As our Digital Marketing Strategy Lead at MillerKnoll, Chris Coleman has been helping Ryan Anderson answer questions from customers wondering whether they should start hosting meetings or other work functions in the metaverse. These questions get asked so often that Ryan invited Chris to join him on the podcast to share a digestible explainer of all things metaverse—or, as Chris prefers to refer to it, Web3. If you’ve ever found yourself lost in conversations about blockchains, NFTs, virtual reality, and the like, Chris breaks it all down and explains what it means to the future of business and our lives. For more insight into the future of life and business, check out our POV on the future of work: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/designing-better-tomorrow-millerknoll/.
Speaker 1 (00:05):
This is Looking Forward: Conversations About the Future of Work, brought to you by MillerKnoll.
Hey friends. Today we’re doing something different. We’re exploring the future of the web and the metaverse. We’re very fortunate at MillerKnoll to have a fantastic digital strategist in Chris Coleman. And I’ve been asked a lot over the last year or so about the metaverse. The most common question I usually get is, “Hey, when are we all going to be working in the metaverse?” So I’ve posed those sort of questions to him in the past. And his answers have broadened and really fundamentally changed my thinking about the topic. So we’ve asked him to join the podcast for a conversation. You’ll discover that from his perspective, the metaverse isn’t necessarily the big idea that’s going to impact our businesses and our lives, but a more advanced version of the web of which the metaverse is just part. I do want to give you a heads up that the topic, if we really want to understand it, is complicated.
But Chris does an excellent job of breaking down the complex and fascinating nuances of this topic. And I think his perspectives as someone whose job centers on this will reframe the conversation for you today and into the future. Enjoy this conversation with MillerKnoll’s Chris Coleman. Hey Chris, welcome to the podcast.
Chris Coleman (01:25):
Hi Ryan. Thanks for having me.
Well, it’s fun to have you. It’s awesome to have a fellow MillerKnoll employee as a guest. And today we’re talking about something that I can legitimately say I know very little about. So normally I might have some questions teed up, making sure that the conversation goes where it will be most beneficial for our listeners. But let’s face it, in this case you’re going to be educating me and our listeners as we go. But let’s start like we normally do. Tell us about you and what you do.
Chris Coleman (01:54):
Yeah. So today I am a digital marketing strategist at MillerKnoll. And right now I’m focused on the contract side of our business, working on developing and deploying digital ad campaigns to support our B2B business. But lately over the last few months, I’ve been focused on web three technologies and what that might mean for MillerKnoll in the future.
It will be fun to unpack this. I also know that this has been something that you’ve had a passion for outside of your day job, so to speak. So give us a little background. Web three, what is it and how did you get interested in all this?
Chris Coleman (02:30):
So I fell into the NFT scene by following some screen print artists that I’m interested in. As a hobby, I collect screen prints. A lot of those guys started making NFTs. And at first I wasn’t really sure what this was about. They were very much focused on digital collectibles so I started collecting. As I fell into those communities I realized that there was a lot you could do with the technology. Specifically around interoperability and how one collectable might interact with another and how you might have new experiences as you sort of traverse the web with these new collectables in your wallet, your crypto wallet.
I’m going to ask, I’m going to be as our host today, the person to ask the dumb questions. NFT, non fungible tokens. So I think of these as digital things you own. But I think people might easily get confused because it feels like you can copy and paste a picture. So how can you actually own something digital?
Chris Coleman (03:30):
Yeah, and I thought you might ask that. Having led the conversation with the collectibles angle, there’s a lot more to the scene beyond artwork. Certainly digital collectables, digital art is a big piece of what we’ve seen in the media to date. But there’s a lot of interesting uses, particularly around new commerce experiences that you might be able to deliver upon by understanding what’s in someone’s wallet. So a good example is actually the recent Tiffany launch. I don’t know if you are familiar with NF Tiff.
Chris Coleman (04:00):
Tiffany launched a collection of 250 iced out pendants that were exclusive to crypto punk holders. So if you had a crypto punk, which is sort of like the top tier NFT profile picture that someone could have, these routinely sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you have a crypto punk in your wallet, you were eligible to purchase this NF Tiff, this pendant NFT, and then redeem it for a physical pendant.
