The Future of the Internet for Businesses
A look at the rapidly-evolving “new” internet and how businesses can prepare
The official birthdate of the world wide web is largely considered to be August 6th, 1991. It was not a uniquely celebrated day. There weren’t any related headlines in the news. It was largely a lackluster affair. But little did society know that it would be the beginning of something that connected people around the globe and changed the way we communicate, trade, interact, and think.
While the world wide web constantly shifts and iterates, the essential structure of the internet has been surprisingly static over the last 30+ years. Sure, the use cases of the world wide web have expanded exponentially- social media, e-commerce, and entertainment consumption to name a few. But the concept of a website has basically been the same. Navigating to a specific website still has the basic URL, where you type in “www.”, then the unique website URL followed by “.com”, “.net”, “.gov”, etc. It is still a two-dimensional site experience that you navigate through with a mouse, finger, or keyboard to interact with content on a screen. Doesn’t that seem a bit outdated by now?
If you have been following the news at all over the last few months, you probably have heard the term “Metaverse” thrown around a lot lately. Facebook, now called Meta, coined the term to refer to the next generation of the web that is being developed. This announcement from Facebook ignited an arms race across tech companies large and small to be on the forefront of the new home of where people access the internet. In the coming few years, the way we view the internet will drastically evolve away from what we knew as the internet over the last three decades.
The Major Players- Who to Follow
Who will be the winners and losers in this arms race? It is hard to say right now, but let’s cover a few of the big players in the game who want to be in the driver’s seat in this new age.
Meta (Facebook)- As briefly mentioned above, the term Metaverse was coined by Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Facebook is in a uniquely favorable position because of its ownership of Oculus, which is currently the most popular virtual reality headset in the US. They of course also have the advantage of leveraging their powerful social media engines and massive digital advertising market share.
Apple- Apple is likely not going to be the primary hosting platform or operator for the new internet, but it is positioning itself to be a major player in the way that users will engage. They are already working on new VR headsets that can compete with and potentially surpass Oculus. They also have existing devices on the market that can potentially be leveraged as “Metaverse-friendly”. Think about Apple Airpods and the Apple Watch. These types of technologies will put Apple in a strong position in terms of augmented reality and sensory-based online engagement.
Roblox- If you are older than thirty, you might not have even heard of Roblox. As it stands now, Roblox is a gaming company. Roblox is not a game though; it is a place where people play games made by other developers. It is an online platform and storefront- similar to Stream. Unlike Stream, Roblox is a three-dimensional plane, and envisions the new internet as a place where “people can come together within millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize.” Roblox looks to give people the tools to create digital worlds. They are also looking to attract commerce and business on the platform. Roblox even already has its own virtual economy powered by its Robux currency!
Microsoft- Microsoft’s ownership of gaming powerhouses Xbox and Minecraft could be early advantages in the Metaverse race. One of Microsoft’s main goals for the Metaverse will be to retake its position as the top producer of hardware and operating systems. In the transition from traditional computers and PCs to mobile devices, Microsoft lost that stranglehold. They have ambitions to take it back. Microsoft will also prioritize enterprise-related products and services. They want to be a driver in the future of labor in the digital world.
NVIDIA- NVIDIA Omniverse is a scalable, multi-GPU real-time reference development platform for 3D simulation and design collaboration. Nvidia Corp is traditionally a computer chip maker. The company claims Omniverse, which is used for projects such as creating simulations of real-world factories, is the “plumbing” on which the future internet will be built.
These are just a few businesses with high aspirations in the new world of web, but there are plenty more who have their own ambitions. Decentraland, Amazon, and Magic Leap are a few more names to keep an eye on.
What Will Be Different in this New Internet?
Much is still unknown about the new internet, but we do know one of the primary differences will be the way in which we interact with the web. As it stands now, most websites and internet pages are two-dimensional in nature. This will almost certainly not be the case in the Metaverse. The internet will likely be more like a series of three-dimensional virtual “worlds” through which you can navigate and transport. Look no further than some of the video games out there nowadays to get a sneak preview of the possibilities.
The new web will also be more of a “live” experience than the current internet, and will more closely synchronize with your physical life. Just like in real life, there will of course be pre-scheduled or contained events. But life happens in real time, and spontaneity persists as well. We can think of this practically applied in many ways. One way to imagine this is in the way we interact with one another socially. How would you like to be “at” the press conference for a celebrity and be able to ask them questions directly in real time? Or maybe you’d like to feel like you are “in the room” for your next Peloton group workout?
This live, more interactive version of the web will also be better for gaming and commerce. For gaming, we already see the early stages with environments like Roblox and Fortnite. It will only get more advanced, interactive, and interconnected. Online commerce as we know it is going to be a completely different experience than the norm now. We will get into the weeds of how this universe will impact businesses in the section below.
