Metaverse Academy: Socializing
Socializing is the next key sub-theme of the Metaverse to consider in detail; here, we look not only at the exponential growth of social media, but also at how the growing normalization and acceptance of virtual and augmented reality capabilities combine to create disruptive, wide-ranging, and increasingly sophisticated opportunities for investors.
Generation Game – from MySpace to Metaverse
Just like the Gaming sub-theme discussed in our previous article, the growth opportunities within the Socializing sub-theme are linked to the availability of modern internet infrastructure and wi-fi, as well as the development and affordability of hardware devices fast and capable enough to make immersive, real-time social media use both feasible and enjoyable for users. The capabilities of social media have certainly come a long way in recent decades. While older millennials may look back with some fond memories of the early message boards and text-based chat rooms of the dial-up internet era such as AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, and the emerging blog scene, it’s a very different story for gen-Z (born between 1997 and 2012) who were born into a far more sophisticated and pervasive social media universe. Social media has evolved from a novelty to the norm, and the consumers of today and tomorrow would probably struggle to conceive of a world without it.
Meta Platforms, previously known as Facebook, was not the first social media network to exist, but its development in 2004 – and more widespread adoption in 2006 – helped accelerate an emerging trend towards real-time electronic socializing. Mark Zuckerberg’s pet project capitalized on the success of both MySpace – one of the first social networking sites to allow embedded music and videos – and LinkedIn, the enduring network marketed towards professionals with an emphasis on real names and contact details over anonymity1 . Initially restricted to those on university campuses in academia, Facebook soon spread to all demographics and, to date, remains, with YouTube, one of the most popular ”socials” across all generations, including the over-50s.2 It’s also, considering its WhatsApp and Instagram acquisitions, arguably the source of a large part of the growing social media lexicon; likes, follows, hashtags, DMs, being “unfriended” etc. are part of the younger generations’ growing normalization of the social media landscape. Alongside the rival tweets, snaps, and TikToks, the widespread acceptance and ubiquity of these terms across age ranges is a further indication of just how entrenched social media has become in daily life. Meta has stated it intends to continue to invest over $30bn into artificial intelligence (AI) and the development of a Metaverse platform named Horizon. It also intends to continue to invest in hardware – devices such as Oculus Virtual Reality (VR) smart glasses and augmented reality (AR) lenses are expected to boost both Meta’s profile in an increasingly crowded and competitive landscape and draw more people into increased utilization of the Metaverse’s capabilities.3
Dedicated followers of #fashion
Companies that may have previously restricted their social media activity to advertisements or sponsored ”influencers” are now finding more dynamic and targeted ways to engage with consumers via the Metaverse’s growing capabilities. This isn’t a new concept for corporations; Google’s (now Alphabet) prototype AR glasses, a trailblazing Metaverse endeavor, sought to seize this opportunity in early 2013. The lackluster success of these was attributed to launching at a time when the high cost of purchasing hardware with such early capabilities was inversely proportional to the low appetite for early, bulky wearable technology.4 However, nearly a decade later, the capabilities to harness the power of the Metaverse for technology and other consumer sectors are evolving and growing. These can range from using smartphones or webcams to virtually trying fashion and beauty products before purchase, through to the sale of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to denote ownership of digital items. Nike, the globally prominent sports and leisurewear brand, has already begun selling digitally designed footwear. Its 2021 acquisition of digital clothing company RTFKT Studios has allowed the brand to offer consumers the ability to customize and buy virtual Nike shoes for significant sums of money.5 This also provides a boost to Snap Inc, the company behind the mobile app Snapchat, which offers AR filter technology to allow owners of such items to view them in a ”real life” scenario. Similarly, Z Holdings’ Line Corporation, an online messaging app with around 180 million users in Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan, is seeking to partner with Opulous, a provider of NFTs for the music industry. HYBE, the owner of the Korean-based Weverse mobile app and web platform specializing in multimedia and enabling communication between musicians and fanbases, is also looking to follow suit with both its joint venture with the visual effects company Giantstep, as well as a future pipeline of NFT offerings.
Swipe right on the Metaverse
It’s not just retail goods providers that can benefit from the capabilities of the Metaverse. Communication is no longer restricted to narrow bandwidths for voice and text and is likely to expand further as people embrace a more immersive virtual presence. We mentioned Tencent Holdings within the Gaming sub-theme; while the company has a strong suite of online gaming names, it also has a large and growing social media presence, particularly in its domestic Chinese market. Here, it can position itself for premium exposure to a potential domestic user base of over one billion for its Tencent QQ instant messaging and WeChat mobile voice apps.
Another social phenomenon that has become part of everyday life in the 21st century is online dating. The CEO of Tinder, the most popular dating app for Gen Z users, has already pointed to evidence earlier this year that younger users are demanding a more immersive experience that integrates with other outlets for their online presence such as gaming and music streaming.6 This potentially bodes well for social discovery and video technology companies looking to harness the power of the Metaverse with an avatar-based virtual experience, such as Japanese social media company GREE Inc., an early adopter of the ability to develop and monetize virtual avatar use.
Under the influence
Social media is now so widespread and part of the fabric of our lives; it’s easy to underestimate the sheer number of opportunities emerging that can leverage existing and new user bases to make full use of the expanding and exciting capabilities of the Metaverse. It’s not all fun and games though – catch up with our next sub-theme to discover how the Metaverse is revolutionizing the workplace and industry.
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