We recently launched issue 11 of our Benchmark search magazine, it’s full of quality insights from our industry experts. We thought we’d share a few key articles here, first up we have Digital Marketing Manager, John Warner’s who talks about the importance of user-focused content (found on page 20 of the magazine).
In a decade’s time, the image of the metaverse that we are being presented now by interested parties and media organisations, will seem as disconnected from the reality as George Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune was from Apollo 11.
“When you are the Moon” – Iconic Image of the ‘Man in the Moon’ from Méliès’ film.
While Facebook parent company, Meta, focuses on reinventing Second Life, and its competition work on their own walled gardens, it’s worth noting that a true metaverse is a form of what has been referred to as ‘ambient intelligence’ or, by Sundar Pichai of Google as ‘ambient computing’. It is the pinnacle of integration and almost directly antithetical to the
To understand how search and digital marketing (the skills we currently understand as aiming to improve the visibility of a brand on one or more of the top search engines whether through paid or organic promotion) will adapt to the future of the web, it’s important to establish what that future will look like.
What is a metaverse?
Leaving aside the question of whether the metaverse was initially a cautionary tale, the concept we would now recognise as a metaverse comes from the literary genre ‘cyberpunk’ (itself built on the work of earlier authors such as Philip K. Dick) and specifically from two of its early practitioners, Neal Stephenson and William Gibson – the former giving the world the term ‘metaverse’, the latter coining ‘cyberspace’.
Over the course of the 80s and 90s, these two authors were among the minds that shaped what would become a nearly universal view of the future, inspiring huge chunks of popular culture from Robocop to The Matrix and providing the aesthetic for adaptations of some of Philip K. Dick’s works (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall). In fact, if you’ve seen any reporting on the metaverse, the following (from 1992s Snowcrash) will likely seem very familiar:
Like any place in Reality, the Street is subject to development. Developers can build their own small streets feeding off of the main one. They can build buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in Reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows, special neighborhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored, and free-combat zones where people can go to hunt and kill each other.
The only difference is that since the Street does not really exist — it’s just a computer-graphics protocol written down on a piece of paper somewhere – none of these things is being physically built. They are, rather, pieces of software, made available to the public over the worldwide fiber-optics network.
Neal Stephenson, Snowcrash
Combine this with Gibson’s description of ‘cyberspace’, in 1989s Neuromancer, as a ‘consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators,’ and you begin to develop a picture of the immersive, pervasive technological transformation that a true metaverse represents.
It is not a digital conference room filled with the legless avatars of your cartoon co-workers (with whom you’ll join to collectively develop eyestrain watching a presentation that could have been a video call).
The foundations of a metaverse have been laid – but not by Meta
While Meta may have been earning the headlines (for better or worse) around the metaverse, the real foundations of what may eventually grow into the metaverse have been laid elsewhere – specifically in online gaming.
Probably the closest currently existing example of a metaverse is Roblox – a gaming and game creation platform which allows users to both play games created by other members of the community, but also to create their own online landscapes and games.
With active monthly user numbers estimated to be approaching 250 Mn, more than half of which are children under 16, Roblox has a thriving community, an active economy and in-game currency (Robux) and – importantly – operates as an environment in which users can set their own agenda, build their own environments, design their own games and more.
Estimate from activeplayer.io
Minecraft Live (Microsoft)
Giving Microsoft an advantage (along with its purchase of Activision), one of the other leaders is Minecraft Live. Like Roblox, the Minecraft audience is young (though not as young as that of Roblox), like Roblox the game allows users to determine how they interact with it. Minecraft provides an outlet for creativity, socialising and more.
Though active monthly user numbers are lower than Roblox, at around 200Mn active monthly users, Minecraft has been a cultural phenomenon, spawning books, interactive Netflix shows, toys, Lego sets and more – all of which is in addition to the work of YouTube creators like DanTDM (of Diamond Minecart fame and one of my son’s early favourites) and one whose name I can’t remember, but who seems to scream a lot, and Twitch streamers who I don’t know because I’m old. It has also, tellingly, made the step to VR, with a version now playable using multiple brands of hardware.
Estimate from activeplayer.io
Fortnite (Epic Games)
Active users for Fortnite currently hover around the 250 Mn mark with 390 Mn registered users and around 30 Mn active daily users. With Ariana Grande and Travis Scott in-game concerts having drawn 12 Mn live viewers each (and apparently netting the artists around $20 Mn), and tie-ins with Marvel, Star Wars, Dragon Ball-Z and more, it’s easy to see why Fortnite has been recognised in many places as a social platform as much as a game.
In addition, the game already has a successful digital currency, and a CEO that has made no secret that it intends to become a metaverse company.
Estimate from activeplayer.io
Why these and not Meta?
Put simply, Meta is not and has never been a metaverse company – even the cringeworthy metaverse video released at the time of the announcement (and featuring, unbelievably, a less convincingly human version of Zuckerberg than the man himself) looked more like a Ready Player One fan film than an actual company vision statement.
