In 2002, buying "real estate in an imaginary place" was a lyric from rapper Busdriver. Twenty years later, it's a business model.
Decentraland, a platform for buying digital assets, lets investors acquire land in the metaverse, the much-discussed set of emerging virtual worlds that promise to become the next phase of the internet. In addition to its real estate angle, Decentraland this week will host its inaugural Metaverse Fashion Week, with brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Estée Lauder displaying their nonfungible-token-based wares.
What are CIOs to make of metaverse platforms? Is it a passing fancy or something they should monitor and, potentially, adopt?
"There's a tremendous amount of hype around it," acknowledged Paul Daugherty, group chief executive for technology and CTO at Accenture. "It's probably the most hyped technology topic we've seen in a decade. That creates a lot of confusion."
Daugherty, speaking earlier this month at Accenture's annual Technology Vision event, cited differing metaverse definitions as one reason for the confusion. The limited scope of consumer applications and a general perception that the metaverse is still half-baked also give many companies pause.
Businesses, however, should consider looking into metaverse today, Daugherty said.
"The metaverse is something for here and now -- not just for tomorrow," he noted. "The metaverse will impact every part of every business and it's coming soon."
L'Oréal tests the metaverse
L'Oréal isn't waiting. "We are already exploring and we are looking at NFTs, digital products," said Stephane Lannuzel, beauty tech program director at the cosmetics company.
L'Oréal has gained experience with some of the metaverse's underlying technology components. The company for several years has employed virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) in its manufacturing and distribution centers. A piece of manufacturing equipment, for example, is tested using a digital twin before it hits the factory floor. Additional testing is conducted using AR, visualizing manufacturing gear in the real-world location.
The next task is to find a way to adopt metaverse approaches across the $30 billion-plus company -- in both consumer and enterprise settings.
"What is key is the ability to deploy at scale," Lannuzel said, speaking at Technology Vision. "What we are trying to do now is really to test this technology, but also to work on the foundations to make sure we can really leverage that."
A responsible metaverse?
But early participation in the metaverse isn't strictly a time-to-market concern. Denise Zheng, lead for responsible metaverse at Accenture, cited the importance of diverse stakeholders collaborating through public-private partnerships and standards bodies to help virtual worlds emerge as trusted, secure and safe.
"Fundamentally, what we need to do is to ensure that the metaverse is responsible by design," she said.
Responsible design involves several dimensions. To build trust, for instance, metaverse designers must build policies and practices that protect the privacy of users, giving them more granular control over what data is collected and how it is used and shared, Zheng explained.
To secure a virtual world, metaverse designers will need to deal with the challenge of authenticating a user identity on one platform and federating that across multiple platforms. Safety is another pressing issue, as the web shifts from text, images and video to real-time interactions via gestures and speech, Zheng said. "Moderation of harmful content and behavior is going to be so much more complex in the metaverse," she noted.
Denise ZhengLead for responsible metaverse, Accenture
Also critical, she added, is incorporating well-being, inclusion, diversity and accessibility into metaverse design.
Staking a claim
There's a lot to consider and, as Zheng noted, the metaverse has a "darker side" along with its potential for business transformation. But companies have an opportunity to design a virtual world worth participating in.
"It is your time to stake your claim in the metaverse," Daugherty said. "Do you want to find yourself in a world, not too long from now, where the worlds and the ways that they operate were created by and for someone else and you're just forced to operate in them? That's the challenge you've got today."