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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

FinovateFall 2022 Takeaway: Getting ‘Phygital’ in the Metaverse with Tommaso Di Bartolo

By W.B. King

Referencing a 1995 clip from The David Letterman Show where the ever snarky host ribs Bill Gates on a crazy new thing called the “internet,” then flashing forward to a 2008 CNBC interview with Mark Zuckerberg who noted that the initial iteration of Facebook was designed to attract about 500 Harvard students, FinovateFall 2022 keynote speaker Tommaso Di Bartolo said the metaverse is currently in a similar innovation cycle.

And the two cycles, Web 1 (internet) and Web 2 (social media), he said, are both slowly sunsetting.

Tommaso Di Bartolo presenting at FinovateFall 2022.

“We didn’t know how big this innovation cycle called ‘social media’ would become and how it impacted the ways we spend money and the way we connect and now we are on the third major innovation cycle called the metaverse,” Di Bartolo posited to a nearly full auditorium at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square.

He noted that these three innovation cycles have three things in common:

  • The previous technology reached its limits.

  • Due to technology limitations, new technology advancements were required.

  • Changing human behaviors forced technological evolution.

“Now we stand in front of the metaverse, and yes, Web 2 has reached it limits—categorized as social media, online advertisement and also loyalty programs,” he said, adding that the metaverse will slowly replace the future of e-commerce and loyalty programs.

What Metaverse Isn’t

Di Bartolo, a Silicon Valley -based serial entrepreneur who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley on Web 3, and authored Navigating the Metaverse, said one of the most frequently asked questions (especially after Zuckerberg rebranded Facebook as Meta in 2021) is: What is the metaverse?

In an effort to avoid misconceptions, he told the audience what the metaverse is not:

  • It’s not a game even though early adopters were “gamers and crypto aficionados.”

  • It’s not non-fungible tokens (NFTs), although the metaverse is a utility that will increase NFT value, he said.

  • It’s not virtual reality (VR), but rather "platform agnostic." When there is a seamless integration of “real life” through augmented reality, the metaverse will flourish, he noted.

  • It’s not Meta just like "Google isn’t the internet," he offered.

“The metaverse is an experience that we will all be co-creating,” Di Bartolo said. “Meaning the creators, the industries, the developers — and at the center of the development of this experience, we will be developing an economy of supply and demand of digital assets.”

This new digital experience is what he calls “phygital,” the convergence of the physical and digital world. As an example, he pointed to a March 2022 “Fashion Week” event where new, online brands were featured in the metaverse alongside established lines such as Dulce & Gabbana and Estée Lauder. HSBC Bank USA, he added, recently entered the space by buying a piece of “land” in The Sandbox metaverse.

“The goal is to build this experience and basically mingle and connect with e-gamers and gamers in the space—connecting banking with the gaming industry,” he said of HSBC's initiative. “We need to embrace. The metaverse is in the early adopting phase.”

For those in the audience still skeptical and old enough to remember, he pointed to Napster and Myspace, which didn’t end up dominating the market, but are considered the beginning steps to what became Web 2. Gamers in the metaverse, he said, are similar pioneers.

“We went from ‘visit us at our website,’ to ‘follow us on social media’ to — starting in 2021 — ‘experience us in [the metaverse]’. That is where we are going,” he said. “And this experience will have ownership and co-creation.”

Is the Metaverse Where You Want to Go?

Di Bartolo contends that one can’t understand the metaverse from merely an academic approach; rather, he said: “You need to have a mindset of experimentation. You want to start small and have a plan and have a big picture — what is the goal of this thing called the metaverse?”

Asking the audience to look around them and study their environment, he said that in a few years they will have a layer of augmentation, a level of data that they will be able to interact with — converging the digital and physical world.

“We will be having immersive experiences and our customers will be co-creators. That is when we will have a new revenue stream and next-level engagement,” he said. “Then you reverse engineer it — step number one; have a presence in the metaverse; step two, activate commerce; and step three; then go toward phygital,” he continued. “Immersive activates senses, and if I activate more senses I have more fun and a more efficient way of learning that is rewarded. We are creating a generation that from the get-go will learn in the metaverse.”

In the next 10 years, he predicts a large workforce, such as creators, service providers and banking systems, directly operating in the metaverse instead of real life.

“What they are producing and creating will be a digital economy that so far has not been possible to develop,” said Di Bartolo, who at the end of his 15-minute talk took a crowd/conference image with his smart phone, which he plans to turn into a FinovateFall 2022 New York City NFT. “Ask yourself as a company and team: Where is it you want to go?”

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