Chris Coleman (04:26):
So Tiffany was able to understand, based on chain data who owned these punks, how much Ether they had in their wallet, and whether or not they could afford to mint one or up to three of these pendants. And Tiffany ended up selling that collection out in roughly four minutes to the tune of $18 million. So that’s where the power of understanding what’s in someone’s wallet comes into play. And that’s sort of where my head’s been for the last few months now, thinking about this token gated element of the web three space.
Okay, you’re into some mind blowing stuff for me here. I know I’m going to look back on this in 10 years and be like, “Geez, I didn’t know anything about this,” but what’s in your wallet. To me is a tagline from an advertisement for [inaudible 00:05:09].
Chris Coleman (05:08):
Wallets are really the future of this whole thing. And just to back up a little bit, to your point, a non fungible token is something that cannot be changed on the blockchain. It’s immutable on the blockchain. So what makes that interesting is using that data as a standard to be used across different platforms. So to your point, what’s in your wallet, that will be so important going forward in this new world of web three, which is decentralized internet, where the things in your wallet define you. It’s not your account on Google. It’s not the websites that you’re browsing and searching upon. It’s literally what you own that will help companies figure out who you are and cater to you with new experiences and new products. So Shopify is working on this right now. There are a number of other platforms that are working on token gating. A lot of the ticketing companies are working on token gated tickets. So you’d actually own the digital ticket as an NFT that can then be redeemed at a show for entry into the show.
What you’re describing as I listen, and I want to make sure we unpack the terms as we go, because many of us are unfamiliar with them, sounds like a whole new version of the internet, hence web three. So we might be focusing in here soon in our conversation on the metaverse, but this sounds broader.
Chris Coleman (06:23):
Yeah. I think web three sort of is the metaverse conceptually. This notion that the things in your wallet define you and as you connect to your wallet to different websites, you’re experiencing new things, like that is sort of the metaverse distilled. It’s all of your digital goods that you own. And you can take them with you into new experiences, whether that’s just a token gated commerce experience or an AR experience, a VR experience. Something that we know today as metaversal, like I don’t know, Roblox or Fortnite. Even those are sort metaverse light platforms. And we haven’t really seen a true VR winner, I guess, arise in this space. There’s platforms like Decentraland and The Sandbox and Facebook’s working on Meta Horizon. So there will be these places that you can go with an avatar and exhibit your digital goods. We haven’t really seen that come to life yet in a meaningful way. So when I think about the metaverse, I’m leaning into that interoperability aspect, just the notion that you can bring the things you own with you wherever you go on the web.
That’s really interesting because I think many of us think of virtual worlds. I’m old enough where I think of Second Life/ I have teens and pre-teens, so Roblox is for me, that’s a really tangible example of a virtual world where somebody might go to play or be entertained, et cetera. But it sounds like the metaverse as it’s kind of growing and it’s definition, it feels a little bit is not just about heading into some sort of virtual simulated world. You’re talking about really kind our online identity and how we transact and interact on the web.
Chris Coleman (08:08):
Yeah, it’s really a recontextualizing of what it is to be online. Our lives are increasingly digital. The internet. You don’t talk about going online. And in the future, you won’t talk about plugging into the metaverse or signing into the metaverse. That will just be surrounding us. And the way that we interact with it will be daily and natural, organic in our life. Apple has a great wallet on their phone. It’s not a crypto wallet, but I bet that someday it will be. Today all of those wallets are browser extensions, primarily that you access in Chrome or any other browser. And those things will become more native to the way that we use the web in the future.
You use the phrase token gated a few times, and I’m not sure I know what that means.
Chris Coleman (08:54):
So we talked about NFTs, non fungible tokens, cryptocurrency, those are tokens. That’s just the way that you reference anything that’s served up on the blockchain or powered by the blockchain. I don’t really like the term NFT. I don’t really like the term cryptocurrency because it’s not really what they are. They are tokens, they’re digital goods, they’re digital assets. And I think that recontextualizing those things might actually help the public discourse and help people understand what they really are. NFTs get a bad rap for being scams. Certainly, there are many bad actors in this space and that’s something that as we at MillerKnoll think about how we might access these technologies, we want to avoid that aspect. It will come with time, better security, better information and education around this topic will help people avoid that. But in the public sphere, they don’t have the best reputation at the moment. And so I really want to move away from NFTs and cryptocurrency and focus in on the benefits of these technologies. It’s the underlying technology. When you are using the web, you don’t talk about TCP and IP protocols, you’re just online.
