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Recently, Figma, a collaborative web application for interface design, was purchased by Adobe for $20 billion. It’s worth thinking about why Figma has been so successful and why Adobe was willing to pay so much for it.
Since the beginning, Figma has been about collaboration. Yes, it was a great design tool. Yes, it ran completely in the browser; no downloads or installation required. But more than anything else, Figma was a tool for collaboration. That was a goal from the beginning. Collaboration wasn’t an afterthought; it was baked in.
My thesis about the metaverse is that it is, above all, about enabling collaboration. VR goggles and AR glasses? Fine, but the metaverse will fail if it only works for those who want to wear a headset. Crypto? I strongly object to the idea that everything needs to be owned — and that every transaction needs to pay a tax to anonymous middlemen (whether they’re called miners or stakers). Finally, I think that Facebook/Meta, Microsoft and others who say that the metaverse is about “better meetings” are just plain headed in the wrong direction. I can tell you — anyone in this industry can tell you — that we don’t need better meetings; we need fewer meetings.
But we still need people working together, particularly as more and more of us are working remotely. So the real question facing us is: How do we minimize meetings while enabling people to work together? Meetings are, after all, a tool for coordinating people, for transferring information in groups, for circulating ideas outside of one-to-one conversations. They’re a tool for collaboration.
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That’s precisely what tools like Figma are for: Enabling designers to work together on a project conveniently, without conflicting with each other. They’re about demonstrating designs to managers and other stakeholders. They’re about brainstorming new ideas (that is, with Figjam) with your team members. And they’re about doing all this without requiring people to get together in a conference room, by Zoom, or in any of the other conferencing services. The problem with those tools isn’t really the flat screen, the “Brady Bunch” design, or the absence of avatars; the problem is that you still have to interrupt people and get them in the same (virtual) place at the same time, breaking whatever flow they were in.
We don’t need better meetings; we need better tools for collaboration so that we don’t need as many meetings. That’s what the metaverse means for businesses. Tools like GitHub and Google’s Colab are really about collaboration, as are Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365. The metaverse is strongly associated with gaming, and if you look at games like Overwatch and Fortnite, you’ll see that they are really about collaboration among online players. That’s what makes these games fun. I have nothing against VR goggles, but what makes the experience special is the interaction with other players in real time. You don’t need goggles for that.
Collaboration made Figma worth $20 billion. It’s one of the first “enterprise metaverse” applications. It certainly won’t be the last.
Mike Loukides is VP of emerging tech content at O’Reilly Media.