Tech Trends of 2021: The Metaverse

Hey there! We’re spending the month of December looking back at what went on in 2021. Keep an eye out for deep-dives and celebrations right here on our blog and on social media.

We’re taking a look back at the biggest trends of the tech world in 2021. Perhaps the most disruptive, exciting, worrying, innovative, controversial and wild is the Metaverse. Is it the natural evolution of the digital revolution, or are we heading towards dystopia?

It’s a trend that’s full of lots of exciting stuff, so let’s dive right in!

What Is The Metaverse (In a Nutshell)

In short, the Metaverse is a vision for the future driven primarily by Meta (formerly Facebook) which sees the virtual world and augmented reality complement and in some cases replace the physical world. The Metaverse is a ‘place’ where we’ll connect, play, work, workout, shop, and anything else that has traditionally been done IRL.

While other companies have been talking about something like the Metaverse for a few years now, (and science fiction writers across the world have been warning us that this would happen!) the 2021 version that’s gotten everyone talking is being pushed forward by Meta. So let’s talk about that.

Although some of the building blocks of the Metaverse are already in place, there’s a lot that still needs to be built. There are also some important questions to answer, like how do you democratize the Metaverse and make it accessible when not everyone can afford a VR headset?

The exciting thing about the Metaverse, is that it’s currently just an idea. It’s something that the tech industry is going to collectively build together, which might make it the biggest cross-cultural innovation in the digital space since the internet itself.

Meta/Facebook’s Vision

Let’s start by breaking down everything that Meta claims will be part of the new Metaverse.

If you’re really interested, check out the full 1 hour 17 minute video featuring Zuckerberg from Connect 2021:

The TL:DW

At Connect 2021, Zuckerberg starts by saying. “The basic story of technology in our lifetimes is that it’s given us the power to express ourselves and experience the world with ever greater richness.” The main idea behind the Metaverse is that we’ll all be inside digital experiences, rather than just looking at them. This follows the pattern of progression that we’ve experienced in the technology we’ve used in our lifetime. Text, to photos, to videos. And now to the Metaverse.

Meta believes that the Metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet for social connections. Communicating with people will no longer feel like you’re peeking in on a moment through a window, but that you’re actually in a room together. This goes for whether you’re sharing a video of your children with your parents, or you’re in a meeting at work.

“It’s not about spending more time with screens. It’s about making the time we do spend with them better.”

Replacing screens with virtual spaces that feel like you’re in the same room will, in theory, help us to feel more connected in a way that’s natural, and in a way that helps us to convey our full range of human expression.

The Building Blocks of The Metaverse

Social connections

The Metaverse could see friends donning avatars and meeting in virtual rooms, designed by artists and content creators around the world. People will be able to call others in the real world from these virtual spaces to video chat, and interact with virtual assets.

It’s a long way away, but the theory and building blocks behind the idea are starting to form. The goal is to bring aspects of the real world into the digital world in a way that feels more seamless.

Horizon is the name of the social platform that Meta is building to host these interactions, starting with Horizon Home, an Oculus project.

Avatars

Avatars will be as common as profile pictures are today, according to Zuckerberg. They’ll range from photo-realistic avatars for a more professional look at work, but could be as fantastical as you want outside of that.

Avatars unlock the potential for a lot of creativity, from unique skins to digital designer clothing. 

Privacy and Safety

“Privacy and safety need to be built into the Metaverse from day one.”

In the social context, safety in the Metaverse will work in very much the same way as it does on social networks today. You’ll be able to block people from your view/from viewing you, and you choose who you want to interact with and when you do so. You’ll also have the option to ‘teleport’ yourself to a private bubble when you want to be alone.

The Metaverse also creates the need for new forms of governance over this new space.

The Separation of Device and Experience

While the Metaverse will of course still require some kind of hardware, our devices will only allow us to enter these experiences, and will no longer be the focal point of our attention. You won’t need a TV screen to watch a movie, as you’ll be experiencing it as a hologram.

Instead of needing to type on a keyboard or click with a mouse, you’ll be able to command the virtual world around you with a gesture or a vocalization.

Entertainment and Gaming

The Metaverse could see us virtually attending IRL events across the other side of the world, and joining an after party in a virtual room and buying digital merch. This will allow creators and their fans to connect in a whole new way.

Meta is also working on Horizon Marketplace, which will allow creators to sell realistic 3D objects that anyone can buy and interact with.

Gaming, as the biggest entertainment industry globally, is a natural successor of the Metaverse, as it’s already a pioneer in creating immersive experiences and interactive virtual worlds. Gaming in the Metaverse will range from virtual sports, to board games, to AAA fantasy games.

Major gaming platforms like Epic are already looking towards this future of gaming in the Metaverse.

Man Wearing Grey Shirt Using Virtual Realty Headset

Fitness

Technology has already been shaping the way we workout, from wearables tracking our calories in/calories out, to apps and online communities providing digital workout guides. Companies like Peloton provide both the hardware and the software to create whole new fitness experiences. So what will the Metaverse add to the digitization of fitness?

Imaging donning your VR headset and learning how to box by entering a virtual environment of your choosing and facing off against a giant robot? Or using virtual basketballs to shoot hoops with friends on the other side of the world. Perhaps your spin class will use AR to help you better imagine your happy place, by seeing it right in front of your eyes.

Instead of watching your yoga teacher on a YouTube video and trying your best to follow along, they’ll be (virtually) right next to you, able to see your posture and give you important guidance.

The Future of Work and Education

Remote and hybrid work have already had a huge impact on the world of work. The Metaverse will give us the tools we need to bring the best of the office home with us. When you enter virtual rooms with your coworkers, you’ll get those magical moments of connection that help build relationships.

