Dipping Your Toe into the Metaverse

As we enter 2022, we are seeing more and more signals of the next, more immersive evolution of the Internet and our digital world—known as the metaverse.

As we enter 2022, we are seeing more and more signals of the next, more immersive evolution of the Internet and our digital world—known as the metaverse.

Many video collaboration platforms such as Zoom, Teams, and even WebEx, have started adding virtual reality and/or augmented reality support—blurring the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds. Facebook, for one, has gone all in on the metaverse, changing its name to Meta late last year.

“In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a letter that announced the rebranding.

I got a preview of this mixed reality future last year at Microsoft Ignite, during a trailblazing keynote by Technical Fellow Alex Kipman. Kipman was speaking as a volumetrically captured “hologram” in a virtual reality (VR) underwater auditorium. Some of us were joining from VR headsets, others from PCs—all feeling truly immersed and “present” in the space. There was a sense of collective awe and wonder as a majestic whale shark swam around us. We each were given a choice of a virtual fish to release out into the water around us, co-creating the experience in real time. It was the first keynote of its kind, blending multiple digital and physical elements and giving us a stunning glimpse into metaverse experiences of the future.

Metaverse vs. VideoConferencing

This future is coming at us quickly, as we’re seeing a fast-moving trend of corporate learning increasingly being held in metaverse-style platforms, including onboarding, training, coaching, networking, teambuilding—even informal get-togethers.

But why use a metaverse platform over typical videoconferencing?

Metaverse platforms turbocharge engagement and connection. Since everyone freely moves around as avatars, they help recapture some of the serendipity and water cooler-style run-ins from in-person meetings, which is challenging to do on video alone. Most platforms allow participants to enter with both computers and headsets, making the experience accessible, as well.

You also can get exponentially more creative with the experience design. In a 3D space, every pixel (voxel) is your canvas for creativity. You can put anything, anywhere you want—images, videos, sound, 3D models, 360 videos, photos, audio, and so much more. Here’s a virtual gallery in the Spatial platform, for example, which is created by adding custom images to the walls. It’s one of the simpler customization techniques, but done well, it creates an engaging, creative space for collaboration, discussion, and viewing.

Getting Started with Metaverse Platforms

With all the options, where do you start experimenting with metaverse platforms?

From my experience, one of the easiest platforms that lets you get started quickly is Frame, as it requires no downloads (it’s browser-based) and works well on a computer—though you’re welcome to use a VR headset, too, for extra immersion. It also offers free rooms for up to 15 people—which is a perfect number for experimenting with a small group.

Get an account, set up the room, and invite your team to come test it out with you (just send the link!). For best results, I always try to make my rooms feel personal for newcomers, surprising them by putting their own pictures, videos, and 3D models (if available) into the space. I did this for a tour last year for an association, when I put some of the board members’ photos, as well as video snippets from previous events, on the walls. As a bonus, I did a 3D scan of one of the members’ books with the Polycam app and imported it into the space, as well.

To their credit, the Frame team has extensive tutorials (and discord group) on how to get started, customize, and navigate the platform. You also can check out my tutorial on it.

Other 3D/VR platforms to try include AltspaceVR, Spatial, Engage, Virbela (parent company of Frame), and Horizon Worlds—all offering different levels of world building, avatar customization, interaction capabilities, ease of access, and pricing.

Catch the Wave

While we’re still in the “AOL dial-up days” of the metaverse, as with any disruptive trend, it’s critical to prepare for it before it goes mainstream. Those who are able to experiment, practice, and dip their toe in during these early days will be able to dive in much faster when the mainstream tidal wave hits.

Yulia Barnakova
Yulia Barnakova is passionate about helping people develop the skills and learning mindset to thrive in the digital age. She is always experimenting with emerging technologies and has been recognized by Microsoft as a “Most Valuable Professional” for her creative presentation technology tutorials, which have more than 8 million views on YouTube. Her recent TEDx Talk, Think You’re Not Tech Savvy? Here’s Why You Are, shows how everyone can (and must) develop the mindset and skill set embrace technology. Barnakova is an emerging tech strategist for Accenture, a global technology consulting firm. In her role, she works with Fortune 500 leaders to envision how emerging technologies will transform their business and how to stay ahead.