TECHNOLOGY

AfroTech 2021: Into the Metaverse

AfroTech teamed up with virtual event developer Virbela to bring the AfroTech World metaverse to life. Boardroom was there to experience it.

AfroTech, a technology, investing, and wealth-building platform for the Black community, hosted its annual conference earlier this month, held virtually for the second year in a row. This time, it also created its own metaverse, — AfroTech World — where users could make avatars, walk through campus, kick soccer balls, grab their own seats in conference sessions, and more.

A bit of housekeeping first: What is a metaverse? What is the metaverse? I have been loosely defining the metaverse as a virtual space where users can interact with each other in digital environments. But doesn’t that sound like something we have already been doing in this digital age? When the term metaverse started to pop up, I automatically thought about The Sims… and this tween dating simulation game called “The Hookup” that I used to be obsessed with in junior high school.

(Yes, it was just as bad as it sounds.)

Fortunately, AfroTech had something else in store.

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Regardless of my personal thoughts on this metaverse phenomenon unfolding right before my eyes, I finally got to interact inside of one at the AfroTech 2021 conference. It was a greatly positive experience; I felt more immersed in this conference than I have in any of the other virtual events I’ve attended in the past two years. For this year’s edition, AfroTech worked with Virbela, developer of virtual solutions and events for remote professionals, to develop AfroTech World.

“AfroTech provides an unparalleled opportunity for the Black tech community to network and grow, and this year we were honored to create a space for both career development and joy,” said Morgan DeBaun, founder and CEO of Blavity Inc. “This year’s AfroTech Conference was unique because when we were not able to be together in person due to the pandemic, we embraced the opportunity to join the metaverse, creating a full virtual experience in an online realm tailored for the Black community.”

Check out the character I created for the virtual conference. There was an array of skin tones, facial features, hairstyles, and clothing options to choose from.

And I have to admit, she’s a lot more stylish than I am.

From here, I got to choose a destination to explore, so I spent some time walking through the main campus, checking out expo halls, and I even came across some NFT art exhibits. This is the main screen I would see each day when I logged into the world.

One of the best aspects of this experience was being able to select my own seat in each session. It sounds so simple, but this is a luxury we haven’t had when attending events online by simply entering a Zoom link. I felt physically there in a sense, especially since there were even overflow rooms with screens when sessions filled up.

Like an in-person conference, there were multiple events happening concurrently, and panelists were present to answer questions. Users were also able to interact in chat rooms throughout the week, engage in physical activities, and there was even a gift shop to purchase conference merchandise.

And, might I add, the inspirational decor was impeccable.

The conference concluded with a packed concert curated by the legendary DJ Spinderella of Salt-N-Pepa. As an extra perk, users were able to select dance moves and watch their avatars get down. Being able to dance and interact with other conference goers alleviated some of the awkwardness I was expecting.

DJ Spinderella turning it up at the 2021 AfroTech Conference.

The entire time, I felt like I was in a video game. It was hard not to enjoy. I know we all have been thinking about what the metaverse will mean for the gaming and technology industries overall, and I have been thinking deeper about just how much the line between reality and the virtual realm is thinning.

Stay tuned.

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