If the word ‘Metaverse’ is the newest technological ‘phenom’ worldwide, then its beauty lies in its inherent plurality. There are as many definitions of the collective virtual open space called metaverse as there are the many vibrant verses or worlds, each telling a different story. So, what is the ‘meta’ of metaverse?
Delving deep into this question was Ajit Mohan, Vice President and Managing Director, Meta (Facebook) India, at his keynote address at the YourStory Metaverse summit, a virtual, global conference being held on March 25-26, 2022, committed towards building a decentralised future powered by Web 3.0. Ajit was speaking to YourStory’s Founder and CEO, Shradha Sharma.
Ajit reiterated Meta’s assertion in the past that the global social media behemoth envisions their future in terms of the efforts that they are making in building the metaverse, which signals a “change” in identity to matter as a company. And Ajit said it’s happening because they are excited by “the idea of a more immersive, embodied version of the internet”.
The next version of the mobile internet is going to be immersive. “The best way to explain the metaverse is that it’s going to be something you’re in rather than you’re looking at it,” said Ajit, highlighting that aspect of the metaverse where lines blur.
It’s going to impact everything, not just Meta’s family of social apps – Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp; it’s going to fundamentally change entertainment, communication and commerce, he added. At the heart of it is the idea that it’s a more immersive, real experience where you can feel the physical presence of people.
He explained that our conversations today, thanks to Zoom and many other video formats, are infinitely better than they were a few years ago. However, the future is going to be even more dramatic without walls — “imagine if we could be in the same space”, he asks.
He cited the example of Horizon workrooms, one of Meta’s first collaborative workspaces. Reimagining remote working, the open beta of Horizon Workrooms is available to download on Oculus Quest 2 in countries where Quest 2 is supported. Workrooms, the flagship collaboration experience, lets people come together to work in the same virtual room, regardless of physical distance. It leverages the power of virtual reality (VR) to facilitate a seamless flow of collaboration and communication. Imagine having your own 3D avatar in a workspace coming alive in all workspace meets and social interactions.
When asked about the possibility of hosting a metaverse summit on meta, Ajit emphasised that what Meta is witnessing currently is the first-generation of utility. “It’s starting to come alive in gaming and fitness. At this early stage it’s the early adopters who are starting to experience Quest2.” With Horizon workrooms transforming collaboration and the workplace meeting, it’s time to wake up to the concept of an immersive 3D avatar.
A game-changing future
At the heart of this change, lies the space of entertainment which is going to see the rise of next-gen creators and builders, whose imagination would know no bounds, and who would ideate on making these experiences come alive in the metaverse.
Citing the massive transformation of the classroom experience in the past few years, Ajit highlighted the potential of education. “You can imagine that learning is going to be a lot easier when you put the student in the middle of whatever is being taught, whether that’s showing the structure of an atom, or explaining the universe, the transition from 2D to 3D; the 3D in which you’re in it, you can experience it, you can see it, I think that’s going to be dramatically impactful for education. And I don’t think we have scratched the surface on it yet,” said Ajit. The visionary tech propounder predicted that we are going to have pretty exciting models come alive in the next five to 10 years.
Finally, building the metaverse is going to impact the economy as a whole, emphasised Ajit, urging us to open our minds to the potential of a world imbued with the power of creators and builders and many virtual worlds. “It’s going to create the canvas for all kinds of new products, categories, goods and services to come alive. And that’s going to create a new economy. If the last 25 years saw the internet fundamentally create models that did not just replicate physical models abounding in the real world, it also created entirely new models of commerce and transactions that we could not have conceived possible otherwise,” explained Ajit.
Building the ‘meta’ blocks
“We believe in the next version of the internet, and we believe we have a role in helping to build it. But we have no illusion that we are going to build the metaverse on our own. We are not even building the metaverse. We believe that we are going to contribute to many different building blocks like other companies and partners,” said Ajit, when asked about Meta’s roadmap to enable the metaverse universe with the right infrastructure.
“All of these different virtual worlds can seamlessly connect with each other. It would not be controlled by any one company. There is no walled garden where companies are acting as gatekeepers a bit different from how the mobile internet showed up,” Ajit added.
Ajit also explained how since the announcement of Meta there’s been a lot of focus on the metaverse, and it’s been delightful to see that . “We’ve been investing in building and evolving alternative reality (AR) and VR devices and systems for at least the last eight years since the acquisition of Oculus. And starting last quarter, we have started revealing the scale of the investment that has gone into what we call Reality Labs, and the load of that. So, there is a lot of investment in very fundamental research. It’s hardcore science,” he added. In a Horizon workroom, one can see their own hands in the virtual world responding to their physical hands via Quest2, he explained the dynamics behind the ‘hardcore science’.
India and the next phase of internet revolution
“India has a huge role to play in shaping the future of the current internet, and in shaping the future of the internet, which we see as the metaverse,” highlighted Ajit, as he spoke about the big transition that’s happened in the last five to six years where more than 700 million people being online. Riding on the power of the new internet natives, India is slated to define the ethos of the open internet.
Talking about the burgeoning depth and quality of the Indian developer ecosystem with the country projected to have the largest number of developers in the world by 2024, the tech leader mentioned how those are pretty dramatic numbers that we are looking at. A great part of the evolution of the metaverse would have to do with the evolution of the developer ecosystem with the potential power of creators and developers around the world and their untrammelled imagination.
The entrepreneurial spirit itself has undergone a tectonic shift, and a lot of it is being defined by a burst of energy around the internet, but even beyond the internet. The future is going to be about entrepreneurs who are going to bet on interesting conceptions of what it means to have new experiences come alive, be it models of conversations, education or the coming to life of new economic models.
“Given our (Meta’s) role, and the fact that we have placed a huge bet on the metaverse and we also have done a lot of work in the last eight years around Reality Labs, it enables us to play a particular role in shaping how this evolves. We believe that we have a huge responsibility to find ways in which Indian developers and Indian creators can share what’s going to come over the course of the next five to 10 years. We have an opportunity as a country to shape the contours of the metaverse in a way that we did not have the opportunity to shape the last version of the internet,” he shared.
Before signing off, Ajit left us with some food for thought, as he talked about the birth of “followership”. “How do you build followership in this world where people around the world are inspired by very different words, and have different heroes and heroines? I think we tend to label it as an influencer but fundamentally, it’s the idea of followership of big ideas. It’s important for companies to recognise the power of creators and influencers, who show up with particular perspectives or points of view, and they tend to build followership,” said Ajit.
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