Reflections on the Metaverse

"Download this Show" in From Tinder with Love 17 Feb 2022, 11:05am on ABC Radio was discussing VR and whether the Metaverse has a future … suddenly I was transported back 15 years and realised I had heard a similar story … the story of videotelephony.
Videotelephony and videophones have a very long history, AT&T had experiments working in 1927 and ever since we had regular predictions that it was just around the corner. It was a feature of ISDN and only really started becoming more widely used with Apple's FaceTime.

There are literally tens of decades required to make this technology mainstream.

There are many reasons for the mismatch between the expectation of the service becoming mainstream and the time it took to become so.

The major reason for the mismatch in understanding customer acceptance is that the vendors asked the wrong question:

Would you like to see the person at the end of the phone call?

most people reply yes. But if you instead ask

Would you like to be seen by the person you are talking to

the answer is more mixed

It took all of:

  • getting the cost down
  • the convenience up.
to start the change.

But video calling did not really become normalised until we had a pandemic that disrupted other social interaction.

Like the early days of video calling VR is likely to be:
  • good for certain tasks - it may make sense in your meeting workflow
  • require specialised equipment to do it well - Meta at least is working on providing mechanisms for the headset disenfranchised
  • good to visit, but nobody lives there - small numbers of transitory users
This is a typical network affect dominated market which is characterised by sigmoid curve.

Unless there is a shock it will be characterised by relatively slow growth and hence be hard to predict. Apple changed the technical landscape of video calling with the iPhone, suddenly everyone could make a video call, it was relatively easy, and they had not paid for a special product to do it (they bought the iPhone because it was a phone). But, it took Zoom and a pandemic to make it ubiquitous.

Will VR worlds where people interact happen, probably, but it may take a long time (probably nowhere near as long as videophones, but still in the order of a decade) before they become normalised.