Relax! — It’s Only April 1998 in the Metaverse

Jason McGuigan, Head of Commercial VR, Lenovo Intelligent Devices Group

Hey, see any headlines like these? The Metaverse is a Trillion-Dollar Boondoggle in the Making! Or No One Is In The Metaverse. Or Working In The Metaverse is Going to Suck.

Don’t let the schadenfreude for big tech, volatility of crypto currencies, or other negative news today fool you. The Metaverse is well under construction and the extended reality (XR) technologies being deployed today are demonstrating real value.

I was doing web work in the early days of the Internet, and I remember the same terabytes worth of shade currently thrown at the Metaverse being thrown at the newly emerging network that today surpasses all estimates of what the “Information Superhighway” could be.

If you didn’t recall the headlines then, maybe you’ll know them now because they’ve become famous as failures in prognostication. Internet? Bah! and Internet ‘May Just Be a Passing Fad as Millions Give Up On It’ are just some of the best examples of the bad analysis from two decades ago.

Let’s review. The first website was introduced in the world in August 1991i. There are nearly two billion websites today. That’s a pretty good run rate!ii

Now let’s compare the Internet and the Metaverse. We don’t have a simple ‘Metaverse was switched on’ date because we’re still so early on, so we’ll have to use a proxy. I think March 2016 will serve. That’s when the Oculus Rift started shipping to customers, and that’s when people could readily start using virtual reality (VR) in their own homes.

So, we’re at seven years and eight months after the birth of the Metaverse. Compared to the history of the Internet, we’re really only at about April 1998 in the Metaverse. I looked back and not a lot of exciting things happened around that time. But there were a few things of note relative to the computing industry.

AOL raised its monthly internet access fees to $21.95 per month.

Google filed for incorporation in California.

Meanwhile, Facebook wasn’t founded for another six years, and Instagram, Netflix, Twitter, Uber and Zoom were not yet even a glimmer in the eyes of innovators and investors.

In 1998 on the Internet, we could pretty much only do email, visit a few good news websites and maybe buy something from Amazon because it just started selling things other than books.

So anytime anyone doubts this Metaverse future of ours I’d like to remind them of that it took a long time for the Internet to grow. It took time to engineer and construct it, even longer to monetize, and yet longer still for iteration upon iteration of innovation to occur before the Internet became the global backbone of how we work, learn and connect.

In the cases of the Internet and Metaverse, I can’t help but be reminded of Amara’s Law. We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. In the short term, the market is underwhelmed by XR technologies because most people just haven’t experienced the power of the technology and they can’t foresee the impact.

The XR industry and the Metaverse we’re building has come far already but there is still so much to be done. This is all moving forward. Technology is resilient and reliable in its growth. Today, workers are wearing augmented (AR) smart glasses to assist workflows and achieve near-zero error rates. With VR, businesses are experiencing up to 4X faster training on soft skills compared to classroom training and 275% more confidence in applying skills acquired through immersive learning. In addition, VR training can reduce the risk of injury at the workplace by up to 43%.iii,iv These are real results today.

When these work applications are networked into a persistent digital world with high fidelity remote presence experiences as well as gaming, live entertainment, and education, amazing things will happen. New Fortune 500 companies will be born, new pop idols will explode into the space, and a few kids who grew up playing Minecraft and Roblox will be the next billionaire Metaverse entrepreneurs.

Bet against the Metaverse if you want. But I’ve seen this story before — so I’m excited to see where it’s going.

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