Whatever your precise definition of the Metaverse – that amalgamation of the decentralized and the virtual – one reality is evident: the credentials that serve so well in the physical world will count for little.
Let’s reflect on that: the character, size, strength, health and wealth a person displays and enjoys in his or her conventional, daily life will be irrelevant on the Metaverse. The signals we use to convey and receive such information, the techniques we sub-consciously employ to verify the same will be equally moot.
The seductive promise of being whoever and whatever you want, is matched by an equal and opposite corollary – in the Metaverse, you won’t necessarily get to choose…
This is particularly applicable to brands. The positioning, familiarity, history, reputation accumulated since a company’s foundation is not about to spontaneously and logically ‘reconfigure’ to the Metaverse.
This is not the Internet. And this represents only a tiny insight into what’s lying around the corner . . . . The arrival of the Web didn’t necessarily change that much; brands were able to ‘reconfigure’ to the Web. While the process was more traumatic for some than others, money and other resources could still be employed to dominate conversations, influence opinion and protect interests.
While the Web was certainly a step towards the concept of ‘virtual’, it remained wholly centralized; regulators could seek recourse from service providers, interested parties could engage with established communities such as platform providers, telecoms companies, content providers as well as other brands (all present in the physical world) to resolve issues and further their agendas.
The arrival of the Metaverse – based on and in Web 3 – removes this convention completely; this will prove exponentially more radical for brands and individuals than any shift in history.
This combination of decentralization and virtual creates an entirely fresh set of dimensions to navigate, exploit and mitigate, and a glaring absence of any structures, protocols or precedents around which to act. In essence, in the Metaverse even the most established ‘earthly’ brands will have no leverage . . . . Or – more precisely – no more (or less) leverage than any other organization or individual present.
The Metaverse is the culmination of apparent contradictions: the concept of ownership alongside that of anonymity; absolute security without any validating authority; inclusivity without any apparent mechanism for the same (it’s entirely inherent).
But there is another reality; less evident but equally certain – these parameters don’t come with ethics incorporated. Web 3 intrinsically is not predisposed towards either good or evil. It is ethically agnostic and each of these parameters has an unprecedented potential for both . . . . .
What makes this reality even more alarming is the absence of any social conventions or accepted wisdom to even define such concepts in the Metaverse!
Returning to the Web analogy, we should never under-estimate the impact of existing social norms on how (most people) use social media, for instance. Precise definitions of ‘acceptable behaviour’ and ‘good manners’ may be debated but their existence is not. The ethereal nature of social media also mitigates much of this tension, particularly for brands. Nothing is forever, and in the end, nothing is fatal.
The same cannot be said for the Metaverse.
Each of the above principals has unprecedented implications for brands and individuals; from the right to be forgotten (or ‘detached’ from a particular occurrence), to the definition of ‘identity’ on the Metaverse and its relationship with the physical world (can a person’s ‘meta’ identity be distinct to his/her physical one?).
The Metaverse is unlikely to ‘default’ towards a set of socially accepted norms which ‘do no evil’. We believe that all participants will have a role to play establishing and reinforcing protocols that could be defined as good and outlawing those which are not.
And brands will be central to this process. It’s in brands’ own interests that their behaviour is seen as exemplary; and, in the Metaverse, this will likely mean proposing, testing and adapting conventions based on societal feedback. Even the process of recording and interpreting that feedback will have to be defined, but this is the task ahead!
Let the discussion commence . . . .
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