Really interesting. As long as we’re kind of continuing to define terms and rethink this, you’ve mentioned the blockchain. I think of it just as a different way of bookkeeping, for lack better term. But it’s not owned by an organization, it’s completely decentralized, right?
Chris Coleman (10:14):
Correct. Yeah. And that’s where it gets interesting. It’s something that’s verified by other users and computers around the world. It’s not something that an individual company necessarily has access to or can change. So when you own something on the blockchain, I’ve mentioned the term immutable, it’s owned by you. It’s unique. It can’t be changed. And of course, because the blockchain can be used as a standard, you can take that thing with you wherever you go. There are a lot of naysayers who will say, “Why blockchain? Why should I use this? This problem can be solved by a simple database.” It can, but that would be centralized. And this notion of using the blockchain and NFTs as a new form of CRM, it relies on this interoperability aspect. It relies on a standardized database that everyone can tap into. And so that’s where the blockchain in particular becomes really interesting.
So help us as best you can, imagine how someone who might not know about this in the same way that they might not know about TCP, would just have different web experiences. So if you could, and let’s just say it’s Thanksgiving and you’re talking to your aunt or whatever, she might be really up on web three, I don’t know. But you’re just like, “Hey, this is what it’s going to be like to enjoy commerce or interactions on the web in the future.” How might it be different?
Chris Coleman (11:33):
Well, you won’t even think about it. You won’t think about the digital goods that you own. You’ll just understand that you own these things. And when you connect to a website, you might connect with your wallet rather than a login. And that wallet will serve as your account on that site. So it’s just a slight modification to how we operate today, but I think it will be very easily understood by anyone who’s browsing the web today. If they’re used to logging into a site, they’ll simply log in a different way. They’ll log in uniquely with their wallet, which will help identify them.
And by the way, for the sake of our listeners, this is totally unscripted, so Chris is going where I’m going and vice versa. This comes to mind recently because I travel a fair amount, there are different passes you can get for airport lounges so I subscribed to one. And what was interesting was they physically sent me a card to stick in my physical wallet. And then they sent a digital one that I could keep my apple wallet. And I immediately thought, “Why on earth would I keep this thing in my pocket the whole time if it can just be something that lives almost like a boarding pass or a concert ticket in my digital wallet?” Is this an example of the transitions that we might be going through in the future?
Chris Coleman (12:45):
Yeah, totally. That’s one way that I think many people see the market trending is towards the sort of utility based tokens. So your loyalty cards, warranty programs, even things like your driver’s license could effectively live on a chain. It’s not necessary that they do, but that’s sort of the future that many of the web three visionaries might explain to you.
Yeah. No, that’s truly interesting. And you’ve just given us a new term, on chain.
Chris Coleman (13:15):
Yeah, on chain. On the blockchain,
Hey friends, we’ll get back to our episode in just a moment. But first I want to take this opportunity to let you know that Looking Forward is part of Surround, a podcast network curated by Standout Design Group. Surround brings together some of the best architecture and design driven audio content available. So if you like what you hear from us, visit surroundpodcast.com and check out some of the other great shows on the network.
If you had to try, I know this is really tough in any sort of technology evolution, is this a 30 year, 10 year, five year? Where might you find us in this larger evolution?
Chris Coleman (13:52):
Yeah, cryptocurrencies have been around for a really long time. NFTs have been around for five plus years in a meaningful way. We’re still learning really how to take advantage of this technology. For a long time there wasn’t a use for cryptocurrency, truly. It was very speculative. I remember a guy bought a pizza for two or three Bitcoin and be worth thousands and thousands of dollars today. He never knew, he was just trying to find a use case. Over the last few years, this shift to digital ownership and the realization that NFTs had meaningful application online sort of gave us that use case for not just Ether and the Ethereum blockchain, but other blockchains as well. There’s a blockchain called Flow that Instagram’s adopting now. Gap is on Tezos, which is a carbon neutral blockchain. Draft Kings sports betting, they’re on the Polygon chain, which is an offshoot of Ethereum, it’s called layer two technology. So it’s Ethereum, but it’s a carbon neutral version of Ethereum. It gets a little complex, but there’s a lot of ways now to tap these blockchains that were really never thought of even just a few years ago.
