Web 2.0 enabled the digital revolution that transformed the possibilities for authors and creators, so how will Web 3.0 transform it again over the next decade?
This is a special futurist in-betweenisode on what many are calling Web 3.0 which encompasses virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), the metaverse, and the spatial web. It’s intended to give you an awareness of what’s coming as opposed to specific advice on what to do about it since this really is an emerging area.
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You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Definitions of AR, VR, Web 3.0, the metaverse, and the spatial web
- Virtual worlds and augmented reality for authors and publishing — Chapter 5 from Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry
- Developments since December 2020 — and the potential opportunities for authors and publishing in the next few years
- What you can do now to prepare
- Recommended books and resources
You can find more of my future of publishing episodes here.
Definitions of AR, VR, Web 3.0, the metaverse, and the spatial web
AR (Augmented Reality) — AR layers digital over physical reality and this is already available in limited ways through your phone.
For example, you might have played with filters on social media changing the color of your hair, or adding ears or other features.
IKEA has an app that will place furniture in your house. Just choose the furniture, hold up your phone and you can see it in your living room.
There is a 3D option within Google Maps where it will layer directions over the real world, pointing you in the right direction.
You can also use Google real-time translation. Open the Google app and use Google Lens. Choose the Translate option and hold the camera over some text in another language. Here’s one of my ebooks in French which you can see translated in real-time.
AR applications can be accessed through mobile devices with cameras and also wearables like glasses or even contact lenses in coming years. This is already being used at the enterprise level with devices like Microsoft Hololens in manufacturing, healthcare and education.
VR (Virtual Reality) — VR is about immersing yourself in a fully virtual world. The real world disappears. Think Ready Player One, which is a great movie even if you haven’t read the book. This is the experience economy where gaming and entertainment are taken to a new level, but it’s also a virtual space for commerce, networking, training, travel, and more. VR is currently accessed through headsets like Facebook’s Oculus, HTC Vive,
You might also hear terms like mixed reality or extended reality, where the lines between AR and VR are blended.
Neal Stephenson first came up with this term in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash, and it encompasses both physical and digital worlds. It won’t be a single place run by one specific company. It’s more like ‘the internet,’ a term that encompasses so much. It will be accessed and experienced through AR and VR devices, rather than just 2D screens.
Venture capitalist Matthew Ball describes the metaverse not as a virtual world or a space, but as “a sort of successor state to the mobile internet” — a framework for an extremely connected life. There “will be no clean ‘Before Metaverse’ and ‘After Metaverse.' Instead, it will slowly emerge over time as different products, services and capabilities integrate and meld together.”
Web 1.0 (around 1991 – 2005) consisted of mainly static websites on desktops and laptops. It was expensive to create a site and so only big companies had them and they were mainly for pushing information or as replacing things like the Yellow Pages for finding things.
Web 2.0 is social and mobile and characterised by an explosion of digital creation though blogging, podcasting, social media, video, comments, digital publishing and digital commerce. The cost of creation basically went to zero and everyone with a mobile device and/or access to the internet could have an online presence.
Facebook launched in 2004 and Twitter in 2006. The iPhone and the Kindle were both launched in 2007, which is when web 2.0 really took off.
Web 3.0 is the next stage and we are in the early stages now, kind of like the years 2004-2006 when early adopters began blogging, way before it went mainstream.
Web 3.0 is about exponential converging technologies, rather than one thing on its own. It encompasses the decentralized web powered by blockchain technology and decentralized finance including tokenization and digital currencies (which will be launched by banks as official country-specific currencies).
It will also encompass the spatial web which will blur the boundaries between digital and physical though the use of sensors (the Internet of Things), AR and VR. Artificial intelligence and 5G connectivity will underly everything, a bit like electricity and mobile internet do now.
To put it another way, The Augmented Workforce states, “In the first phase of the internet, we connected information. The second phase connected people. The third phase is connecting people, places and things in a more dynamic and amplified way.”
