by Elliot Leavy
We spoke to Dr. Mark van Rijmenam, an international keynote speaker on the future of work and the organization of tomorrow about his latest book, Step Into the Metaverse. Dr Van Rijmenam is a future tech strategist who thinks about how emerging technologies such as big data, blockchain, AI and VR/AR, can change organizations as well as societies.
In this discussion, we focused on the fundamental differences between Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0, as well as examining his prospective ideas for how the future metaverse can be built in order to have the most positive impact on culture, business and society.
Elliot Leavy: So first things first, you talk about Web 3.0 in the book, but also take aim at both the good and the bad of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 – would you quickly explain each iteration and what problems they inherently had built into them, and what you hope are for what’s going on in the future there?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: The idea with Web 1.0 was that you could read and write and you could create and host your own website. It was very decentralized because you had to get your own server up and running in order to get something on the web. It was very difficult, but really decentralized as a result.
Elliot Leavy: What do you mean by decentralized?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: We didn’t have any central identities controlling everything that was going on. With Web 2.0, that changed because we had companies like WordPress, AWS, Google Cloud, which made it all incredibly easy for us to set up a website, create a social media account, share, upload a video, all the things that were very difficult before.
And now as a result of that we’ve lost control over our data and we can no longer decide how our data to be used. Web 3.0m is the next iteration where we try to take back control again about data and part of this infrastructure hope we will use for the metaverse, but there’s no guarantee that this will be the case.
Elliot Leavy: What do you mean by that?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: Well you can perfectly build the metaverse on Web 2.0 technologies, but then the same thing will happen and we will have centralized entities controlling everything. Right now, it’s incredibly difficult to build a virtual world, so we might see history repeat itself in this regard.
Elliot Leavy: Many stats show that in general, younger generations don’t really mind about their data being used as much as we might.
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: Like I say there is no guarantee, but many younger generations are also no longer using Facebook, and instead enjoying life on Roblox which is very decentralized at this point.
Elliot Leavy: So how can we get to an open metaverse, are there any sort of tenets you have in mind?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: I write in my book of six characteristics that we should follow to make it happen: interoperability, decentralization, spatiality, persistency, community and self-sovereignty. Spatiality is about having spatial anchors to prevent someone from walking into your virtual world and deleting it (for example). Community of course is about being community driven and self-sovereignty in the sense of identity and reputation. Any companies getting into this space would ideally have all six in mind.
Elliot Leavy: What is interoperability?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: Interoperability basically means that you can take your data, your digital assets, or your identity from one platform to another – something obviously not possible today. If you want to download your Facebook feed or your TikTok feed with your followers and your images and your photos and your videos in whatever and start uploading to a new platform and start where you left off, you can’t. This is directly a result of companies wanting to control your data and therefore decreasing any potential incentive to leave their platform.
What we want is a digital world where you can take your digital asset from one platform to another and therefore that asset has actual value to the user. So a skin that you earned in fortnite that you can then use in a different platform – this is what we need to achieve in order if we want to create a Metaverse that is, yeah, that’s beneficial to society.
Elliot Leavy: Will this be regulation-driven then, I know for example the EU AI act has some pretty lofty ideas in this space.
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: Europe is very much leading the world here. In America, policy is driven by corporations and big tech through lobbying power. This makes change in a more decentralized direction harder, but in privacy-centered Europe, it is different.
So just like with GDPR, Europe is leading the pack with its Digital Media Act and AI Act. And it will work because Europe is still a big market with almost four 50 million people, and so if a company wants to do business there they will need to adhere to European standards, and therefore the organization might as well do it globally as they already have these systems in place.
Elliot Leavy: What sort of comparison would this regulation have historically? Would it be like breaking up the oil barons in the 1800s?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: I don’t think this is comparable really, because decentralization doesn’t automatically mean breaking big tech. These companies could easily shift in this direction now, letting users move assets from Meta’s Horizon platform to another would signal a shift that competitors would automatically follow. Whether or not they do that is of course a different story. But they should because it only makes the pie bigger and gives control to their users, who in theory they should be on the side of.
Elliot Leavy: Your book alludes to a trillion dollar industry being generated from the metaverse, how so?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: The metaverse will create completely new industries, just like the internet did before it. One example would be how the internet created I-commerce, the metaverse will creat I-commerce – or immersive commerce.
There are already countless others, a few years ago, digital fashion was barely a thing, now you see the biggest fashion brands getting into it. The same will be with architecture, where people construct buildings just for the virtual world. Then there is the augmented versions, where we can create a digital twin of every single item in the world, and have new interactions with it.
The amount of value that creates for societies is enormous. But it’s not a social economy like we see today, instead its going to be about value creation rather than extraction, and that trillion dollars won’t be for the corporations but instead for people like you and me.
Now, of course, even a closed metaverse will be a trillion dollar opportunity, but an open one would be a much better opportunity for wider society.
Elliot Leavy: And this will be a trillion-dollar industry?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: I think even more. Citibank released a report one or two months ago where it said that the metaverse will deliver $8-30 trillion by the end of the decade. But if you look at the biggest tech firms already, they are already at that figure so its just a matter of looking at what happened with Web 1.0 and extrapolating that onto the immersive internet known as the metaverse.
Elliot Leavy: In the sense that Web 1.0 had the dotcom crash, do you think that we have already seen an NFT crash?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: Well it was definitely a gold rush, but was it the big one I’m not so sure? Back in early 2018 we had the ICO bubble, where so much crap was going on and there were so many scams and so I think this sort of crash is healthy in the sense of weeding out the crap, letting the serious people get on with the transformation and creating better things for society. I don’t know though, I’m not an economist. But everything is so nascent, we are really at the dawn of the metaverse – it’s only just starting but of course we will have the peak of inflated expectations followed by the trough of disillusionment, it’s always the same with these things.
Elliot Leavy: So is now the time for brands to be operating in this space?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: I think definitely, just to experiment. You will at some point have to learn how to interact with it so the time is now to begin to understand it. You don’t want to be the brand like in the early 2000s who said they didn’t need a website or a social media presence or mobile app. There will be plenty of brands who say the metaverse is nonsense, but as the great Clay Christensen once said the next big thing always looks like a toy. So as a brand if you want to remain relevant and be at the forefront five years from now you have to start building your capabilities.
Elliot Leavy: I thought for the last question I would ask you one you often ask your guests on your own show at the end: what will the organization of tomorrow look like?
Dr Mark van Rijmenam: The convergence of the physical and the digital world will play out in every part of society, you see across science fiction that digital is just this omnipresent thing like air or electricity and this will be the case. And as an organization, you will need to embrace that. You want to understand Generation Z and Alpha but at the same time eventually you will want to attract and hire Generation Z and Alpha.
You will have to turn your entire organization into a digital twin, which I think is the foundational layer of the metaverse because once you have that then you can start to collect the data you can interact with the data, you can merge that data further into the physical and digital world.
In my previous book I had the digital transformation framework, which basically said you need to datify via basically digital twins then you need to distribute in the sense of technologies like blockchain and then you analyze and eventually automate. The same applies to this new digital world and if you want to prepare your organization for the coming metaverse.
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