It’s nearly impossible to move at the moment for marketing takes on the metaverse. Completely understandable. A totally malleable, immersive world at people’s fingertips? Think of the potential. It is also still early in its development – so early, that one survey has found that nearly six in ten (58%) of UK consumers have no idea what it is. Still, the rise of the metaverse is coming at a time when our own digital growth report is tracking a 13.8% increase since 2020 in UK adults accessing online services for the first time. This rapid acceleration in digital adoption brings with it a confluence of opportunities for technologists, investors and creatives alike.
The metaverse is, at present, a broadly blank slate. This means that, with the injection of true purpose, it could serve as a fundamental component of scalable social care, pharmacies of the future, shopping and connected cities – much more than a glorified Second Life style online game. For example, some 40m people visit NHS.uk online every month. Investment in an accessible NHS.meta is critical now. Otherwise, we continue the path towards this being a technology for gamers, savvy early adopters, and GenZ.
Applying some insights from human experience design is required immediately if we are to avoid the poor defragmented user experiences that exist between websites, smart device UIs and apps. Humanity in the user experience design of metaverse interfaces could be a game changer – gaining digital skills within the metaverse and accessing devices to participate and be an active member of the community FOR ALL, not just a savvy few.
Akin to the consistency and standards throughout app stores, the Metaverse must have planning laws established now to address learnings from Web 2.0, VR, AR, and even the early Metaverse where founders like Phil Rosendale of Second Life shared their breakthrough learnings as the proto-metaverse.
We wouldn’t dream of building a house without planning permission – Metaverse planning laws, accessibility, ethics and access laws/regulations need to be developed and agreed now. Otherwise, we’re starting Internet 5.0 off with the same issues as 1-4, disparate user experiences and interfaces with device compatibility issues and a further divide for the hidden communities that would truly benefit from this. Whether this structure needs to come from Meta or from other early shapers of metaverse experience is moot. If this ‘wild west’ approach to such a rich virtual environment continues, a lack of consistency and cohesion will stop it from becoming a true force to shape social good.
We need more physical spaces to ensure our amazing technical advances and creativity in the metaverse is not further intensifying digital exclusion (because of lack of skills, training, environment, technology, device compatibility, money). Whilst in the UK 78% of people go online using a mobile device, and 90% of households have internet access there is still a significant problem.
Some 11.3m (22% of the population) do not have the digital skills required for even everyday life in the UK (Disabled communities are 35% less likely to have the necessary digital skills – with current accessibility and user experience).
The spending power of disabled households is well documented, with digital inclusion far from being solved. Brands need to wake up to the reality of the Purple Pound (referring to the spending power of disabled households). 1 in 5 potential UK consumers have a disability, with a spending power of over £274bn, yet 75% of disabled people in the UK have abandoned a brand because of poor accessibility. Wake up and use the Metaverse to reverse this injustice. Banks and building societies and supermarkets are amongst the worst offenders.
The proto-metaverse to date has been devoid of true equality. Community moderation, AppStore level QA and validation, as well as the need to fearlessly focus on ensuring toolkits embed standards of quality and remove vulnerabilities by design. The ecosystem should also embrace open partnerships to invest in meta-philanthropy to solve for the tech inequality in communities and sectors that will benefit most.
The metafuture is exceptionally bright. As both a data evangelist and technologist I am incredibly enthused by the stimulating positives we and many others are exploring in the Metaverse. However, caution and consideration on the long-term implications of the actions we take now are necessary, to ensure our efforts and massive investments are a true force for good in the evolution of this exciting innovation.