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All Things Meta: Hype, Hope and Hard Work to Come in the NFT and Metaverse Space

Here's what we can expect when the hype around NFTs and the metaverse dies down.

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There are two sources of profit in the world of investing: potential and progress. Profits generated by potential rely on some framework of faith, even if that faith is well informed and somewhat quantified. Early investors make some of their watershed deals at the potential stage, recognizing household name founders or placing an early bet on what they believe to be the next crucial development in an in-demand space.

But progress is where most of the returns in terms of financial gain and societal benefit take place. Ideas, services and startups that move us forward create returns from the progress they initiate, and those returns can be invested to enact the same effect in other problem areas; the wheel of 21st century progress continues that way.

Ideally, those two processes intersect, and investments into a startup's potential contribute to and result in their making successful progress sooner. But for every one investor who sees potential in an idea, space or industry development, there results an ensuing wave of public interest that's less specified and less certain regarding the potential, but equally bullish in their appetite for involvement and desire not to miss out. This is what we understand as "hype," and the results are not always positive.

Related: NFTs Are Coming to Your Social-Media Feed This Week, Says Mark Zuckerberg

The natural ups and downs of public interest: The hype cycle

Having seen countless innovations pass through the hands of investors, and through the sphere of public interest, the experts at Gartner charted a "Hype Cycle" for emerging technologies in 2018. They posited that every emerging idea goes through a predictable process. At the stage of innovation trigger, public expectations are low — new ideas are quiet at first, and truly early adopters are few and far between. As time progresses, expectations rise to what Gartner calls the "Peak of Inflated Expectations" — everyone believes in the new development, if only because of its novelty.

Following the peak comes the trough of disillusionment; the problems become evident, the early excitement wears off, the invested capital grows stale and the public generally loses interest. This can be an abrupt drop off. The next stage, though, Gartner calls the "Slope of Enlightenment" which describes the actual understanding and adoption of the new technology, and culminates in the "Plateau of Productivity" in which the technology is adopted into everyday life.

Related: Putting the Intangible into Your NFT Project

A look at the metaverse/NFT hype cycle

A quick look at the volume of Google search interest for the terms "NFT" and "metaverse" shows a few notable trends. First, the slope of that interest follows something approximating Gartner's hype cycle, peaking very recently in February. Following is a sharp decline representative of the "trough of disillusionment," in which interest in the NFT (non-fungible token) and the metaverse search terms both sloped down.

Graphs tell only one part of the story, and a similar trend can be seen in the stock values of NFTs, metaverse companies and crypto-ETFs as the global crisis of Russia's invasion of Ukraine created widespread financial and emotional instability. But there's also reason to believe that the downward slope of metaverse hype means a new, more positive stage is coming — the slope of enlightenment.

Related: 6 Ways to Get Your Small Business Ready for the Metaverse

The end of speculation

So far, some observers have been skeptical about the larger claims of the value of NFTs and the other-worldly power of the metaverse. Rightfully so. The initial high peak of public hype created endless speculation and ample, often misdirected capital in the space. Hoping to "get rich quick," and fearing being left behind, investors and commentators have in recent months rushed to be involved in the more out-there claims within the space. Spending millions on virtual real estate for a digital "view" that's created only by the manipulation of pixels is certainly not the highest promise of the metaverse, but it describes most of the investment action when the hype was at its peak.

If we are in fact approaching the slope of enlightenment, we'll soon see the companies and new-to-market vendors in the space building the solutions that will actually stay with us for the many years to come. It's true that the idea of non-fungible tokens, as supported by blockchain-enabled cryptocurrency and proof-of-work transactions, will have important downstream effects.

Developments in the metaverse will no doubt be meaningful and integral to our digital literacy many years down the road. But when the hype is high, and the influx of capital is largely arbitrary, it's hard to understand which developments will be here to stay. There's important work to be done in the world of NFTs and in the metaverse domain; and a settling of that initial "hype" is a good signal that the real work has begun.

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