Instead, Meta wants to be the internet – as it is in some areas of the Asian subcontinent and Africa – it doesn’t want a metaverse, it wants a Meta-verse, a wholly owned property that provides the organisation with complete control (it has been widely commented on that Zuckerberg’s company is run ‘like a dictatorship’. This leaves it with a major obstacle – users don’t care about Meta, or about Facebook, Instagram or any of the Meta platforms and will happily jump ship once a better product comes to market.
With Facebook facing antitrust lawsuits in the US due to its practice of ‘buy-or-bury’, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to purchase their way out of future shifts as they have in the past (although you can expect Amazon to take over that particular mantle – even as their robot vacuum cleaners map your home).
Meta’s task is to take non-metaverse products which are losing relevance with younger generations and, through sheer financial power, seek to build a metaverse around these products. On the other hand – platforms like Roblox and, to a lesser extent, Decentraland, and games like Minecraft and Fortnite are immersive, user centred products that are, if not directly transferable then more transferable to a true metaverse in which they would remain destinations or sub-universes rather than a metaverse as a whole.
Some under-reported stats on the metaverse and web3
- According to site web3isgoinggreat.com, the total recorded value of web3 scams has exceeded $10 Bn
- There are only 50,000 active users of Web3 virtual worlds
- Surveys of internet users show demand for metaverse is largely social rather than economic
- Sales of AR and VR devices is expected to hit 14.19 Mn units in 2022 – this is compared to 122.32 Mn smartphones sold in 2007 (or 1.43 Bn units sold in 2021)
- Pew research found experts almost evenly split in whether the metaverse will be fully immersive by 2040 (54% stating it will, 46% saying it will not)
Why search marketing will survive and thrive during the move to the metaverse
Search is fundamentally about facilitating data retrieval. It’s about helping people find the right information at the right time (okay, and selling them stuff during the process). That existed before the internet, and it will continue to exist as the internet evolves. While many of the headlines have been captured by immersive gaming and digital worlds, the big money is currently being ploughed into a transitionary phase – what Google has referred to as ambient computing.
Ambient computing is mixed reality – it is subsumed technology, ever present but not intrusive; or the virtual (no pun intended) opposite of the Meta vision as stated. While, as ever, Philip K. Dick set out the many issues with such a world in many of his novels (though an argument with a door in Ubik may be the pinnacle), the utopian vision of this is an ever-present computational presence that allows for additional information overlays that, in-turn, facilitate education, communication and understanding.
Whether the outcome is utopian or dystopian, however, one constant in both is information retrieval – this can take the form of AR overlays for training exercises, or voice activated searches for plant species (‘what is that?’), or simply a lingering gaze at a menu revealing calorie counts and the potential bill’s impact on your monthly finances. Whatever the technology (and, needless to say, much of the technology needed to successfully complete the transition, even to this transitionary phase, is still in-development) there will need to be the facility to look for, and find, information, products and services (preferably the best information, products and services).
Facebook Chabot Blender bot 2.0, which utilize memorization and internet, search results
There is a reason that Google and Microsoft are investing heavily in mixed reality, AR and VR and it’s not for the good of society. Rather than a huge and showy PR display designed to distract from ongoing corporate scandals, investments by Google and Microsoft are positioning efforts to ready themselves for a coming technological shift. Instead of trying to own the metaverse, they’re seeking to ensure continued relevance. Regardless of my scepticism about certain aspects of Web3 and the metaverse, they are coming, so it is in the interests of tech giants to make sure they’re there and waiting.
The information that users find on or in the metaverse, however they search, will still need to come from somewhere – and that somewhere will, most likely, continue to be an iteration of the text-based web. This means that there will continue to be methods of searching for information, objects, images, music and video, and that there will be best-practices where optimising is necessary for such searches – meaning that the future existence of search engine optimisation is almost guaranteed.
In addition to information demands, however, search marketing will thrive in the metaverse (provided it is not a wholly owned subsidiary of the Meta-International-Global-Government-Corporation) for a number of other reasons, some of the most important of which are the social ambitions internet users have for the metaverse.
Due to the huge number of potential inputs and outputs that will be possible with the more advanced wearable market needed to make a success of the metaverse, it should be a far more accessible place than Web 2.0. With this comes a host of new, better accommodated users and, as a result, far more optimisations required to reach them. Advertising, too, will be presented with a new universe of ad options – not just a replication of those available IRL – we can expect to see the programmatic sale of the face of the moon and a CPM model for branded constellations.
‘the moon but covered in logos’ as imagined by Midjourney
‘a nike branded constellation’ as imagined by Midjourney
People who see the end of search in the metaverse are the same as those that saw digital marketing as a replacement of traditional marketing. Search will survive and thrive in the metaverse precisely because it’s an extension of marketing and, as long as there are products – real or digital fungible or otherwise – there will be marketing.
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