Why real-time experiences will make or break the metaverse
The metaverse is the latest battlefield for tech giants vying for business and consumer attention. Although the phrase has only fairly recently entered the public vernacular, when Facebook rebranded its parent company as Meta, it was actually coined in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson in 'Snowcrash'. In many ways its rise in popularity marks the 'coming of age' of virtual and augmented reality to date.
To make these new virtual worlds a success will require a truly real-time digital experience. Without this, our virtual experiences are unlikely to be lifelike and nor will they be "better" than real life. But in order to make this real-time digital experience in the metaverse a reality, organizations will need a raft of technical capabilities. This is a significant challenge for tech behemoths today, let alone in the metaverse future. So, what is needed to ensure the metaverse is a long-term success rather than a passing fad?
What will the metaverse be like?
Before looking at how we make the metaverse a "reality" we need to consider what the metaverse can be rather than what it is now. Virtual and augmented reality might be growing up, but these technologies are still in their early years where they are trying to work out what they want to be. In the coming years, users will encounter new ways of consuming digital content. In the metaverse everything from data overlays, digital holograms, augmented objects being intelligently displayed, to vast quantities of information will be at users’ fingertips. All of which will deliver an experience that would be impossible in "real life" as we know it today.
Just imagine a concert by Adele, experienced as a personal 1:1 gig by millions of people at the same time, sharing their reactions and emotions with fellow virtual concert goers. To make that experience a reality each element would need to be perfectly in sync across every single participant. If the sound doesn’t match the person singing, or fan reactions are delayed and not displayed at the right time, the whole experience will feel disjointed.
But the metaverse is about so much more than events. Augmented reality will play a huge role in the metaverse, a junior engineer could be guided through the process of installing new equipment in a factory by a more senior colleague who might be working from a totally different location. Allowing the junior employee to be guided through exactly what they need to do as if the other engineer was in the same place reducing the chance of 'rookie' mistakes but without additional travel time and costs.
You might also experience a medical consultation in the metaverse, which will require the doctor to easily access and interact with the patient and their medical history as they would in the real world. There could be huge benefits for patients and healthcare professionals, it’s easy to imagine doctors viewing live patient healthcare data from smart devices during consultations allowing them to make more informed decisions without being in the same room However, these innovations will fail if real-time collaboration and interaction doesn’t take place in real-time.
What it’s going to take
To deliver services and experiences in the metaverse, organizations will make huge investments in development time -- and even then, success is far from guaranteed. Delivering the metaverse and associated services might be achievable for tech giants, but other businesses could struggle to develop all the necessary capabilities. Even Meta is partnering with AWS to make its concepts a reality.
The delivery of services and information must be flawless in the metaverse, equally virtual meetings or events will rely on perfect synchronization. With different use cases -- from big million-attendee events to one-on-one meetings, organizations will need to make sure they have the elasticity to be able to scale up or down to meet demand, while continuing to deliver a real-time immersive experience. Equally robust infrastructure is required to ensure outages -- for instance, a major data center going offline -- doesn’t cause synchronization or other issues for users.
If we consider an example of a business that delivers ads injected contextually into the metaverse run by Facebook, or news updates for sports scores or financial information shown on virtual devices as an over-the-top service, these experiences need to be on par with the rest of the metaverse environment. What’s more, it’s possible that we will see minimum reliability and quality standard -- much like we do for app stores. Businesses that fail to meet these markers could find themselves being downgraded not just by users, but by the organizations running the metaverse itself.
For organizations considering a move into the metaverse, there’s a huge opportunity to become one of the leaders of this new exciting digital future. Those that quickly develop their digital experiences now will get a first mover advantage to capture metaverse market share of a significant number of 'consumers' of this new market from the start. To achieve this, organizations should focus their time and budget on delivering great metaverse experiences, and offloading the complexity of managing and building their own real-time infrastructure as much as possible. Those organizations that do offload this complexity will find themselves able to deliver exciting and new experiences much faster, whilst those that don’t will be left lagging behind and fading into the background of the metaverse.
Matthew O’Riordan is CEO and Co-Founder of Ably.