, conference events, bring in your teams, and things of that nature. So, there are definitely solutions that offer different types of experiences, going from your Lego field to your hyperrealistic.
It depends on your use case and what it is that you’re trying to do, but there are fascinating virtual worlds popping up right now.
Let’s bring it back to companies and organizations. Do you think companies should be thinking about their place in the Metaverse today, why or why not? I think I know where this is going to go, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on it.
I think first and foremost, it depends on who you are, and what your strategy is. If you’re Nike, if you’re a retail company, you’re trying to get your brand out there where it might not be accessible to everyone in the world today. I think at the same time, there are multiple facets to this. You have to ask, what should companies be thinking about? What should they be educated on? I don’t think the answer is just to jump into the metaverse. I think what people need to be doing right now is understanding what the metaverse is, what Web3 is, how, if at all, am I going to implement this concept in my organization.
Let’s think about it from a financial perspective, in corporate real estate. I was talking to someone saying, we’re using Web3 to eliminate the middle people who are controlling our leases, or throwing it into the blockchain, putting it all into smart contracts, and that’s what we use. I just read an article this morning about how a lot of organizations are trying to figure out how to get into Web3 because of this whole component of eliminating the middle man. Imagine how much money you can save if you do that, because now companies own their information instead of hiring middle companies to be managing all of this for them. So that’s one component.
Another one is, who are you trying to reach out to? What is your purpose to be in the metaverse? I think these are all questions you need to answer first. Are you trying to create a brand, or are you trying to create awareness around your existence? Who are you trying to attract? A perfect use case I didn’t talk about before is HR people are finding incredible value in members saying, let’s pop into our HQ. In the metaverse, I have access to a lot of people worldwide. They can come into our office and they can learn about us. I can learn about them. I can hire people right off the bat. So, for HR, this just makes sense.
There was a law firm that just popped up in Decentraland, and that’s their concept—they wanted global outreach. People can walk in and say, I’d like a consultation on XYZ issues, and that’s how they initiate discussions. I think one step is that organizations need to understand technology, go get educated, and then figure out next how do I fit into that model? If you do at all.
We’re helping organizations of all kinds go through that process, helping them figure out all the different solutions that are out there. That’s step one—the tech ecosystem. I’m not sure if everyone here has seen that, but we were the first ones who created tech ecosystem, mapping 200+ different solutions and where they sit in the spectrum. We did the same thing with the metaverse saying ok, let’s find all the different solutions that are out there. What platforms are there in the virtual world, mapping out what genre they’re in.
Where are you in your cycle? Are you active or still in development? What projects are you working on? What genre are you in? And then what are your use cases? What are you providing? So that when companies come to us and say Henry, who are the key players, like you asked me—the ones I listed are the ones that are making moves inside the corporate real estate world. But there are hundreds more that we didn’t even talk about. Again, we help organizations define what their requirements are, and hopefully provide them with a list of different virtual worlds that are out there and how they can potentially fit their model.
This is such a new topic, and as you continue to talk, new ideas keep popping into my head, especially as you were talking about the middlemen and this whole concept of ownership of data. I think the upside of all of this, over the last 15, 20 years is that we’ve seen an explosion of data on the market, and not many people know what’s out there. How is it being used, who owns it? The example you gave that everything is online these days, you always just read “Click here to agree” and nobody reads it. But you don’t know what you’re technically signing away until there’s an issue. So, I think from that perspective, there are major advantages.
I can’t stop thinking about how this is going to change the fundamental concept of business. When you said it eliminates the middleman, and people can do things themselves because they have access, and the ability to do it themselves, because they have ownership. Just imagine the impact to the business world as a result. So it’s strategy to a point, but there are also just the pros and cons of choosing to be a part of something. And like everything else, at some point you’ll have to make a choice, because you’ll be missing out on what’s happening in this world because maybe you didn’t see the value in it.
It’s an extremely fascinating topic for discussion. Oh, and the company I was referring to before was Manpower. I know they have videos on Youtube that show what their environment looks like.
So final question, what are the three most important elements for the future of the metaverse?
I think the first one will be interconnectedness. I should be able to go to the Maldives to just experience the beach. I should be able to go to New York to catch a show or even Amsterdam to enjoy a festival all on the same day. To experience all this. And the only way to do this is through an interconnected network.
Number two would be decentralization. That allows users to experience the Metaverse from a space of safety, greater privacy, and less manipulation.
And to wrap it up, I think the most important component of the Metaverse is inclusivity and diversity. For the first time in human history, diversity and equality becomes your reality. The Metaverse is eliminating inequality by creating opportunities for everyone. A student from India, a lawyer from the US, and a worker from Europe can all find a place of equality and inclusivity in the universe. This one concept alone makes the entire metaverse worth it, in my perspective. And that’s supposed to be the future of what we’re doing with the metaverse.
My mind’s now gone off to a hundred different places. With diversity and inclusivity, I think that’s true. But I can also hear people saying, it assumes people have the technology, because with the diversity and inclusivity aspect, you have to think about the people who don’t have access to the technology. But I think we’re all working towards this idealized version of the future, and like you said, technology is always evolving, so we’ll figure out how to make it accessible for everyone.
I’m sure there’s a lot more we could talk about, but I wanted to just say thank you for your time, I really appreciate it.