The Infinite Retina states that spatial computing “comprises all software and hardware technologies that enable humans, virtual beings or robots to move through real or virtual worlds, and includes Artificial Intelligence, Computer Vision, Augmented Reality (AR), VR, Sensor Technology, and Automated Vehicles.”
Web 3.0 hardware will include wearables like smart glasses, watches, smart clothing, and for some people contact lenses and some may choose more direct brain interfaces as they emerge. We will interact primarily through voice, eye tracking and physical gestures rather than typing or touching, although haptic feedback will enable something like touch. Think Minority Report with Tom Cruise swiping screens in mid-air.
Right now, you probably access the internet through your phone or mobile device or tablet but glasses and other wearables will make it more integrated.
Before you decide that this couldn’t possibly be for you, then consider how much the internet is already in your life, for good and bad, and how much you use your phone as part of that.
I still remember saying to my husband back in 2007 that I didn’t need a smart phone, I was very happy with my little Nokia as I only texted people anyway. Now I can run my business from my phone and it is never far from my hand.
There are many things we do now that we never imagined we would back then. I was writing a book in 2007, which later became Career Change, but I didn’t have a website or a podcast or social media, or an online business, or an email list, or any of what is now my multi-six-figure business based on my writing and powered by the internet.
I am super excited about where web 3.0 will take us as creators — it feels like it will bring even more opportunities to create new things, make more money, connect to more people. Think about how web 2.0 enabled us as Indies — and now think that web 3.0 could give us even more possibilities.
So those are some definitions and initial thoughts. Let’s get into more specific applications for authors and publishing. This is chapter 5 from my book, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry. I narrated the audiobook so I will insert the audio here, or the chapter is in the show notes, then I’ll return with some updates and implications for what you should do in order to be ready for the shift over the coming few years.
Virtual worlds and augmented reality
The pandemic of 2020 accelerated the need for different ways of running business online and has proved the use case for virtual reality (VR) in education and training, co-working and collaboration, remote assistance, and other applications beyond the gaming community.
At WIRED Live (online) in November 2020, Anne Sheehan from Vodafone UK spoke about how 5G is the enabler for virtual reality and it has “come of age” during the pandemic. For example, Coventry University in the UK is now using VR as part of their medical training.
In April 2020, Singularity Hub reported on Virtual Market 4 (V-Ket 4), a “Japanese expo spanning 36 separate worlds contained within the VRChat ecosystem,” with a “primary purpose to sell virtual apparel and avatars”. More than a million people were expected over ten days, making it the largest social VR gathering ever, and exhibitors included Audi, Netflix, Panasonic, and Sega.
The article notes, “Today’s biggest limitation to social VR experiences is the limited technology to facilitate a truly connected experience,” but the acceleration of 5G will mitigate that. It also notes, “For us westerners, it’s a reminder that development of the technologies doesn’t occur at a uniform speed across various geographies. When I visited China and Japan a few years ago, it was already clear that consumer adoption of virtual reality was far beyond what we currently see in the West.”
I’ve been waiting for this for a while! Back in 2015, I wrote an article for The Bookseller in the UK on “Virtual Reality and the Future of Publishing”.
“Imagine walking along a street of bookstores, each one with an enticing window display of eye-catching new covers that appeal to readers of a certain genre. You walk inside one with the dark, brooding atmosphere of the crime/thriller lover and find yourself in a bookstore with shelves of books configured just for your tastes. You’re drawn to a cover, pick up the book and start to read. You turn the pages, feeling the quality paper, smelling that new book scent. You continue browsing and when you’re ready to purchase, you choose your format and the book is sent to you in the format you choose.
Then you take off your VR headset and carry on with your day.”
In the article, I speculated on the design and business model of a VR bookstore that could change based on what it knew about the customer, an Amazon or Bookshop.org that can be personalized, but also offer the experience of being inside a real shop.
At the end of the article, I noted, “We’re not competing against each other, we’re competing against gaming and on-demand film/TV as well as music. These industries are embracing VR, and the immersive experience will take consumers even farther from books. We need to embrace this technology and invest in what the online retail environment will be in five years' time.”