Another unique characteristic of the Metaverse will be the adoption of virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality seeks to completely replace users’ field of vision and immerse people into a completely different world. This can even go so far as to stimulate all five senses of a user, not just vision. Augmented reality combines the physical world with computer-generated virtual components. These components are projected over physical surfaces in the real world within users’ field of vision. Virtual reality replaces what people see and experience. Augmented reality adds to what people see and experience.
The New Internet’s Impact on Business
The new web will drastically change the way businesses across all industries conduct themselves online. Even traditionally brick & mortar businesses will see an increased importance in their online presence. But this doesn’t need to be anxiety-inducing for small business owners. This can be an opportunity to interact with potential customers in a more personalized, engaging way.
There will be a whole new meaning to the term virtual storefront. People will be able to “walk” into a virtual version of a business and get an in-person experience that traditionally could not be replicated through a website. If you ever ordered clothes online, you had to wait until the clothing arrived in the mail before trying it on and deciding if it looked good on you. Imagine a world where you could try on the clothes virtually so you will know how they will look on you before ever seeing it in person.
Another example to illustrate this type of future experience is trying on glasses lenses. You will be able to get the right prescription (and pick out a style of glasses that you like) all from the comfort of your own home! How about furniture businesses? Deciding the furniture in your home is often a stressful and expensive decision. Using the three-dimensional digital world to visualize a furniture layout in someone’s home will remove a lot of the pain points in that decision-making process.
These are just a few examples, but clearly there will be advantages to the consumer. Business owners stand to benefit because they will be able to reach target audiences in brand new and creative ways. Real businesses already pay for advertising in the form of virtual billboards or branded experiences within the digital Roblox universe. Sponsoring digital experiences, events, and places will become just like buying the naming rights to a sports venue or sponsoring a musical concert in the real world.
Businesses will also have the opportunity to gamify their digital presence to hook more customers. Gamification is the process of adding games or game-like elements to an object or task to encourage participation. In other words, companies can make users feel like it is entertaining or stimulating to interact with their brand. Let’s look at a current example of how businesses gamify their websites. If you have a LinkedIn account, you might have noticed that you will see a box to encourage you to populate more details on your profile.
There is something intrinsically satisfying about filling up the completion bar and, in this example, reaching “All-Star” status. LinkedIn wants you to complete your profile, and they use the progress bar as well as multiple “levels” to unlock in order to get you to achieve that outcome. This is an example of gamification.
But what could be an example of gamification in the Metaverse? One idea would be for businesses to scatter hidden “collectables” within a digital space and users get some sort of prize or promotion if they can find all of the collectibles. Another example could be hosting competitions such as trivia related to the brand. Businesses will be able to create their own “mini-universes” where they can include puzzles, mazes, talent shows, or anything else one could imagine.
Ultimately, gamification is about tapping into human psychology to draw the attention and engagement of audiences. Octalysis Group- a company that specializes in creating high-ROI gamification solutions- uses an eight-point framework based on the core drives of human motivation:
Epic Meaning & Calling
Development & Accomplishment
Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
Ownership & Possession
Social Influence & Relatedness
Scarcity & Impatience
Unpredictability & Curiosity
Loss & Avoidance
One more way that the new internet will impact commerce is the way in which people pay for things. All indicators point to decentralized payment methods such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs becoming more widely used. Alternative payment methods are already popular for forward-thinking technologists, but their wide-spread adoption will be accelerated by the Metaverse.
How to Stay on Top of the Trends
If you are a business owner or entrepreneur, this impending shift can feel overwhelming. But not to worry! You still have a little bit of time to prepare. We don’t know if the transition to the Metaverse will be gradual or abrupt, but it is likely still two to three years away at the earliest.
In the next couple of years, there are things businesses can do to prepare themselves. First off, decision-makers within businesses should begin familiarizing themselves with the early indicators of where the web is heading. Getting a feel for what a three-dimensional digital experience is like will make the incoming changes feel less out-of-the-blue.
Businesses should also start brainstorming unique applications to their business or industry. It is not too early to start iterating through potential ideas and concepts. Earlier in the article, we mentioned opportunities for clothing, glasses, and furniture companies. But every industry will have an opportunity to revolutionize what they do. Think about creative ways your company can do business or engage audiences virtually that were previously restricted to in-person interactions.
Finally, plan a timely entrance into the marketplace. While we do not know right now who the winners and losers of the Metaverse arms race will be, it will be important to monitor closely. Making an investment that backfires will set your business back both in terms of time and money. The goal should be to enter the sphere of the new internet late enough to avoid an uninformed and costly decision, but early enough to stay ahead of your competition. We at Render Analytics plan to be relatively early adopters of the Metaverse and keep our smart websites at the forefront of the cutting-edge technology!