So there’s not a blockchain, just as in there’s not a metaverse.
Chris Coleman (15:08):
Yeah, right. It’s blockchain technology. There’s several different, more than several different chains. There are many, many different chains.
What’s coming to my mind is you talked about this aspirationally as all of this interoperability. But as I listened to each of those companies like Ethereum, or Draft Kings creating their own. Is this going to be like when we used to talk about unified communications only to end up with a bunch of technology platforms that didn’t actually communicate with each other?
Chris Coleman (15:35):
I don’t think it will be that way. I mentioned wallets and the importance of wallets and wallets being the future. There will be cross chain wallets. There are different blockchains for different purposes, and there are different audiences on the different blockchains. Ether has a bad rap as being sort of the crypto bro blockchain. Whereas a platform like Tezos is more geared towards art collectors that are looking for a carbon neutral solution. Flow has been used previously in the top shop platform, which is a trading card platform that was run by the NBA, or is run by the NBA rather. And so it’s all about application. It’s all about understanding what you want to do. It’s the wallet and this notion of having cross chain assets and minting your assets or taking ownership of your assets on your blockchain of choice.
Chris Coleman (16:28):
That will be really important in the future. But they should all be contained in one wallet, ideally. Today I’ve got Solana wallet, I’ve got an Ether wallet. I don’t have a Tezos wallet, but Tezos is a separate wallet altogether from Solana or Ether. In the future I hope to only have one wallet that encompasses all of these chains in their different uses.
Well, my guess is that for the uninformed user, the only wallet most of us would say we have are associated with whatever phone we chose.
Chris Coleman (16:58):
Apple or Google, right?
Chris Coleman (16:59):
Right. And the world that I see, I believe that Apple and Google will have a wallet that’s cross chain.
I could go on about this. What this conversation’s doing for me is it’s giving me a whole new context for the questions I get asked about the metaverse in particular, which are usually questions like shouldn’t we be having our meetings in the near future, or shouldn’t we be working in the metaverse? I do hear a little bit about real estate transactions increasingly on, I was about to say the blockchain, but I’m now going to say a blockchain. Tell me a little bit about how you perceive questions like that. It sounds like that’s quite a simplification, maybe a oversimplification of what the metaverse and web three might do for those of us that are thinking about supporting work and various places for work. What’s your take on all this?
Chris Coleman (17:49):
Yeah. I don’t think anything beats face to face interaction. And right now what we’ve seen in the VR landscape is that you’re playing games. It’s a video game environment. It’s not photo real. You’re not bringing a hologram of yourself into a VR experience. You’re bringing an avatar. It’s great from that perspective. If I want to have fun and talk about work stuff, I can jump into a VR experience and we could play around at mini golf and have this exact same conversation while we’re playing mini golf. And in some respects, as a longtime gamer myself, that sounds great. That sounds really fun. That’s how I’ve made friends in my life, playing games alongside one another. That’s how I’ve built rapport with new people in my life. I don’t necessarily know that’s the future for work. There’s certainly applications for it. I think that it’s really neat to host events in spaces that could never exist in real life.
Chris Coleman (18:45):
So when I think about different metaverses that are out there, they’re very fantastical and interesting and provocative in their own way. And the design that they choose to adopt, I think it was Forever 21 or H&M maybe. Forever 21 has a store in Decentraland, but H&M I think recently did a product release in this new environment, in a VR experience. And they saw tremendous engagement because you’re asking a lot, I think of someone to log into this VR experience and play a game with me, or pick up a controller and move yourself around in this space. So I think that when you do things like that, you are seeing a high level of engagement from the users that take the time to tap into an experience like that. But I don’t think that it’s the future of work. It’s a big lift to have people put VR goggles on their face and participate in meetings all day long with this heavy piece of equipment.
