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Inside the metaverse, two journalists experience future in real time

By Cheng Yu | China Daily | Updated: 2022-02-05 10:00
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I began my career as a business journalist in 2017, and since then have traveled quite a bit, and have had the privilege to interview a number of top corporate executives. But nothing blew my mind so far like a recent "meeting" with a metaverse expert.

Truth to tell, I am yet to wrap my mind around this tech buzzword, but together with my colleague Ma Si, we interviewed He Chao, secretary-general of the metaverse industry committee at the China Mobile Communications Association.

The CMCA is a trade body based in both Beijing and Honnverse, an initial space of the metaverse created by Chinese social networking platform InMyShow Digital Technology.

As we were to realize, the metaverse can be a great "place" for reporters. We were able to interview people who otherwise would be unavailable or inaccessible for in-person conversations. This meant, experts in Los Angeles or the South Pole were within our "reach" now in the metaverse.

In this age of real-time video calls on umpteen messenger apps or conferencing solutions, you might wonder, "What's the big deal?"

Well, it's a big deal because interviews in the metaverse can get very, very immersive indeed. Like, an interviewer can feel if not touch objects and scenes while experiencing the interviewee's home and what he or she does in it.

In Honnverse, Ma Si and I built a studio for our Take IT Easy video feature series that showcases latest technologies in China. Our virtual studio's interiors are now replete with print newspaper clips and video clips that users can explore at any time.

One glimpse of He's house in the metaverse was enough to know it is cozy and stylish, decorated like houses in regions south of the Yangtze River but also embedded with many tech elements (like the floating cloud).

One interesting thing about his house is a digital piano, or an invaluable digital collection. In the metaverse, users can create their own digital collections and the metaverse will make the collection your own property.

According to He, the metaverse is the third-generation of the internet and a virtual parallel to the real world, but he also noted that it is different from 3-D games.

"Gaming is the first sector that the metaverse was applied to. That is to say, a primary stage of the metaverse. Gaming in the metaverse combines the actual and virtual worlds in a more effective way," He said.

What separated Honnverse from games like The Sims is that metaverse users use their real identity to do things in the virtual world, like a media interview, after which, reporters actually use their content to produce a report in real life, he said.

He then took us to the "home" of Yutaixian, an internet influencer with 5 million fans. This is another magical aspect of the metaverse, where users can interact with some virtual characters that they can never speak with in real time.

I believe the metaverse will be a promising field, especially for the entertainment industry. More digital characters will emerge.

As for real stars, well, many fans can have deeper interactions with their favorite celebrities in the metaverse. Again, this is big deal because COVID-19 has shown how certain situations can restrict access to offline concerts and similar prized events.

To be sure, the metaverse is nascent. My experience attests to that. My real-time interactions were amid noise and other people's voices-ugly, annoying surround sound, if you will. But then, I'd like to dismiss it as teething problems. It's still early days, you know.

The immersive quotient, to be truly wow, needs to improve a lot. No Chinese firm has yet combined VR equipment with the metaverse. But, I think I'd feel uncomfortable to wear VR equipment for hours on end.

Suffice to say the metaverse is not "meta universe". Many tech problems need sorting out. But who is to say it won't become popular over the next few years?

So, rules and regulations for the metaverse ecosystem, if they are formulated proactively, might prove timely.

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