Clearly, I was early on the idea of a VR store, but perhaps I was only a few years out in terms of this becoming a reality, as online experiences and commerce are now moving into virtual worlds.
In 2019, Fortnite held its first live concert inside a video game, “a glimpse into the future of interactive entertainment, where the worlds of gaming, music, and celebrity combined to create a virtual experience we’ve never quite seen before” [The Verge].
In October 2020, The Verge reported that “more than a million people showed up to an album launch party inside the virtual world of Roblox. American pop star Ava Max held a ‘virtual fan meetup’ in the game to celebrate the launch of her new album Heaven & Hell.”
Roblox is a gaming platform that’s been around since 2006, but Jon Vlassopulos, Roblox’s head of music said, “The stretch goal is to go to the non-obvious places, where we can make the virtual experience even better than the real-world experience … The confluence of virtual spaces and music has been steadily growing for some time, but it’s really accelerated in 2020 due to the pandemic. With live, in-person events almost entirely canceled across the globe, artists have been searching for new ways to connect with fans.” [The Verge]
At WIRED Live (online) in November 2020, the CEO of Improbable.io, Herman Narula, said that “the virtual world won’t replace the ‘real’ world,” but it will improve our interactions, because it is one of the few places where age, gender, race, sexuality, nationality and language don’t matter. He predicted that there would be jobs inside virtual worlds within five years, and that VR has the potential to be as transformative as the internet.
There have been virtual economies within virtual worlds for years. Second Life was established in 2003 and still has active users who interact, buy and sell with avatars, but it’s all 2D on a screen. As the price of virtual reality headsets drop, and more people use them for work, education, and gaming, new forms of retail will emerge.
VR offers a new way to teach, connect, earn additional revenue and market books. Many writers teach, and many also speak and network at in-person events and conventions. While these physical events will continue, online and virtual events will only expand, and I expect to be speaking in VR before 2030.
Augmented reality (AR)
With augmented reality, a computer-generated layer is superimposed onto the physical world. This might be a game like Hot Lava, played at home on your phone, virtual anatomy superimposed over the person in front of you for medical training, or designing IKEA furniture inside your actual home. All of these are demonstrated in Apple’s video of augmented reality in the home using an iPad.
This might bring to mind Google Glass, unveiled in 2012. I tried a pair at Google’s Headquarters in London at an event back then, but the tech was glitchy, and it was clearly too early for mass adoption. But now 5G technology, as well as the Internet of Things and advances in optics, means that heads up display may well be coming in the next few years.
In November 2020, MacRumors reported the possibility of an AR headset and Smart Glasses which would work with the iPhone. The headset is rumored to be coming in 2021 with the glasses in 2022.
Singularity Hub reported on the development of AR contact lens by Mojo Lens in January 2020. I wore contact lenses for twenty years before I had laser eye surgery, so I’m ready for those when they emerge.
For authors and publishing, this will enable interesting possibilities.
As a consumer of primarily digital ebooks and audiobooks, I would love to see them on a virtual shelf in my home. I have bookshelves of physical books, but limited space. My library would include several thousands more if I could ‘see’ my virtual books in AR. This would allow me the joy of browsing my digital archive and revisiting favourites in the same way I do with my physical shelves. I would catch sight of books I enjoyed and might check out the author to see what they’ve released recently, driving further sales.
The same depth could be added to physical bookstores, which cannot possibly display all the product available at one time, inevitably driving people online to buy. But imagine being in your favourite shop, browsing the fantasy section with its limited physical options.
Tap your AR glasses and a curated extra shelf opens up digitally offering new and related books.
Select and the order goes through digitally with the book sent overnight with print-on-demand. The retailer has valuable data on preferences, driving follow-up emails with more personalised recommendations. This serendipity of browsing in a combination of the physical and digital stacks could drive more purchases in the real world.
AR would also enable the creation of extra products.
