The WebXR Business Summit took place this Tuesday, September 14, in the familiar “meta-multiverse.” Put on by the same outfit that presents the Poly Awards, the summit featured dozens of industry experts in 20 talks over eight hours and streamed on several 2D social media sites as well as Hubs, ENGAGE, AltspaceVR, and other immersive environments.
Topics covered in the marathon session included everything from economics to ethics. While we weren’t able to cover everything, some of the day’s highlights and takeaways are presented below.
“When I was starting out, there weren’t a lot of people in the field and all of the cool kids in XR were telling me that the browser was dead,” event host Samantha Mathews said in her opening remarks. “But the web has a magical way of closing the gap between physical and virtual experiences … to me, the 3D web solves the problem of how flat the internet is.”
Mathews is the CEO and CTO of LOCI, a location-based learning platform specializing in environmental safety and locational awareness. Before that, she worked at JanusVR and before that she “started a live-streaming company using hacked GoPros.” In Samantha’s view, the problem with WebXR isn’t the web, it’s what has happened to the web.
“We keep centralizing things when the original promise of the web was that it would be made by and for everybody,” said Mathews. “Walled gardens leave a lot of people out.”
Building WebXR experiences instead of apps makes those experiences easier for individuals to create and self-host their own content that is more accessible to more people on more devices. In this way, while WebXR may be (but is not necessarily) less immersive than other XR experiences, it fulfills more of what most of us like about the ideology of the internet.
WebXR and Accessibility
“I think the web is an incredible asset to bring XR forward,” Daniel Ljunggren said during a panel discussion “Building Industry Consensus Around Standards.” “The standards that are already in place and that are currently being developed are important for XR in general but are crucial for WebXR.”
Ljunggren is the Senior Director of Strategy and Business Development at Futurewei Technologies, a research and development company focused on open source computing, as well as a sponsor of the WebXR Business Summit. “The ease of distribution and access is what will make WebXR a big success,” said Ljunggren.
That ease of distribution and access comes through companies and developers agreeing on standards that allow their experiences, services, and products to be interoperable.
“WebXR needs to work anywhere because the web is everywhere,” said Khronos Group President Neil Trevett. “WebXR’s superpower is accessibility. The web will become the metaverse.”
Where Business Fits In
The metaverse is universally accessible, but it is not mutually exclusive of other solutions, which is a particular benefit for WebXR. By not requiring a headset, WebXR tools can be used in conjunction with, rather than in the place of other applications or devices. This was a recurring theme in the panel discussion “Selling the Matrix: Communicating the Business Case.”
“VR is not competing with other solutions out there … it’s another tool on your toolbelt,” said Terry Proto, CEO and Co-Founder of Virtual Reality Marketing.
This means that while, as we’ll see in a moment, tech is still very much a part of XR in this relatively early stage, it is becoming increasingly efficient for people in need of solutions to create solutions that are more their own.
“We’re at this precipice where we’re going from technology-driven solutions to solution-driven technologies,” said MetaVRse Co-Founder Alan Smithson. “We get really hyped up about the technology but … we’re going to see these verticals really led by subject matter experts, not tech experts.”
The Challenges Facing “XR Industries”
As the kind of industry that Smithson predicted is materializing, “XR industries” – a term that some panelists questioned – are currently a kind of conglomerate of XR experts and industry experts.
“We’re all competing for very specialized talent,” Red Threads Strategy Consulting Group CEO Vivian Chan said in a panel titled “Creating Healthy Culture Around WebXR.” “Even though we’re in a high-growth, highly competitive market, we still need to make those [team-building] moments if we’re going to play.”
Between this and all industries including XR being increasingly remote, XR companies have some major company culture obstacles.
“We’ve become more virtual in the last year-and-a-half than we did in the last ten, and it’s largely this industry that has driven that change,” Black Technology Mentorship Program founder Christopher Lafayette said. “We didn’t know that this was going to happen.”
Like all of the challenges in XR, this is also an opportunity. Virbela President and Co-Founder Alex Howland described how Virbela’s own team exists entirely on their own remote work platform. This allows them to encounter the same potential bugs and improvement opportunities that their users encounter.
“If we can’t get culture right, we shouldn’t expect our customers to get culture right,” said Howland.
The Connection to E-Commerce and Crypto
WebXR doesn’t just support business, it is business. It is increasingly becoming its own economy. Internet commerce is an inherent part of the materializing metaverse, as are peer-to-peer transactions and user economies. These were the topics for the “Immersive E-Commerce and Crypto-Economic Infrastructure” panel discussion.
“The power of WebXR is in creating these new spaces that are open and accessible to everyone and then building new markets on top of them,” said Brave Software Vice President of Business Operations Luke Mulks.
If this sounds strangely familiar, you’re in good company. Some have argued that the “metaverse” is already here – it just describes the spatial aspect of the internet.
“I think [the metaverse] is already here. It’s just going to get more immersive,” said Outlier Ventures Founder and CEO Jamie Burke. “It’s increasingly a way to make money, claim an income, and monetize your time.”
Whether the metaverse exists yet or not is up for debate but it may largely be a moot point. Whether it’s yet to be born or currently in its infancy, it has a lot of growing up to do. That’s what’s important to Endeavor VR founder Amy Peck.
“We have the opportunity, at this moment, to create the best possible version of this digital world,” said Peck. “We have the ability, not just to create this amazing world but this emerging economy with its own ideas of value.”
How to Learn More
There were a number of other sessions throughout the day, including stories from early adopters, discussions on obstacles and opportunities in adoption, and a fifteen-minute powerhouse rundown on XR ethics by Kent Bye that I would have quoted in its entirety if I could.
All of these sessions as well as other events by the organization are housed on the WebXR Summit Series YouTube channel. You can also mark your calendars for the WebXR Design Summit, which will take place on October 12, and the Polys Awards on February 12, 2022.