Chris Coleman (19:39):
I think what we’ll see in the future is more lightweight hardware and more AR applications, less VR. We’ll still have these meetings with the camera, phone calls in real life, in the office, in third places like a coffee shop. But you’ll be able to augment that reality with new things. Looking at 3d models, looking at presentations, being able to pull up a deck, but in your glasses rather than on a screen.
That makes sense to me. And if I think about our family of brands, or if I think about just the industry of creating and managing workplaces, virtual reality and augmented reality both have had uses in the past. VR was tough in a business context, because not only is it maybe physically uncomfortable to have a headset on, it’s also socially awkward to be like, “Hey, welcome, put this thing on your face.” And a lot of people also found it disorienting as they tried to navigate virtual spaces. So after a certain amount of time, just maybe even felt a little bit nauseous. Augmented reality, because it’s layering onto actual physical environments, and that’s so close to what we do, that to me feels like it’s got more potential.
Chris Coleman (20:50):
I would agree. I would agree. I’m very excited about AR technologies. I’m excited about how AR might blend with the NFT market. If you own a sculptural NFT, you could view that in real life on your desk through an AR application rather than just on your screen. And I think that’s really cool too, to bring that digital good into your real world experience.
I think I probably started getting asked maybe a year or two ago about specifically having meetings in the metaverse. And there was a company called Spacial that I think was maybe promoting some of this. Although the last time I looked they’d completely pivoted and they were hosting virtual art galleries for NFTs. So maybe they found a more receptive crowd there. Part of what I find odd and I’ve seen this also with meta’s Horizon world is, I don’t know how people feel about having a avatar represent them. I mean the good news is avatar’s not in its pajamas. Hair is combed, looks pretty good, probably a lot more muscular than most of us are feeling after COVID. But where have you seen avatars maybe other than gaming, have we seen any situations where avatars kind of are usable or practical or people like using them in any situation other than gaming?
Chris Coleman (22:06):
That’s a good question. I don’t think so. Certainly when people play the Sims or play some, I’m trying to think of a real world analog, you might want to customize your avatar to look more like you rather than a video game character. But I haven’t seen any good applications of that in a setting outside of a game environment. One thing that is sort of unique about the NFT collectible space is this profile pictures market. People will buy these profile pictures that they think represent them. And it might be a picture of a monkey that’s looking rather bored, or a pudgy penguin or a sappy seal. There’s all kinds of different profile pictures out there.
Chris Coleman (22:48):
And these collections, what they do really well is they foster an emotional connection. So what I’ve seen in particular are some of the 3d modeled collections like Clone X, which is now owned by Nike, where people just really love their clone and they’ll use filters to wear their clone’s face when they stream through Twitch or when they take meetings. I’ve talked to the team at Artifact. Artifact made the Clone X avatars and they’ve were purchased by Nike back in November. When I’ve talked to those guys though, they’ve used their clones on camera when I’ve met with them.
Chris Coleman (23:27):
So it’s a unique aspect of the profile picture market, that you do form a physical or emotional connection with that avatar that you’ve chosen.
I played around enough in Second Life back in the day, which I don’t know if you might consider Second Life to be pre metaverse, but it certainly was kind of a simulated world. And it was interesting because you could go explore different countries virtually. I also thought it was really interesting, I wasn’t with any of the MillerKnoll brands at the time, but it was fascinating watching Herb Miller back in the day selling digital Eames lounge chairs for people’s homes in the Second Life. But it also began to take on some unusual characteristics where instead of it feeling like your real life, it literally was maybe an alternate life that you want. What you’re describing to me sounds less like a different version of you and how you live, and more how you can be more seamlessly connected across the web as you shop and game and experience. A little different, huh?
Chris Coleman (24:26):
It’s an expression of who you are today. Because there’s this way to of blend your digital and physical self, your actual identity.
For me, this is redefined. And I’ve talked with you in the past so you continue to redefine how I understand web three, the metaverse. And what I’m beginning to take away is that this is going to impact so many different facets of our life at work. It’s not so much necessarily hopping into my avatar’s cool new shoes and going and having a meeting with you. It sounds like this is a different way to shop, this is a different way to interact. Do you have a sense of how someone who’s still pretty new at this, beyond listening to our conversation can begin to get up to speed? Because my sense is that none of us, well, none of us other than you and a handful of others are going to feel like experts. But maybe the right strategy is just to grow in our understanding of these technologies so that we don’t feel like we’re completely outpaced over time.