I want to create a companion walking tour of my books through London (for my Brooke and Daniel crime thrillers) and through Bath (for my Mapwalker fantasy trilogy). Walk the physical streets with AR glasses and I’ll be there with you explaining the history of the area and how it inspired my novels — with opportunities to buy, of course! There are lots of audio-only walking tours available now, but AR will enable the digitalization of such experiences and further integration with retail.
It could also improve in-person conferences and conventions, enabling enhanced networking and business opportunities.
For example, I might wear AR glasses at Thrillerfest, where I network with other authors, agents, publishers, and retailers. Their social media profiles might appear in my heads-up display with the sub-genre they write, making it easier to connect. Or I’m at London Book Fair and I can see what company people work for, or which country they’re from, as well as if people are on my email list or are a Patron, which would help me with interactions.
VR and AR technologies offer exciting new ways for the expansion of the industry and new revenue streams for authors and publishing. These are only a few of my ideas, but there is a (virtual) world of opportunity ahead.
Developments since Dec 2020 — and potential opportunities for authors and publishing in the next few years
I wanted to do this update as my brother is a fashion designer and has just started a job as a 3D designer for a multi-national sportswear company. Retail is getting ready for 3D shopping. Entertainment is getting ready for immersive reality through AR and VR. As authors, we are in the retail and entertainment industries, so we need to pay attention.
A Deloitte report on Augmented Shopping notes that it, “Enables customers to engage with brands and products via digital experiences that allow them to try on, try out, interact, or personalize their product virtually; these experiences help deliver more detailed, intuitive product information than standard web experiences.”
We have all increasingly shopped online in the pandemic and how much better will be when we can try clothes on a realistic avatar of ourselves and customise according to our body shape instead of buying things that look good on models.
Contextual digital assets will increasingly be overlaid on the real-world environment and visible through digital screens like mobile phones and smart glasses. I mentioned the idea of the AR enabled bookstore in my narrated chapter above, where the physical shelves have a lot more options in the digital space driving more sales for bookstores — and authors.
Another idea might be to hold a book launch at a physical location and instead of having to direct buyers to a URL to buy my book, there would be a way to buy it directly within the AR environment overlaid on the physical space, or maybe a limited run of NFTs that you can only get from me at that location at that particular time.
This kind of augmented retail expands the possibilities far beyond anything we have right now and will make it much easier to sell books and expand inventory in a physical space, as well as create new places to sell within the metaverse.
Virtual travel and leisure experiences will also be a huge industry with immersive games and experiences — you’ll be able to see your favourite band perform in your living room with AR, or join millions of other fans in a VR environment.
Personally, I will still want to physically travel for an extended time, but would definitely do short virtual trips for book research or just interest. At the moment, I might visit a virtual art gallery or virtual tour of a museum or cathedral on my computer screen but it would be much cooler to be in a more immersive VR environment where I could see things in 3D. I would definitely visit places like St Peters in Rome, where I have been several times in person, but would go back to spend more time looking at the architecture and art in more detail with overlaid information that I could interact with. I almost got an Oculus Quest recently in order to do more virtual travel but I have decided to wait for the Apple headset as VR is currently much easier with a PC.
Health-wise, working in this kind of immersive environment should be much better for us.
The aim is a head-ups display instead of the hunched over posture that causes so many issues with sitting at computers now. We’ll be able to use our bodies to interact far more so start to get more comfortable with voice and gesture. I currently work out with Bakari on Apple+ Fitness, a trainer in an LA studio whose workouts I do and I watch him on my iPad screen. My heart rate from my Apple Watch is displayed on the screen and paces me with other participants in the online class. I can imagine wearing sports lens that made Bakari and the other trainers appear life-size in my room instead of the small screen with much more personalised adjustments based on my data.
In terms of the impact to independent creators, we will have many more options to create digital assets like NFTs, and create new income streams through tokenization and even independent economies like creator coins through sites like Rally.
This is all just emerging but what was way too technical a year ago is becoming more of an easy-to-use interface, for example, Shopify announcing NFTs on their platform which people can buy with normal debit’ credit cards without the need for crypto-currency.
