Fools rush in, where many fear to tread

Strategy content director and editor Jen Horn on why a brave (but measured) approach is best amid the hype of Web3.

Jennifer Horn_headshot

This originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of strategy magazine.

I know. You’re thinking, ‘Not another article on the metaverse.’ A mere five months ago, the majority of you were probably oblivious to the term. Then Facebook undergoes an identity crisis, Mark Zuckerberg plows $10 billion into building a virtual play-pen, and we’re all suddenly talking about (sometimes scoffing at) the “future” of the internet. It’s mind-boggling how quickly 3D worlds have caught fire. “Metaverse” as a search term currently returns 1.58 billion results. That’s 140 million more than Bieber, the prince of pop.

So do you blame us for wanting to dig into this snowballing topic? The good news is our cover feature isn’t an “explainer” piece. We’re not going to bog your downtime reading with a primer on Web3 and all its moving crypto, NFT, blockchain pieces. Plenty consultants at tech-y agencies offer that service, and like I said, there’s 1.58 billion web hits to feed your puzzled mind.

Instead, our staple story for the Spring issue considers the good, the bad, and the ugly of the metaverse. The idea was to spark a philosophical and pragmatic debate that some of us quietly have internally, and which has others a little more vocally charged. Our hypothesis was that there would be dissonance. That a line would be drawn between the believers and the cynics. That some would blast the metaverse as the coming of a dystopian nightmare, while others see the light of a virtual utopia. We were (mostly) right.

Being the complex subject that it is, some of the experts strategy’s digital editor Josh Kolm consulted for the piece straddled the line. Even the most pessimistic saw the possiblities. So our question evolved from focusing on the metaverse’s appeal and feasibility (with the consensus being that anything is possible), to the hurdles that stand in the way of this being a real, positive, world-altering deal. There are social issues, user safety concerns, and privacy roadblocks that still need to be worked through before mass adoption can ignite.

Pinpointing the potential – but, in some cases, seemingly overcome-able – stumbling blocks of the metaverse led us to insights that inaction may be worse than action. Marketers should learn from the wild west days of the social media boom, when some lacked the gumption to assimilate, the experts say.

In other words: don’t wait for the worlds to be built for you to rush a crash-course on how to show up in them. But, also, don’t rush in. There’s still lots to talk about (scoff at) and explore when it comes to the future of the future – so tread lightly, but don’t just jump in because Zuckerberg said so.