Chris Coleman (25:24):
There are several notable onboarding experiences that I can think of mostly done through NFT collections. So there’s a collection called My BFF, which was meant to introduce women to the crypto space where women are horrendously poorly represented. And there are a handful of other sites out there that might help educate new users and on-ramp them to this space. But it is admittedly just very new and very complex in some ways. And that’s where there’s some opportunity. It’s funny to think about this space as being the new version of the web. And as I think about the old version of the web, we were used to browsing websites that had FAQs and how-tos on them. And as companies think about launching their own NFTs, you need to do that. You need to produce an FAQ. You need to produce a how-to and walk people through how to purchase your NFT or how to engage with your NFT.
Chris Coleman (26:26):
And how to do it safely because I had mentioned that there’s a lot of bad actors in this space. So there’s a lot of guardrails that you need to set up for people in order to help them on ramp and help them experience this. And that stuff will be smoothed over as the space grows and evolves. But it is definitely more complex than I think I’ve made it sound today.
Yeah, no, I appreciate you breaking it down for us, even if it is a simplification of it. I am curious to pick up on that thread for a moment though. Part of the challenge with Second Life and a few other kind of virtual SIM worlds is that they were allowed to drift towards really fringe, niche, and often abusive behaviors. Do you sense that there’s a level of accountability? Or maybe this is going to have to happen within the world of commerce that businesses and consumers need to keep individuals and organizations accountable so that we don’t drift into a virtual world that might actually be more misogynistic or abusive than the world we’re already living in.
Chris Coleman (27:26):
Yeah, I think with respect to accountability in this space, a lot of that happens on chain today. And I’m thinking specifically of transactions that occur between different wallets. So that might be from someone selling an NFT to another user or user to user transactions, less about how we moderate the metaverse. It’s hard to say what will happen with these universal experiences. A lot of them are more centralized than one might think. We purport this notion of a decentralized internet. And certainly you can bring goods with you from one metaverse to another, but whichever server you’re logging into, whichever metaverse experience you’re logging into, they have a degree of control that they can exert over what you bring with you and how you behave there. It’s not just the wild west.
Chris Coleman (28:18):
There are watchdogs. I mentioned people looking at transactions that are occurring. There are watchdogs on Twitter and in the media that will expose wallets that are associated with nefarious activity. So scam wallets that are ripping people off with a fake NFT or stealing currency in some form or fashion from another person, they’ll often get exposed on Twitter, they’ll get exposed through crypto media. And recently the Securities and Exchange Commission has been prosecuting people that have perpetrated those sorts of crimes. So there is a level of accountability coming, certainly with more regulation, which I support. We’ll see more of that, those bad actors being weeded out.
I think you also mentioned to me at one point that as far as I guess the simpler version of metaverse experience that anyone can go to, Decentraland on the web or to Horizon World or any of those and go play around. Or Roblox, I guess for that matter. There’s nothing stopping a business person who might just be interested in the stuff from going and doing a little bit of safe exploring.
Chris Coleman (29:30):
That is very true. A lot of those experiences, there’s no entry fee necessarily. If you own things like skins or clothing or items that you want to bring with you, then that’s a cost. But to play around, it’s free.
You’ve given us a fantastic base and opened up our perspectives. In close, any other coaching, advice, input, or maybe perspectives on where this is going long term that you would want to share with our listeners?
Chris Coleman (30:01):
Oh my gosh, we’ve covered so many different topics. I would say go back and give it a listen. If you have some questions I can be found on Twitter at zombie. Z-A-H-H-H-M-B-I-E. You can also find me on LinkedIn. And I’m happy to connect, answer questions, talk about NFT mints and what’s going on in the space.
Well, I’m not just blowing sunshine at you when I say I’m so thankful that you’re one of the minds leading this within our organization, because it is fascinating. And I do sense that this is even bigger perhaps and people have made it out to be. And collectively, we’re just going to have to be on a journey together, figuring it out over the coming not months, but really years and decades. All right Chris, thank you so much for being a guest. I’m looking forward. We appreciate it, man.
Chris Coleman (30:48):
Thank you. Have a good one.