In this interview with Temitayo Jaiyeola, the Founder, Iyoba Land, Ehi Binitie, speaks on why Nigerians and Africans should be excited about the metaverse and what it holds for the continent
For a lot of people concepts like Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and now Web 3.0 are bogus. But it is the evolution of our interaction with the Internet. As an expert, can you simplify these concepts, and how they have and are shaping our interaction with the Internet?
In the tech industry, these terms are just used to mark the major evolutions of the internet the same way we refer to the agricultural, industrial or information ages when we refer to civilisations. Web 1.0 is considered the first real phase of wide adoption of the Internet due to e-commerce. The ability to be able to purchase items over a computer was a huge paradigm shift that changed the way business was done. It ushered in many new technologies and changed the Internet from being 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 e-commerce providers and we can see how Google and Amazon rose to prominence. Web 2.0 is primarily marked by the advent of social media. The shift here is primarily on users supplying the content. Giving individuals the ability to create content and distribute it to audiences changed the way advertising was done and the power structure shifted to companies that provide such platforms. The connectedness of social media has affected politics, businesses, and the way we communicate with each other across the globe which advanced the internet to its next evolution. Web 3.0 is bringing about the ability for content creators and owners to show proof of ownership, securing content with cryptocurrency. These new platforms will allow for an explosion of business models allowing artists and creators to get more value for their creations not to talk of the myriad ways of showcasing this content in augmented and virtual reality environments.
The Metaverse is the next frontier for virtual reality. A lot of what we have in the physical will be recreated virtually. A lot of people fear that this might doom physical interactions, what are your thoughts?
I think we have more to worry about from evolving viruses than the Metaverse taking away physical interactions but on a more serious note, I think a lot of unnecessary physical interactions will go the way of the phone booth. The office space is already experiencing this with remote working. I also strongly believe that our idea of physical interactions as we know it will soon change, as we are able to trick our brain into feeling, tasting, and smelling digital objects with new virtual technologies already in the works.
Can you walk us through some of the use cases of the metaverse?
A true Metaverse should allow users to connect to different worlds or spaces, communicating with other users and maintaining their avatars and ability to bring and use their digital assets in these worlds. Entertainment is currently the most common use case of the Metaverse but being able to vicariously experience others’ experiences is very powerful as we have seen from the advent of reality TV. Allowing you to experience a sky jump, a trip to an exotic city without all the risks and costs that come with it or being able to escape gender or racial stereotypes will change the way we interact with each other as a human race. Many are currently using the Metaverse for events attending classes, conferences, concerts, and religious gatherings but being able to collaborate and do things on the job in the Metaverse will be key.
Meta estimates that the metaverse will add $40bn 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 per cent in most countries and smartphone penetration is lagging. How will Africans access the metaverse when we are still struggling for Internet connection?
Interesting points but I remember at the beginning of Web 2.0 how many thought we in Africa would be left out, but we somehow have been able to some of the most prolific content providers and consumers of the Web 2.0 era. Nigeria has close to 110 million internet users and globally is ranked number 8 despite these challenges. I think that global connectivity will continue to improve, and this will not be a problem that will hinder adoption. I have already met many in the Metaverse who are gainfully employed full-time from Africa in the Metaverse despite these challenges.
According to research, about 12.5 million VR headsets were sold in 2021 globally, with the market expected to grow to 70 million units sold by 2026. The report stated that the best-selling Oculus Quest 2 retails for $299, which is far beyond the reach of many Internet users in Nigeria and Africa. How can Africa navigate the cost barrier to adopting the metaverse?
I believe VR lounges and cyber bars could be stop gaps such as the Internet cafes used to be, but I believe soon devices will continue to merge and the value will be measured differently. If you don’t have to commute to work, own a laptop, phone, and cable then the price looks cheaper. When you don’t have to buy a plane ticket or pay for a hotel because you are attending a virtual conference then you can also see the impact to businesses. We are currently in the stage of the car phone, bulky and almost viewed as a luxury item but this will change as technology advances.
Meta is investing heavily in the metaverse and a lot of metaverse innovation is being driven by the west. Even though MTN recently bought land in the metaverse, how do you think African firms can also drive innovation for the metaverse?
This is a great point. African firms can drive innovation by subsidising the adoption costs just like they did with cell phones and subscription content. Creating presences in these spaces will make it easier to reach their audiences in ways not possible before and will be of great value just like chat and online support in web 1.0 and social media in 2.0. Investing in platforms that focus on African content is key to make sure that the continent continues to advance in this space.
Can you explain Iyoba Land to us?
You can access Iyoba Land by visiting iyobaland.com. It is a platform that allows creators of African digital content 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 that we host and can sell digital items on our platform for consumers to use in the Metaverse. Our goal is to attract African digital creators and be able to share our African stories in virtual experiences. Iyoba Land is also available on the Meta Horizon World platform. Our Iyoba Land World features the story of Queen Idia and recently won the best narrative in Meta’s Horizon Builder’s Launch Pad competition. We are currently working on our next release for Meta’s Horizon World which is based on a virtual music studio that will bring Afro beats into the Metaverse and called Naija Studios. Our mission is to archive African culture in the Metaverse using interactive experiences.
Nigeria and other African countries import a lot of software despite having a burgeoning software development sector. Nigeria spent more than $1bn importing software between 2020 and 2021. What can be done to improve software development on the continent?
Localisation is key to usability. While the software being imported may have some great out-of-the-box features, lots of money must be spent to customise it to work with local languages, customs, and ideologies. Cloud-based platforms that are focused on local markets, over-the-top customer service, and reliability are key to this. When I am in India and China, I am always amazed at the number of platforms used on a day-to-day basis by locals that have no peers in the US. Nigeria has unique problems that can be solved by our local software developers that can be quite valuable due to the size of the population.