Say goodbye to Zoom fatigue as you enter fully interactive virtual spaces to meet with your colleagues, and enter solo spaces for deep work that are designed to inspire you.

At Product School, we’re obviously big fans of education and making it accessible no matter where you’re from. In the Metaverse, you’ll theoretically be able to learn anything from anyone and anywhere. Virtual schematics will show engineers how to build things, medical students will be able to practice virtual surgeries, and anyone will be able to get up close and personal with the natural world from the peak of Everest to the smallest atom.

Meta have announced that they’re setting aside $150 million USD to educate the next generation of creators to build immersive learning content.

Questions Still To Answer

How Will Interoperability Work?

Interoperability is something that the tech world is already familiar with, through the integrations we use in our tech stacks at work to the digital ecosystems that power our phones, smartwatches, and other gadgets. Things work best when they work together.

One of the main challenges faced in building the Metaverse, is that for it to work a lot of different puzzle pieces have to fit together. You need to be able to teleport your avatar through virtual spaces built by different entities.

Meta is already building an API to support interoperability, and it’ll be interesting to see how that technology develops.

How Will Commerce and the Creative Economy Work?

Not everyone will be able to access the Metaverse, and there will always be roadblocks that stop it from being open to every single person on the planet. In 2021, only 59.5% of the global population are even connected to the internet, let alone having a VR headset!

Meta have stated that in their vision for the Metaverse, creators are fairly compensated for their work and are able to make a living wage off of being full time makers of digital goods/content. They plan to offer their creator tools either at cost or with only very modest fees.

Not everything can come cheap, and the money that funds the creator economy needs to come from somewhere. Building an economy that serves a projected billion people in the years to come is no small feat, so a lot of questions on how this will work are as of yet, left unanswered.

How Will Privacy and Safety Work?

‘Build back better’ is a phrase that has been doing the rounds since 2020. As the world starts to pick itself back up again, the pandemic presented an opportunity for introspection about how we want to rebuild the world. It had the tech industry examining some of it’s practices, from presenteeism and burnout culture in the workplace to how diverse its workforce is.

So how can the Metaverse be built responsibly, with maximum privacy and safety in mind?

The world will need to figure out how to build the Metaverse at the same speed as innovation, while giving regulators and policymakers the time to figure out how to keep people safe. All of the companies and developers involved in building the main blocks of the metaverse will have to work hand in hand with these policymakers, as well as creators.

It’ll truly be a collaborative effort across these functions, to build a Metaverse that is safe, transparent, and built with care.

Life of a Product Manager in the Metaverse, 2042

man in black and white shirt standing near window

So what will life look like for Product Managers in the Metaverse? Let’s look at what an ordinary day of work might look like twenty years from now.

Morning: Working Out and Deep Work

You wake up to another beautiful day in the Metaverse, but you start it in the real world. When you get out of your very real bed and touch your feet down onto your very real bedroom floor, you head to your kitchen for your very real breakfast. At breakfast, you might use a device to read that eBook you’ve been meaning to finish, so you set a Do Not Disturb sign across your Meta avatar, to let everyone know that you’re not open for business just yet.

Time for your morning workout! You don your VR glasses (feeling very happy that bulky headsets are a thing of the past) and enter your virtual pilates studio. It feels like you’re by a beach in Bali, with beautiful blue waters. You spot the avatars of a few regular class goers, as well as some new faces. You wave at the person next to you, who could be from anywhere in the world.

When class is over and you’ve switched out your avatar for a more photorealistic professional look, it’s time to get to work. You’ve got three hours before your meetings start (a miracle!) so it’s time for some deep, individual work. You enter your virtual office space, which you’ve got personalized for your own workflow, and get lost in user surveys and NPS scores. The spreadsheets come to life in front of you as holograms, and you sift through them with a few waves of your hand.

Afternoon: Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

At lunch, you decide to take a walk around the block to your local coffee shop, just to get out of the house a little. Because when you get home it’s time to jump into all of your meetings!

First up, you have a standup with the design team. Charlie’s avatar is a giant T-rex with a feather boa…classic Charlie. It’s a fairly casual catch up where you pull up the roadmap and go through the successes and blockers of the week.

Next, you’ve got a 1-1 with your APM. You invite them to your personal office space where you can chat in a more comfortable environment.  You ping them a few links to some interesting educational content from Product School that you thought they might be interested in.

Finally, you have an important stakeholder meeting. You spend a few minutes making sure that everything is perfect in the virtual boardroom, personalized with your company’s logo to look extra professional. Your presentation is perfect and you’re ready to go!

Evening: Game Night

Work is done, and it’s time to log off. You order yourself some dinner from a local restaurant. Their online menu has 3D assets showing you exactly what your meal will look like, and it makes your mouth water.

Then it’s time for game night with friends. A few swipes, and it feels like your best friend is sitting on the sofa next to you. After scrolling through the options you land on a game of darts. You get to see that stupid dance they do everytime they get a bullseye, and highfive them when they win. Even though they live across an ocean from you.

And of course before you go off to bed you reply to some last minute emails from your engineering team. Because some aspects of PM life will never change!

What Does the World Have to Say About the Metaverse?

Final Thoughts

Opinions and ideas about the Metaverse and what it’s going to look like will be flying around the tech industry for years to come. Product Managers, as influential members of the tech industry, will have a big part to play in how the vision forms.

By upholding the principles of Product Management, the Product community can make sure that it gets built in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons. The Metaverse can be innovative, safe, accessible, and people-first.

For now, with so much left to be decided, the best thing that Product People can do is to try to become the best version of themselves. Build better products, build a better future.

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