You don’t need to worry about the technical details of this, all you really need to know is that within the next couple of years, there will be more payment options — in the same way that we now have PayPal and TransferWise and Stripe and products that make it easy to do digital business.
There will be more ways to turn your ideas into different digital products like NFTs and a resale economy will emerge that will enable more streams of income.
There will be more ways to reach readers and fans through 3D spaces on the metaverse, in a similar way to doing something like a Facebook Live video or Zoom webinar now in 2D, but this will be more immersive. I can barely scratch the surface of the transformation here, but consider the difference in the world between 2005 and 2021 and you will catch a glimpse of the shift.
So how fast will this happen?
Right now, most AR applications are still a gimmick and not widely used, and most users of VR are in entertainment, like gaming and of course, the more adult side of entertainment, which is always ahead of the pack! But VR is also in military and businesses for a training environment. It’s much cheaper to train in VR and easier to manipulate different environments. Microsoft’s Hololens is mainly used in enterprise environments, focusing on manufacturing, healthcare and education.
Cryptocurrency is starting to move into mainstream news articles, especially as country specific central banks investigate launching digital currencies. I definitely like the sound of Britcoin, which is the term being discussed here in the UK.
So web 3.0 is not mainstream — yet. But it could be in the next year or two.
The big players are starting to get serious about it. Mark Zuckerberg announced in June 2021 that Facebook would become a metaverse company.
Facebook bought Oculus in 2014 so they have been working on this for a while and there’s already a growing VR ecosystem but this marks a shift towards a more mainstream focus. Zuckerberg said, “The metaverse will bring enormous opportunity to individual creators and artists; to individuals who want to work and own homes far from today’s urban centers; and to people who live in places where opportunities for education or recreation are more limited. A realized metaverse could be the next best thing to a working teleportation device, he says. With the company’s Oculus division, which produces the Quest headset, Facebook is trying to develop one.”
Whatever you think about Mark Zuckerberg or Facebook, you have to acknowledge the power they have to reach people, and they have the user base to roll this out. They also have a price point for Oculus that means it may well be the mainstream version for headsets or at least one of them. They’ve also announced a partnership with RayBan for smart glasses.
MacRumors reports that Apple is likely to release an AR headset in 2022 with Apple Glasses to follow. Some commentators think that in the same way 2007 marked the beginning of web 2.0 with the first iPhone, 2022 will be the start of web 3.0 as Apple takes the metaverse mainstream.
Snap is developing Spectacles for AR experiences. The Verge reported in July 2021 that “While Snap first used its augmented reality tech for silly effects like puking rainbows and dancing hotdogs, the company increasingly sees AR as a way to shop. Early tests of AR shopping experiences, such as a recent collaboration with Gucci to let people virtually try on a pair of limited-edition sneakers, have shown Snap that people are more likely to buy something after they interact with it in 3D.”
Amazon has smart audio Echo Frames that integrate with Alexa, and presumably will have AR functionality in the future, and there are many more products being developed.
This has all accelerated due to digital focus in the pandemic, plus the desire to work remotely and how disappointing and difficult it has been in many situations. Sure, Zoom and other online tools have enabled us to work and socialize in a functional way, and businesses have increasingly moved to ecommerce, but it’s not ideal.
Web 3.0 will take much of what is currently in 2D on a screen like a phone, or a computer screen, and make it immersive.
As Mark Zuckerberg says, “an environment where you’re embodied in it. That can be 3D — but it doesn’t have to be. I don’t think that this is primarily about being engaged with the internet more. I think it’s about being engaged more naturally. What virtual and augmented reality can do, and what the metaverse broadly is going to help people experience, is a sense of presence that I think is just much more natural in the way that we’re made to interact. And I think it will be more comfortable. The interactions that we have will be a lot richer, they’ll feel real … in terms of designing places where people hang out, this is going to be a massive part of the creator economy. You’ll have individual creators designing experiences and places.”
