Last in our debunking-the-metaverse series, we present five things you can actually get your head around…

1. The metaverse does not exist yet 

We hate to burst the bubble, but current metaverse activations grabbing the headlines are actually just online experiences that have been around for ages. The total convergence of physical and digital life just isn’t technologically possible yet. Read more in our first post here.

2. When people say metaverse they mean gaming + digitalisation and a bit of crypto

The term ‘metaverse’ has a lot to answer for. At the moment, it’s an attention-grabbing buzzword for the world’s impending web3 reality. However, when you actually unpick what people are talking about, it’s just gaming innovations and crypto experiments.   

3. Don’t fool yourself, a lot of current activations are just fads 

Digital burgers? Love Island’s virtual getaway? Need we say more. 

4. Real world shifts are a precursor for how the metaverse will develop 

The clues of the metaverse lie in genuine human needs. Currently, however, the discourse is dominated by over-commercialised fast culture that responds to the needs of a few. To predict the direction that the metaverse will take, we need to inspect slow culture – those slower moving societal shifts within areas like family and work. Read more in our post here

5. Listen to people, join cultural conversations, show genuine interest, grow along alongside them 

If the goal, as a brand or business, is to use the metaverse to interact with consumers, don’t just jump on the bandwagon (a stance explored more in our post here). To become truly relevant to audiences, it’s vital we listen to what they actually need and want from the endless possibilities of our metaverse future. 

This blog is based on our recent Crowd DNA Amsterdam webinar, which you can read here and watch in full here

Next in our debunking-metaverse-myths series, we look at how to predict where it's going next… 

The metaverse is currently swamped by a lot of over-commercialised fast culture (see our previous post). To really understand the direction of the metaverse, we need to interrogate the real world – where real people with real problems live – by looking at slow culture. 

To recap: fast culture is made up of areas of society that change at pace, like food trends; slow culture is formed by areas that evolve over much slower periods of time, like family and work. The metaverse’s future doesn’t lie in gimmicky brand activations. It’s within slow culture that the real clues can be found. 

Crowd Signals 

At Crowd DNA, we work with nine cultural shifts that are at the foundation of societal and cultural change (see image below). We’ve devised these via our Crowd Signals hub, inspecting social data points to predict trends that ladder up to them. By using these shifts and translating them into a digital future, we can get a glimpse of the metaverse ahead.

Crowd Signals is structured around a bespoke taxonomy of nine fundamentals of modern life, each evidencing a cultural shift.
Crowd Signals is structured around a bespoke taxonomy of nine fundamentals of modern life, each evidencing a cultural shift.

Responsible Progress – Decentralised Fashion

There have been huge changes within the fashion industry over the past few years. Many of these have been as a result of its dark relationship with environmental waste, pollution and social injustice. Sustainable clothing is now available up and down the high street, and reusable or shared products are helping fight the war against fast fashion. 

But how is sustainable fashion playing out in the metaverse? Forward thinking businesses – such as digital fashion house, The Fabricant – are building decentralised platforms that give consumers control over their own designs and output. So, instead of producing physical samples, people can research and develop their own ideas in the metaverse – reducing environmental strain on garment creation in the process. This also puts more power into the hands of consumers, challenging fashion’s hierarchical structure in the process. 

The metaverse has enormous potential to research, design and test environmentally friendly methods of production. We’ll be able to try on clothing in virtual changing rooms, design our own digital samples and discover new community generated looks – all crucial in the attempt to slow down fashion and democratise the creative space once and for all. 

Wellbeing Recharge – Optimised And Ownable Health

Global uncertainty has forced people to tune into their mental, physical and social health more than ever before. New systems of care are emerging in response. The emphasis being on systems that integrate data and individual preferences, designed to empower us to take charge and become more conscious of our own health. 

Translated into the metaverse, digital healthcare has lots of possibilities. Virtual clinics are being set up to combat geographical barriers to healthcare. A specialist can be stationed anywhere in the world, but still be able to view a patient’s scans and tests done at local facilities. While this responds to healthcare’s accessibility, digital twins are paving the way for more holistic and user-centric treatment plans. Q Bio Gemini, for example, uses patient data to create simulations of anatomy. These twins can then be shared with medical professionals, giving them a live, always-on window into a patient’s health. People will also be able to see – and ‘own’ – their own health status, as well as receive more personalised treatment plans. It seems that healthcare in the metaverse could empower people to take charge of their own wellbeing and measure it in the most complete sense.

