Metaversity joins virtual reality, identity and holistic education assets: India’s ex-Twitter manager
There needs to be a fundamental change in the way education is thought about and it shouldn’t be limited to posting videos of educational and professional courses online, believes Manish Maheshwari, former head of Twitter India and co- founder of Metaversity. In an exclusive interview with Aashish Aryan, he said higher education should not be limited to those who can afford to go to such campuses. Edited excerpts:
What is the idea behind launching Metaversity as a platform?
Over the past two years, education has moved online, not by choice but by compulsion. Before Covid it was unfathomable that classes were online, people were getting degrees online. As a result, many quick fixes have appeared. Software intended for office communication was used for classroom instruction.
What we’re building now is a combination of experience, identity, and virtual assets and bringing it all together so we can holistically solve for students – from the start. Instead of watching a class unfold, you would actually be sitting, experiencing the class. A simple VR (virtual reality) device will help you do this. The cost of the material goes down. Our opinion is that in the next few quarters it would probably be around $100, or Rs 7,000-Rs 10,000. Bandwidth is also almost free. So why shouldn’t you feel like you’re in a classroom?
Most of the things I learned in college came before and after class, hanging out with my friends in libraries, cafeterias, and auditoriums. There was so much networking. This is all that is missing in online learning today. The completion rate is less than 10% in e-learning.
Through a metaversity, we will bring social and community back to learning. I come from Twitter, so I know the power of social construction, of community. In the days of Covid, I saw how people connected online and built community. I want to bring the same to learning.
Are you a pioneer in the metaspace or are you too early with a platform for an ecosystem that is still in its infancy?
Our view is that the world is ready now. The number one reason is Covid. People have accepted that things can be done virtually and that’s going to stay. Even if Covid goes away, not everyone might go to campus every day of the week. They can go there one or two days a week. The world is also ready for a metaverse. People like a more immersive experience, and in education there has been no fundamental innovation so far. People also hang out in virtual spaces. Our point of view is that this space is innovating very quickly.
How do you plan to compete with other big metaverse companies that will come to you with much deeper pockets?
Zoom was nowhere two years ago and look where it is now. How did he get so big now? Everyone will try to enter this space. But we are firmly focused on education. We’re not going to build a layer that’s for everything. We will remain student-centred. Yes, everyone will try to do this, but that’s the beauty of it.
The market is huge. There will be different variations of solving a problem and a small agile team is much more likely to pivot and find the answer than a large team in a large company.
Metaverse is a very different layer of the Internet. My take would be that it resets the playing field and creates a new way of doing things. Different actors will come to occupy different verticals. Our desire is to occupy the educational part of the metaverse.
I think existing businesses have a huge legacy baggage that they have to unload and things can’t go that fast. They may not see a new trend on the horizon.
What is the size of your company ? Where do you plan to extend it?
We are a global company based in the United States with a team of approximately 50 people now. We have a technical team in Bangalore. What we build has global applicability. We are growing because many people want to work at the forefront of education and the metaverse. Our plan is to first hold two courses in India, then one in the United States, and then invite schools and colleges to recreate their campuses online. Many colleges want to do this because they realize that the real estate they’ve had for the past two or three years is crumbling.
Students can be anywhere, and it’s brutal to expect them to travel to a city, leave their homes, and take a course. We also get good student buy-in. Our first course begins in May on the Metaversity campus. We are adding and hiring more.
Will the fees for students in adversity match what they pay on campus?
It will be much cheaper and very affordable. Our vision is that anyone should be able to get the education they need at an affordable price. As it is a virtual environment, you can adapt it to any budget. This is to create virtual libraries, learning materials, etc. Because we do this on a large scale globally, we might mix and match.
The price for India could be very different. We can make sure it is affordable by mass market. We can lend these devices to students for short courses. So almost at no cost they can get and experience all of this. We say hang out on campus from your couch. This way, even if the students come from small towns, they would have access to the same professional network as someone who attends the Ivy league.