In this interview with Temitayo Jaiyeola, Founder, Iyoba Land, Ehi Binitie talks about why Nigerians and Africans should be excited about the Metaverse and what it has in store for the continent
To the Many concepts like Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and now Web 3.0 are wrong. But it is the evolution of how we interact with the Internet. As an expert, can you simplify these concepts and how they have shaped and continue to shape our interaction with the Internet?
In the technology industry, these terms are only used to denote the great developments of the Internet, just as we refer to the agricultural, industrial, or information ages when we refer to civilizations. Web 1.0 is considered to be the first real phase in the widespread adoption of the Internet through e-commerce. The ability to purchase items through a computer was a huge paradigm shift that changed the way business was done. It introduced many new technologies and transformed the Internet from a fringe platform used in libraries and universities to something everyone used to make their lives easier. The search engines were vital because they made it easier to find ecommerce vendors, and we can see Google and Amazon gaining traction. Web 2.0 is primarily characterized by the emergence of social media. The shift here is mainly to users who are providing the content. Enabling individuals to create content and distribute it to an audience changed the way advertising was done and the power structure shifted to companies offering such platforms. The interconnectedness of social media has impacted politics, business, and the way we communicate with each other around the world, leading the internet into its next evolution. Web 3.0 offers content creators and owners the ability to provide proof of ownership and secure content with cryptocurrency. These new platforms will enable an explosion of business models that will allow artists and creators to reap more value for their creations, not to mention the myriad of ways to showcase that content in augmented and virtual reality environments.
The Metaverse is the next frontier for virtual reality. Much of what we have in the physical is being recreated virtually. A lot of people worry that this could make physical interactions fail, what do you think?
I think we have more to worry about developing viruses than the Metaverse taking away physical interactions, but seriously, I think a lot of unnecessary physical interactions will go the phone booth route. The office area is already experiencing this with remote working. I also strongly believe that our perception of physical interactions as we know them will soon change as we are able to trick our brains into interacting with digital objects with new virtual technologies that are already in the works to feel, taste and smell.
Can you tell us some of the use cases of the metaverse?
A true Metaverse should allow users to connect to different worlds or spaces, communicate with other users and maintain their avatars and the ability to bring and use their digital assets into those worlds. Entertainment is currently the most common use case of the metaverse, but the ability to indirectly experience the experiences of others is very powerful, as we’ve seen since the advent of reality TV. Being able to experience a sky leap, a trip to an exotic city without all of the associated risks and costs, or the opportunity to escape gender or racial stereotypes will change the way we interact with each other as the human race. Many are currently using the Metaverse for events attending classes, conferences, concerts and religious gatherings, but the ability to collaborate and get things done at work in the Metaverse will be key.
Meta estimates that the Metaverse will add $40 billion to sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product within a decade. But internet connection in Nigeria and Africa is still a challenge. Broadband penetration is less than 50 percent in most countries, and smartphone penetration is lagging behind. How will Africans access the metaverse when we’re still struggling to connect to the internet?
Interesting points but I remember in the early days of Web 2.0 how many thought we were being left out in Africa but somehow we were able to reach out to some of the most prolific content providers and consumers of the Web 2.0 era. Nigeria has nearly 110 million internet users and ranks 8th in the world despite these challenges. I think global connectivity will continue to improve and this will not be an issue that will hinder adoption. I have met many in the Metaverse who, despite these challenges, are employed full-time from Africa in the Metaverse.
According to research, approximately 12.5 million VR headsets were sold worldwide in 2021, with the market expected to grow to 70 million units sold by 2026. The report states that the best-selling Oculus Quest 2 will retail for $299, which is far out of reach for many netizens in Nigeria and Africa. How can Africa overcome the cost barrier of launching the metaverse?
I believe that VR lounges and cyber bars could be stopgap measures like internet cafes used to be, but I believe that soon devices will continue to merge and value will be measured differently. If you don’t have to commute to work, have a laptop, phone and cable, the price looks cheaper. If you don’t have to buy a plane ticket or pay for a hotel because you’re attending a virtual conference, you can also see the impact on businesses. We are currently in the car phone stage, bulky and almost considered a luxury item, but that will change as technology advances.
Meta invests heavily in the Metaverse, and many Metaverse innovations are driven by the West. Although MTN recently bought land in the Metaverse, how do you think African companies can innovate for the Metaverse as well?
That’s a great point. African companies can drive innovation by subsidizing the cost of adoption, just as they have done with mobile phones and subscription content. Creating presences in these spaces will make it easier to reach their audiences in ways not previously possible and will be of great value, as will chat and online support in web 1.0 and social media in 2.0. Investing in platforms focused on African content is key to ensure the continent keeps moving forward in this space.
Can you explain Iyoba Land to us?
You can access Iyoba Land by visiting iyobaland.com. It is a platform that enables African digital content creators to showcase their content in 3D virtual environments accessible in the browser and immersive virtual reality environments accessible in Meta Quest headsets . Creators can upload their content to virtual galleries we host and sell digital items on our platform for consumers to use in the Metaverse. Our goal is to attract African digital creators and share our African stories in virtual experiences. Iyoba Land is also available on the Meta Horizon World platform. Our Iyoba land world tells the story of Queen Idia and recently won Best Story in Meta’s Horizon Builder Launch Pad Contest. We are currently working on our next release for Metas Horizon World which is based on a virtual music studio called Naija Studios that will bring Afro beats to the Metaverse. Our mission is to archive African culture in the Metaverse through interactive experiences.
Nigeria and other African countries import a lot of software although they have a burgeoning software development sector. Nigeria spent more than $1 billion to import software between 2020-2021. What can be done to improve software development on the continent?
Localization is key to usability. While the software to be imported can have some great out-of-the-box features, a lot of money has to be spent adapting it to local languages, customs, and ideologies. Cloud-based platforms focused on local markets, superior customer service and reliability are key. Whenever I’m in India and China, I’m always amazed at the number of platforms used daily by locals who have no counterparts in the US. Nigeria has unique problems that can be solved by our local software developers, which can be very valuable due to the size of the population.