As we can see, the metaverse is unlikely to remain as a playground for virtual yacht parties and celebrity avatars. The more we inspect slow culture, the more we can see what it will be. That is, a world powered by real humans with real human needs ­– who are not driven by consuming NFTs or eating digital burgers (or at least, not all the time). 

This blog is based on our recent Crowd DNA Amsterdam webinar, which you can read here and watch in full here

Second in our debunking-the-metaverse series, we ask whether now is the right time for brands to get involved…

As digital native generations grow up and enter the workforce, ther­­­­e’s potentially serious money to be made with the metaverse. Brands are already staking their claim and the growing energy around immersive digital experiences is fuelled by this heightened commercial interest. Even if the tech isn’t fully there yet (see last week’s post), brands are buying into the promise to be part of it in the early days, and reap the benefits later.

We can see this in how brands are activating on the metaverse right now. There’s a lot happening, but it’s all based around the same, already very tired, already over-done, commercial/PR initiatives. Whether that’s living like Paris Hilton in a branded Roblox island, watching a Selena Gomez avatar in an Animal Crossing Talk Show, or product placing some flashy Star Wars junk in Fortnite. 

As of right now, the metaverse is a lot of overly-commercialised fast culture. It only features aspects of trends that change and develop at pace – like music, food, fashion, and so on. Brands risk being inauthentic and jumping on the fads of the moment. So, is it all just hype then? Or worse, something that we’ll be laughing about in ten years time? Is the metaverse today’s Google glasses?

Already there is a clear discrepancy between the big societal shifts (slow culture) and what is currently being offered – essentially commerce, branded universes or games. So if brands can engage in that slow culture – the conversations about factors that evolve over much slower periods, such as to do with family and work, or even spirituality – then they can begin to co-create the metaverse as a place that people actually want to be. Initiatives fuelled by slow culture are needed if the metaverse is to have real impact in people’s lives (more on this in next week’s post). 

Meanwhile, there is an expectation that digital natives will push the frontier even further. With Gen Z and Gen Alpha increasingly becoming locked into digital innovation, there is a future in this space and it’s led by them. Technological developments will also 100 percent open new routes. 

The road ahead is unclear, but it’s this slow cultural energy that will really shape the metaverse of tomorrow. We need to start listening and stop crowbarring ourselves in. So, no, don’t jump on the bandwagon.

This blog is based on our recent Crowd DNA Amsterdam webinar, which you can read here and watch in full here.  

First up in our debunking-the-metaverse series, we explore what it is. And what it isn’t…

It’s “the future of how we socialise, work and play,” says Mark Zuckerberg. There is a lot of commentary about the metaverse world. Everyone is talking about it. The CEO of Disney, Bob Chapek, calls it “the next great storytelling frontier,” and there are thousands and thousands of articles written about its potential. As a brand or a business, it’s hard not to feel like it’s the place to be. 

The idea of the metaverse began in Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, where digital avatars escape to the metaverse far from a dystopian meatspace. Now, 30 years later, the term ‘metaverse’ is used to describe web3, the concept of a total convergence of our physical and digital life. 

The metaverse today is best exemplified by digital platforms like Roblox, Sandbox, Decentraland, Minecraft and Fortnite. They successfully enable virtual experiences that are enhanced by connectivity, AR and VR. To the digital native generations, this virtual space is how they socialise and hang out. They can chat with friends, build houses, or spend virtual money on virtual yachts and virtual designer clothes. 

But these early metaverse forays are actually just online experiences that have been around for ages, and lean on pre-existing in-game economies. It’s all been done before (albeit with less press attention). The metaverse could be so much more: it could be an interconnected digital system of endless immersive potential. A virtual experience across worlds, realities, gaming, digital economies, spaces, UGC platforms and hardware. 

We know there is an engaged user already there – the millions spending hours building and gaming and playing. But not yet the technologies that will help the metaverse live up to its promise of creating truly immersive experiences, such as sonic innovation, synchronised experiences, and affordable and intuitive tech. 

