The metaverse of tomorrow will be an internet we’re inside of, says Abhijit Bose, Head of India, WhatsApp
Abhijit Bose, Head of India, WhatsApp, is a speaker at CII’s annual Global Knowledge Summit. The 17th edition of the summit is being held in a hybrid format in Bengaluru and online on April 12-13, with the theme of Knowledge Management and the Metaverse.
As a media partner for the Global Knowledge Summit, see YourStory’s preview article of the 2022 edition here, and coverage of the editions from 2021, 2020 and 2019.
In this chat with YourStory, Abhijit talks about the immersive and engaging features of the metaverse, evolution of messaging platforms, and opportunities for India.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YourStory [YS]: Immersive media and blockchain have been around for a while – what is new about the metaverse concept? How would you demystify the hype and misconceptions around it?
Abhijit Bose [AB]: We believe social experiences will be at the heart of the Metaverse. And when we talk about the metaverse, we are talking about a future where people are at the center of technology.
Nothing beats being together. But when we can’t be together in person, the metaverse gets us even closer to feeling that in-person connection because it is immersive and engaging.
If the internet of today is something we look at, the metaverse of tomorrow will be an internet we’re inside of.
This makes our focus on building for the metaverse a natural evolution for Meta — bringing us closer to achieving our mission to connect people in ways never before possible.
[YS]: In the context of learning and knowledge, what contributions does the metaverse make?
[AB]: The metaverse will disrupt businesses as we know today and enable brands to provide connected experiences for their customers. It will reimagine entertainment experiences, the way we learn and help unlock economic opportunities and new careers.
[YS]: How is WhatsApp leveraging the metaverse?
[AB]: Our vision for the metaverse is a ten-year vision but the possibilities are limitless. We want WhatsApp to be the easiest and most private way for you to call or talk to the people you care about wherever they are or to communicate with the businesses of your choice.
Today, it’s easy to connect with people on their phone. In the future, it will be easy to connect with people whether they’re on their phone or if they’re in the Metaverse.
[YS]: What are the risks and challenges involved in the metaverse, from a consumer rights/privacy perspective and corporate strategy?
[AB]: New innovations bring new challenges and we have to be responsible in our approach. Building the metaverse will be more like how the internet came about. There has to be collaboration from the start and Meta will be collaborating at every stage — with other companies, developers, experts and policymakers.
That’s why Meta has announced the XR Programs and Research Fund, a two-year $50 million investment in programs and external research to help us in this effort. Through this fund, we’ll work with industry partners, civil rights groups, governments, nonprofits and academic institutions to determine how to build technologies responsibly.
[YS]: How can large firms and startups collaborate for mutual benefit in the metaverse opportunity?
[AB]: We are at the very start of this. A lot of the technology and infrastructure still needs to be built. It will take at least the next five to ten years for this vision of the metaverse to come to life.
This pace is going to be dictated less by business interests and more by technological realities and building for the metaverse will require collaboration — with developers and creators at the center.
[YS]: What are India’s unique opportunities, strengths and challenges in the metaverse space?
[AB]: India will play a very important role as we build for the metaverse. We have a fundamental advantage in the scale and size of the young population in our country.
India is on track to have the largest app developer base in the world by 2024 and is also home to a flourishing startup and tech ecosystem.
These startups are creating India specific tech enabled solutions at scale across sectors such as education, commerce, financial services, and others. There's a lot of innovation that happens here, and Meta will work closely with this community to build out experiences for the metaverse
Building for the metaverse will provide economic opportunities and help grow significant sectors in India. It will benefit a huge number of creators, developers, and the vibrant startup ecosystem in the country.
[YS]: As metaverse becomes a reality, what are your plans for WhatsApp in the next two to three years?
[AB]: We are at a major transformational moment in India and WhatsApp hopes to be India’s digital ally.
As a simple, reliable, private, and secure messaging app, WhatsApp takes away the hesitancy towards tech for a ‘new-to-digital’ user. Therefore, it has become the first digital gateway for over 400 million people across India.
This gives us unique opportunities to create long-term impact in areas that truly matter. I see WhatsApp making an impact in mainly three areas:
1. Helping small businesses grow, including empowering women entrepreneurs across segments
2. Opening access to the digital economy and promoting financial inclusion through digital payments
3. Scaling social impact and delivering solutions for education, healthcare and skill development, among others.
Q. What can we expect next in the way WhatsApp is being deployed by large and small enterprises to serve their customers?
[AB]: Fifteen million small businesses in India rely on WhatsApp’s Business App, which is free-to-use, to connect with their customers better and that reliance is growing. Its features make it simpler for small businesses to keep track of order inquiries, manage requests from customers, and close sales. We can help a local kirana shop or women entrepreneurs in rural India build a digital storefront and serve customers at scale.
The WhatsApp Business Platform on the other hand provides large enterprises a more modern, secure and convenient solution that allows them to take complete control of their messaging experience and offer experiences their customers will love.
Our partnership with Uber to enable ride booking in Lucknow through WhatsApp, a global first for Uber, is a great example of how WhatsApp can help brands drive adoption by reaching out to a new category of customers.
[YS]: WhatsApp partnered with many government authorities during the pandemic. Do you see this trend continuing?
[AB]: WhatsApp has been working with governments to make communication with citizens quick and deliver services that ease their lives in a scalable, safe and secure manner.
MyGov Corona Helpdesk on WhatsApp was a successful chatbot launched during the pandemic to help people find Covid resources and authentic Covid-related information. Over a period of time, the chatbot has evolved to become a one-stop solution for all vaccination related information.
The chatbot now lets you find nearest COVID-19 vaccination centres, book a slot, and download your vaccination certificates. In February, MyGov added a new use-case, Digilocker services.
We also launched the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)’s dedicated WhatsApp chatbot called MyBMC Assist. It makes it easy for citizens, tourists and businesses in Mumbai to reach out to the administration, seek support and access a wide range of resources in English and Marathi.
MyBMC Assist is India’s first comprehensive city administration chatbot equipped with 80+ city services such as ward information, grievance redressal, application payments, and more.
[YS]: What does the roadmap for payments in India look like?
[AB]: Our vision with Payments on WhatsApp is to deliver a simple, reliable and secure experience for WhatsApp users that we hope will accelerate adoption of UPI for the “next 500 million” Indians.
Imagine a resident in a small town paying through WhatsApp for their daily groceries, or a farmer buying crop insurance through WhatsApp on his phone. Digital payments through a platform such as WhatsApp will help drive equality in India’s financial services sector and eventually help more people gain financial independence.
We believe that ‘payments on WhatsApp’ can be a key partner to NPCI and RBI as we all aim to scale adoption of UPI and financial inclusion to those most in need. Our goal for the future is to invest in awareness and adoption for ‘new-to-digital’ users.
[YS]: Any other parting remarks about the Metaverse for our audience?
[AB]: The past two years have shown us just how important technology is in keeping us connected when we can’t be together physically – this is why we are focusing our efforts into building the metaverse.
The metaverse will enhance the time we spend together and create the feeling that we are together in a shared space. Imagine friends around the world attending the same concert, some attending physically and some from their living rooms. You can spend time with family members that live on the other side of the world over a Sunday meal feeling like they’re right there with you.
We’re years away from some of these technologies being realised, but we should think of metaverse possibilities as limitless.
Edited by Megha Reddy