The Metaverse Is Making AOL’s Mistakes All Over Again: VRdirect

The coming metaverse promises to evolve into an internet-like experience, but with full immersion into what will eventually become a digital alternative reality. Currently, there is no metaverse outside of conceptual ideas of what it may become, along with an increasing number of tools from companies like NVIDIA that provide a foundation for development.

The metaverse is currently at the stage the internet was at around 1990. Along with many others, Facebook appears to be trying to create a “walled garden” approach to the concept. If successful, it will be like AOL, with the same limitations, and potentially the same outcome once a company like NVIDIA realizes we need something more capable than a browser to become the standards-based user interface to this new virtual world.

I met with a company called VRdirect last week that helped me flesh out this evolution while highlighting the need for a business partner that can stand outside of the core technology while helping enterprise customers safely wade into this initial metaverse iteration.

VRdirect Helps Companies Navigate Pandemic

Let’s start with what VRdirect is and why it might be uniquely beneficial to companies that are trying to learn about the metaverse without making some of the expensive initial mistakes they, or their predecessors, made during the early days of the internet.

Today, VRdirect predominantly collaborates with companies struggling with the new pandemic reality in which few employees come into work, and in-person interaction is something to be avoided. The company’s current efforts revolve around helping customers implement technology developed by others, and is focused on HR and sales, with large companies like Siemens, Iceland Porsche and Nestlé as customers.

These solutions are used to recruit, onboard and train employees remotely, and to enable remote sales using VR technology. They prefer the Pico Neo 3 headset because the more common Facebook Oculus effort is not compliant with privacy laws; it is interesting to note that Lenovo’s business VR solution is based on Pico for the same reason.

Current sales-related projects revolve around medical devices, large equipment and locations, because VR and metaverse technology are currently best used for things people need to both see and learn how to use without having to travel to do this in person.

VRdirect operates mostly in Europe but just opened an office in the U.S. and is looking for customers here (which is why the company requested our call). What makes VRdirect an interesting resource for the metaverse is that some of the same areas that are initially active with the metaverse (real estate, equipment simulation and product showcases) are already part of VRdirect’s solution set.

The Evolution of the Metaverse

The folks at VRdirect are increasingly engaged with firms that want to develop a metaverse presence. But if the metaverse is being developed like the internet initially was with walled-garden, company-based offerings like those initially created by large companies and service offerings like CompuServe and AOL, growth will be problematic due to the inability to easily move between properties. The true promise of the metaverse, a seamless virtual world that will work like the internet does today, will be lost, and while large companies will be able to create their own unique sites, smaller firms will struggle to create a presence.

You may recall the early internet days when, prior to Netscape and a common browser, firms like Crosstalk created solutions that allowed you to go from message board to message board by instantly reconfiguring your software. But once we got Netscape Navigator, we suddenly could move far more easily to each property. As a result, the internet is a more cohesive whole today.

Facebook’s name-change to Meta and its effort around the concept seems solidly focused on recreating the AOL model, which given that it’s already under antitrust threat, seems incredibly foolish. We’ve already seen the results of that kind of move from CompuServe and AOL. Perhaps Zuckerberg has been a little too blinded by Facebook’s success, but the metaverse is not going to be a platform controlled by a single company..

It is also interesting to note that Microsoft is going the open route now, while everyone and their brother seems to be holding their collective breath regarding what Apple will do. There seems little doubt that Apple will also go in this walled garden direction given it’s not exactly a poster child for interoperability. Eventually, this metaverse effort will move, like pretty much everything else has, to open standards, and we will get a common, advanced interface. Given Microsoft’s experience with Netscape and its current open-source focus, I am guessing it may be the first large vendor to get this right, but a smaller vendor could do this first.

Also read: Facebook Becomes Meta, But Did It Move Too Soon?

A Metaverse Partner

The metaverse is coming fast, but similar to the way the internet emerged, it seems to be going back in history and too many are trying to create walled garden solutions, which the market will eventually again reject. VRdirect makes a compelling argument for why you might want to engage a firm like theirs that stands outside of the technology vendor circle and can advise you on how best to approach this potentially disruptive opportunity and use the emerging tools where they are currently the most useful, for HR and sales.

There will be a lot of expensive missteps made as this technology advances. We are not yet in the do-it-yourself stage of this market. Until we are, look for companies like VRdirect that stand outside of the core technology battles and can help you define the safest path to the metaverse future.

Further reading: The Coming AI Threats We Aren’t Prepared For

Rob Enderle
Rob Enderle
As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

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