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Ladies and Gentlemen! Roll up, roll up for the greatest thing you will ever see! Marvel at the way you can live a new life, working from the comfort of your own home. See work as you have never seen it before – meet people in ‘person’ that are at the other side of the planet. Participate as a peer in social groups as you have never been able to do before…

Yes – the ‘metaverse’ is soon to be upon us – or so the headlines would have us believe. Soon, a new utopian/dystopian alternate reality will be where much of our lives will be lived in the virtual world. Our avatars will meet other avatars, interacting on levels unlike anything we have seen before.

Sure, we have been promised this before – and not just in films like Surrogates and Minority Report. Second Life, a virtual platform enabling members to build environments and interact with other virtual personas, drove a lot of interest in the early 2000s, but its popularity has waned in recent years.

However, with the likes of Meta (formerly Facebook Inc.), Microsoft, and Google picking up the baton, are we finally going to see the metaverse become ‘real’ (difficult for a virtual construct) – and if so, what does this mean to the MSP community?

Overall, I would urge a strong degree of caution over how fast and how deep any MSP dives into the idea of a metaverse. On the flip side, I also caution disregarding it completely.

What impact will the metaverse have?

The pandemic has forced change on organisations. The historical concept of the vast majority of workers being office-based with those working remotely being the exception is under huge duress. Many employees are now demanding more choice in how and where they work. Indeed, those employers who are attempting to enforce a return to office are encountering “The Great Resignation” to one extent or another as employees review their work/life balance and look to progressive employers who will allow a more flexible, hybrid work environment.

However, working from home (WFH) has proven to be no bed of roses. Many find that the lack of social interaction has led to issues ranging from feelings of being left out of things to more severe mental health issues. The use of collaboration and communication technologies such as Zoom and Teams has exploded – but these have not necessarily led to successful solutions to the more human issues.

Hybrid meetings are often a two- (or more) tier affair: those attending in the office create a core of physically interacting people, whereas those working remotely sit there more as observers than being full attendees. As such, their skills and capabilities can be lost – to the detriment of the business.

Full virtuality could possibly help

Attempts at more immersive meeting technologies have been tried before – ranging from the use of cameras and sound systems that attempt to create a more interactive environment, to full immersive systems such as the ones offered by Igloo Systems in the UK, where wrap-around screens and relatively seamless screen technology place remote workers as life-size participants in an environment.

It is likely that one of the first areas the metaverse will try to tackle within the workplace will be such meetings. At the moment, approaches will be around the use of immersive headsets, such as the Oculus headset. Although prices have tumbled and the amount of compute power required to operate such a system has fallen dramatically, it remains unlikely that organisations or individuals will be willing to wear such unwieldy equipment for the long periods of time.

This then brings us back to Google and its Glass product. Launched in 2013, Google Glass was a lightweight approach to adding virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to interactions. As a broad-level concept, it was dropped by Google in 2015 as user uptake was muted. However, it has continued as a product as Google Glass Enterprise Edition, now at version 2.

Google Glass is predominantly used now within the healthcare environment, but does offer a basic idea of how the metaverse will need to go in order to gain mass acceptance: small devices that are cheap enough for organisations to purchase in sufficient numbers to create a workable metaverse for their own users.

Another, smaller, company, Ultraleap, has been working on body movement tracking for some time. The capability to track in minute detail and in real time things like the movement of fingers does introduce the capability to, for instance, turn over virtual paper being ‘held’ in a person’s hands.

By pulling such technologies together, virtual meetings can be far more realistic, with people physically at great distances more naturally sharing information between their virtual selves and interacting in a more equal manner. Sure – we are nowhere near the use of haptic suits allowing people to ‘feel’ interactions between virtual beings, but organisations may be on the lookout for technologies that will help them gain or maintain leadership over their rivals.

MSPs must monitor the metaverse

For MSPs, keeping an eye on what is happening in the metaverse is strongly recommended – and choosing technologies for collaboration and communication that can easily be evolved into using such user devices as Glass – makes a great deal of sense.

Ensuring that users’ data is also secured and suitably handled is also something to prepare for: the biggest players in the upcoming metaverse wars are not exactly renowned for managing user data in a strong and secure manner.

Whatever your thoughts now – whether you see the metaverse as just another bandwagon rolling into town to separate fools and their money or as the next big thing in the future of technology – paying no attention to it may well be the biggest folly of all. Keep an eye on it – and wherever possible, make sure that decisions made now do not preclude any move to the metaverse.

Photo: Rob Nazh/Shutterstock

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Clive Longbottom

Posted by Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom is a UK-based independent commentator on the impact of technology on organizations and was a co-founder and service director at Quocirca. He has also been an ITC industry analyst for more than 20 years.

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