Only then can we imagine a world where an absolute merging of physical and digital life could happen. Where our real and virtual self could do separate tasks at the same time – maybe even have two jobs, or perhaps two different hairstyles. Or where everyone, from developing regions to established economies, has the same access to utilities and chances. Or where IRL borders are no longer relevant and people from all countries can be part of one big online society and economy.

When that happens, it won’t just be the digital natives or over-excited brands banging on about how great it is. Until then, we have to conclude that the metaverse does not exist…yet.

This blog is based on our recent Crowd DNA Amsterdam webinar, which you can read here and watch in full here.  

Simple is probably best, as the Crowd DNA value goes. But let’s listen to that ‘probably’ for a moment, as Freddie Mason takes a look at when ‘complicated’ could be what we’re after…

Simplicity To The Point Of Invisibility 

It’s often assumed that the hallmarks of great design (whether it be UX or product) are seamlessness and simplicity to the point of invisibility. As is often said of cinema editors, the really great designer is one that all but disappears, connecting you to your goal, story or information as if by magic.

But there are certain things that this seamlessness lacks. For users there are times when a snag, a complication, a bit of friction not only gives them something to remember, but also a chance to reflect on what they’re actually doing. Complications can even be, dare I say it, pleasurable. 

In the era of the doom scroll, the odd bit of blockage goes a long way.

The Anti-Design Aesthetic  

This graphic design aesthetic for the Dutch design studio Studio Push is known as anti-design: 


Studio Push
Studio Push


At first it feels like a scramble of text and image. The experience of reading is far from seamless. In fact, it feels unreadable, full of snags. But then you realise it isn’t. And as you start to read, you dive into each image as the text bounces through textures. The design asks you to stay a little longer, to pay more attention, and you’ll be rewarded. The effect of the design’s complicated, noisy aesthetic is a heightened engagement with the interface. And as a result, you’re more likely to remember it.

This draws our attention, then, to something frictionless, seamless design lacks – memorability. Complicated-ness resists the infinite, infinitely forgettable, homogeneity of cookie cutter websites.


A cookie cutter website
A cookie cutter website


Anti-design webpages can draw you in through their mystery and disorientation, as is the case with a glitch aesthetic site design like Studium Generale’s Take A Walk On The Wild Side. Simple mouse motions bring the chaotic glitching into coherence and clarity, as the user learns the secret rules of the page. It’s a discovery. It’s exciting.


Take A Walk On The Wild Side, by Studium Generale
Take A Walk On The Wild Side, by Studium Generale


Anti-design sites are also super original, and allow for a greater sense of brand identity to translate to the visitor.    

A Marie Kondo Kick Back

It’s no doubt that anti-design aesthetics in digital design are trendy right now, as a reaction against the dominance of slick, minimal sites that may work very, very well, but fail to challenge or surprise. It’s a trend that is reflected, too, in the joys of maximalism in domestic interiors. While we’ve seen Marie Kondo’s rigorous decluttering find immense appeal, counter trends that indulge in sheer visual cacophony are also in full swing. As with all parts of life, it sometimes feels these days, it’s the moderate middle ground that can be seen gasping for cultural air time.


A maximalist interior
A maximalist interior

Positive Friction

Coming back to UX design, we can see how carefully curated complicated-ness introduces frictions that result in a whole range of positives for users. In very practical instances, interfaces introducing elements that ‘get in the way’ can save us from, for example, making unwanted money transfers by mistake or forgetting to attach documents to an email. While these might not be the most thrilling things digital tech has to offer, it’s all part of a more mindful and reflective approach to tech that increased friction encourages.

Or, we can look to the way the ‘pages’ of ebooks pause momentarily when ‘turned’, mimicking that split second of contemplation afforded by their physical counterparts. Ebooks could, of course, transition between pages seamlessly, but this, in fact, would make their content or story line harder to absorb for readers. This is in line with the discoveries made by a study conducted way back in 2010, which showed that information expressed in harder to read fonts was more memorable. ‘Disfluency’ is the term used to describe the struggle associated with a difficult mental task. And it is disfluency, rather than fluency, in our interfaces that helps us learn.

Deep Satisfaction 

Ultimately, though, friction, not endless flow, is what so often gives us a deeper sense of satisfaction. The contemplative moment of turning a page, that tactile pause, is fundamental to the joy of reading a book. It is the absence of such a moment when scrolling through the heterogenous matter of social media feeds that can summon doom.

