Today, four well-known people in the metaverse shared a virtual stage in VirBELA to talk about how the metaverse will impact the future of work. (I was not in-world, but I did receive a special livestream link on YouTube to follow the proceedings at virbe.la/metaverse-stream, which I hope works for you as well. Here’s a second link if the first one doesn’t work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iH6Lj1AKi3o.)
Author and columnist Charlie Fink was moderator, asking questions and guiding the wide-ranging conversation among the panelists:
- Alex Howland, the founder and CEO of VirBELA
- Cathy Hackl, VR/AR/XR columnist and author of the new book The Augmented Workforce, who used to work at Magic Leap
- Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Lab (Second Life) and CEO of the spatial audio firm High Fidelity
Some of the interesting things from the panel which caught my ear were:
- Cathy Hackl stated that the “metaverse” is not just limited to Ready Player One, but also Pokémon GO (even though I personally do not agree that cellphone-based “AR” is true augmented reality). She doesn’t want to see everything in one walled-garden marketplace like Oculus. She works a lot in the crypto space and wants to support decentralization, such as the portability of avatars between metaverses.
- Philip said that COVID-19 introduced everybody to the idea of virtual worlds, or shared virtual spaces.
- Alex was an organizational psychologist who got his original idea for VirBELA to create environments for business leaders to learn from each other, practice leadership skills, and to observe behaviour.
- Philip recognized Second Life when he visited VirBELA, and really enjoyed walking around the virtual campus. He feels there is still a lot of work to be done to build platforms which allow people to be creative together.
- Cathy sees ROBLOX and similar platforms as entry points for new generations of virtual world users. Her 12-year-old daughter’s friend is already making money creating and selling skins in ROBLOX.
- Charlie commented on the fact that VirBELA lets you “lean in”, as opposed to more passive video-based services such as Zoom.
- Philip talked about real-life use cases of his new company’s technology, High Fidelity, stressing how the three-dimensional, spatialized audio is better than a Zoom call. The company offers an SDK so that companies can integrate spatial audio into their products. High Fidelity works within the browser, and the company is working on native clients for iOS, Unity, etc.
- Philip feels that avatars are extraordinarily important, saying that Second Life has a $600 million economy, with one of the largest segments being avatar hairstyles! But facial expression and lip movement are not yet there, and we are not yet across the Uncanny Valley effect (where avatars can appear creepy). Cathy notes that her daughter really cares a great deal about how her avatar looks in ROBLOX!
- Alex talked about the FRAME platform, which he launched to pursue WebXR, to provide people ease of access from a wide variety of devices. There are tradeoffs between ecosystems (FRAME versus VirBELA), and they are still experimenting and innovating.
- Cathy feels that VR/AR/XR is incredibly important to the development of the metaverse, in giving an enhanced sense of presence, and impact the way which we engage with environments. She encourages people not to restrict their thinking to just being in a VR headset.
- Charlie asked Philip or Alex to explain what Agora is (a toolbox to allow you to build audio and video delivery into platforms, which is used in Clubhouse!). Philip noted that if the pandemic has happened even a decade earlier, it would have had a much bigger impact without services such as Agora.
- Alex said that they has recently hosted a bar mitzvah in VirBELA, among many other unexpected uses (like speakeasies!).
- Philip says that things are never going to be the same after the pandemic is over. It has now been shown that virtual events can be successful. New technology such as High Fidelity, starting with virtual events, are going to have many applications in future. There are also important cost and environmental aspects to holding meetings such as conferences in virtual spaces.
- Alex notes that his company builds a lot of custom spaces for clients, and he notes that there are different approaches to world-building (i.e. building your own versus have someone build it for you).
- Philip notes that Zoom and similar videoconferencing doesn’t have a natural network effect. If communications do embrace virtual worlds, then that will have network effects (i.e. more people want to join bigger networks, an example being Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Second Life). We still don’t know how everything is going to play out in the marketplace. A lot of CEOs are wrestling with the fact that many of their employees do not want to come back into the office, and how to build corporate culture in that new environment.
- Philip advocated for a stable, cross-platform identity (not tied to your real-world identity), that serves to make us accountable for our behaviour.
Well, those are my rough notes. If you missed the talk, use one of the two links up top to watch and listen. It was an engaging one-hour conversation!