If you’re interested in going into more detail on how this might look technically, check out The Spatial Web, which goes into detail about how the technology might all hang together.
If you are dubious about these virtual world possibilities, they note, “As of 2019, the important thing to note about Minecraft is that a young generation of 100 million kids has grown up designing and building an entire virtual world that collectively is nearly eight times the size of planet Earth.”
They also state that, “Virtual assets will become the largest asset class in history.”
If you think about how much people are paying for digital assets in the form of NFTs right now, and how digital currencies and coins are taking off in many different spheres, you can catch a glimpse of this emerging economy.
I don’t think we as independent creators are going to necessarily create entire virtual worlds ourselves, the cost is too high. But we will build destinations on existing worlds, for example, there might be an Alliance of Independent Authors place in the metaverse, where authors can write together and I could rent virtual space to run events.
You will very likely use web 3.0 as part of your job in the next decade, for example, replacing Zoom with a space in the metaverse and we could all be doing conferences within VR instead of watching flatscreens.
We might create location and time-specific stories, and we will use our avatars in marketing or as part of content.
For example, if you write knitting cozy mysteries or knitting non-fiction, you’ll be able to record yourself demonstrating knitting specific things. I’ll be able to play you in my AR headset and you’ll be right next to me instead of on a tiny YouTube screen. This ‘how-to’ stuff will move from flat YouTube to AR, for example, Jonathan used a plumbing video on his phone to fix the U-bend under the sink whereas in the future he could be wearing the glasses and the way to fix it would be overlaid onto the physical environment.
There will also be expanded possibilities around licensing as well as writing for VR and AR companies to create experiences. I can only touch on some possibilities in this episode but think about it this way — the internet has transformed our lives in so many ways, and in the same way, web 3.0 will transform it again.
What can you do right now?
This is an awareness episode, a bit like the sessions on NFTs and blockchain as well as writing with AI. Early adopters are already embracing these areas, but the shift will certainly take years. However, sometimes it’s good to be in the early wave as you will positioned for success.
Those who jumped on ebooks and Kindle in 2007-2009 were well positioned for success even though it was more like 2012 when ebooks went mainstream (and even now it’s only just starting in some markets). I started podcasting in 2009 and it was 2015 before it really started to take off in the mainstream. Now digital audio is an ever-expanding market.
I’m certainly intending to experiment as much as possible with AR, VR and the metaverse, as well as trying out NFTs and using digital currency and blockchain apps as they expand into mainstream markets.
You could try some simple AR things right now with your phone. Try Google Maps with 3D or Translate options in Google Lens for real-time translation.
If you have the opportunity to try a VR headset, then give it a go. There are VR arcades popping up in major cities with experiences like Escape Rooms and games to play with friend. I’ve tried a few headsets at various events but I’m waiting for Apple to launch their glasses/headset as that’s my primary eco-system. I expect to adopt more AR into my life first.
Web 3.0 will need new infrastructure and inevitably we will need to update our eco-systems as technology changes and new companies emerge. It’s much easier to build from scratch on a new platform than it is to re-engineer an old one.
But remember, if you own and control your intellectual property rights, you can easily move onto these new platforms or adapt as things change. As many of us did when ebooks and then digital audio became mainstream.
This shift will lead to new ways of creating, as well as more opportunities for creation and sales of digital assets, plus new ways to network and market. It is the emergence of a new eco-system.
So, even more exciting times ahead, creatives! I’ll keep sharing as I learn along the way and I hope to do a session like this in the metaverse before 2025!
Please leave a comment or question here, and I am also interested in hearing from people who are already embedded in this space. You can Contact Me here.
Thanks again to my patrons whose support enables me to do these special extra shows. They fund my brain to read and research and think about these things and then put together the futurist episodes.
Books and Resources
The Metaverse Primer – https://www.matthewball.vc/the-metaverse-primer
The Spatial Web: How Web 3.0 Will Connect Humans, Machines, and AI To Transform The World — Gabriel René, Dan Makes, Jay Samit