IRL, designers have been experimenting with this sort of thing for years, and with great success. Legend has it that instant cake mix packs didn’t sell until buyers were required to provide their own eggs. People needed that extra step to feel they’d made the cake. And IKEA realised many moons ago that people assembling their own furniture not only made shipping easier, but their customers happier, feeling more involved.


Because you add the eggs yourself
Because you add the eggs yourself


All this helps us to remember that a world of perfectly engineered convenience (if such a thing were even possible) would bore us to tears. I have a friend who loves to cut his facial hair with scissors, rather than an electric beard trimmer, because he enjoys the sound, and will go so far as to get up early in order to partake in this considerably trickier and time-consuming self care routine.

If I can, I will always take the bus in London (even at rush hour) rather than the tube, just to get that visceral feeling of the city. Or, it’s Edward Tenner’s (author of The Efficiency Paradoxdecision to hand grind his coffee in the morning, because there is a “slowness and deliberateness to the task that is intrinsically satisfying.”

And most recently – Netflix are planning on making people wait for episodes of their favourite shows, slowing down the binge-till-infinity trend that’s recently dominated.

Mental Health

It’s fair to say that all this sits right at the core of improved mental health. And apps in the business of helping people with this are also experimenting with positive friction. The new app imi, for example, is there to guide LGBTQ+ teens through their mental health. The app’s content can be ‘extremely heavy at times’. As a result, the guide is carefully paced, with buffers strategically placed for users to log off and reflect. This isn’t a scroll-through, ‘two min read’ thing. And thank god it’s not.

Here’s to blockages. Long may they be there for us to overcome.


Nostalgia At The Super Bowl

Last Sunday’s halftime celebration of all things West Coast rap depicted a nation searching for shared meaning in its 1990s past, writes Crowd DNA’s Peter Lane and Julia Smaldone

Every year, the Super Bowl attracts northward of 100 million viewers (this year: 112 million), suckering them in from across the generations. If it’s not for the football, then it’s for the ads, or all of the other bits around it. Certainly, it’s fascinating analysing the manoeuvres of some of the world’s biggest brands. 

Then there’s the halftime show, featuring artists that threaten to eclipse the worth of any S&P 500 company, with the carefully orchestrated performances a snapshot of the dominant trends in America. The spectacle needs to appeal to a broad swathe of society. Therefore resonating with the current state of the nation is essential.

As such, the Super Bowl is a barometer of US culture. Last year, this was a deliberately constrained performance from The Weeknd; who, in keeping with 2021’s unsettling vibe, restricted himself to the stands, and swapped out dancers for robots. 

This year, the show dripped with nostalgia – the current and pervasive US mood. Headlined by Dr Dre and Snoop Dog (showing only a few signs of wear), the West Coast originators guided the stadium through a tour de force of 90s and early 2000s hip hop classics. With guest performances from 50 Cent, Mary J Blige and Eminem, the show harked back to a golden era of hip hop. It was down to Kendrick Lamar alone to represent the present day.

Given it’s designed to appeal to a broad audience, it’s probably no coincidence the halftime show felt so nostalgic. The US, concerned about the future, is going through a deep swoon of retrospection at the moment; glorifying an apparently sunnier past that is remembered fondly by some and imagined (perhaps even more fondly) by others.

Beyond nostalgic appeal, this year’s halftime show represented the steps being made to repair the relationship between the NFL and the Black community after the mistreatment of Colin Kaepernick in 2019. That same year, Atlanta played host to the Super Bowl and halftime headliner Maroon 5. It was a completely missed opportunity to represent the city of Atlanta and its rich history of rap. 

Since then, the NFL has partnered with Jay Z’s Roc Nation to bridge the gap and curate halftime shows that are more representative of American culture. Hip hop isn’t just nostalgically appealing and representative of a moment in time. It has been, and continues to be, a dominantly popular genre of American music, and representative of American culture. In featuring artists like Snoop and Eminem, this year’s halftime show brought that celebration to the forefront – using nostalgia as a means to drive mass appeal and celebrate a genre and its legends. 

The Super Bowl has been a means of emboldening social movements before. In 2013, amid a call for female empowerment – recognised as fourth-wave feminism – Beyonce headlined. The first women to do so, her confident gaze, uncompromising demeanour, and characteristic strut became a blueprint of female assuredness, recognised by all genders. The show reflected an again triumphant America, finally moving on after years marred by the 2008 financial crisis.

Though nostalgia is often framed in a negative light – navel gazing and unoriginal – the Super Bowl halftime show this year was searching for unity through a vision of the 1990s. Some watching had lived it. Others just wished they had lived it. But either way, it made America feel better about itself.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but a lack of human connection has forced us to completely rethink our love lives. Our new edition of Crowd Tracks opens up...

The fifth edition of Crowd Tracks is now live and available to download here. Crowd Tracks is our regular exploration of unstructured social data, uncovering emerging trends using our Culture At Scale method. This time round, we’re covering the fascinating world of sex and relationships, analysing relevant conversation and interactions over the last four months.

After a year quite unlike any other, the way we discuss and approach dating, sex and relationships is in flux. Following a Covid-staggered start of ‘can we, can’t we?’, many of us have succumbed to yet another lockdown of minimal romancing. While dating culture has stalled and the novelty of Zoom dates has fizzled out, people have been experimenting with new ways to find fulfilment. Whether that’s looking inward and practicing self care or navigating the burgeoning worlds of sex tech and science, pleasure will always prevail. 

The full report features:

Viral stories from around the world – from Jojo Siwa’s announcement on TikTok, to a new, openly-gay Indian podcast and the Japanese government’s investment in AI matchmaking

A language tracker highlighting the shifting discourse and tone when it comes to love, relationships and online dating culture

– An Instagram-based image analysis unpacking over 450,000 images relating to romance, revealing the most popular backdrops and colour choices

– A closer look at Lora DiCarlo – the brand on a mission to destigmatize sex tech with help from Cara Delevingne, with discussion around the pitfalls of inclusivity in this area

Trends analysis of the increasing presence of data and science in our bedrooms, as well as the rise of singledom as an act of self care.

Download the full copy of Crowd Tracks: Sex & Relationships here.

Culture At Scale at Crowd DNA

At Crowd DNA, we’re constantly tracking conversations online across a range of categories. We deploy social media and other unstructured data sources in a number of ways; either as a stand-alone method (including producing one-off and periodical reports for our clients) or integrated alongside semiotic, ethnographic and quantitative approaches. If you’d like to find out more about how we can use Culture At Scale to meet your business challenges, get in touch.

Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer explores our changing buying habits and how 2020’s events influenced this season's holiday shopping…

In more ‘normal’ times, holiday shopping and gift giving can feel a little monotonous – a set of pots and pans as requested on a wishlist, the regifting of a yet another scented candle. But in 2020, as with most other aspects of life, things looked a little different.

We saw gifting trends this season reflect a yearning for simple joys with reciprocal benefits for both gifters and receivers. Using the three trends below as a springboard, we’ve deployed our Culture At Scale unstructured data method to explore social conversation around gifting, and provide direction on what to expect from 2021 shopping behaviors.

While sex tech remains stigmatized, brands are starting to position it as self-care. And with major celebrities involved, it’s sure to turn heads in 2021.
While sex tech remains stigmatized, brands are starting to position it as self-care. And with major celebrities involved, it’s sure to turn heads in 2021.

Intimacy meets technology

In 2020, we spent months without in-person gatherings and meetings. For many, this meant an end to dating and casual hookups. And with more time spent in isolation and shopping online, consumers warmed to new forms of intimacy. FaceTime dating aside, sex tech sales skyrocketed. This includes toys that link to apps (think Fitbit for sex) and VR sexual experimentation. Discussion about gifting last year had an emphasis on treating oneself, making sex tech a popular purchase.

In 2021, as economies begin to revive themselves and the hardship of last year fades away, treating oneself doesn’t feel as frivolous. And wellbeing doesn’t just mean meditation and mindfulness – expect consumers to be investing in themselves and others via the sex tech space, too. We’re also noticing intimacy sites sparking conversation around this unique junction between technology and self-care.

As consumers lean into DIY gifts, TikTok serves as an incredible source of inspiration and learning
As consumers lean into DIY gifts, TikTok serves as an incredible source of inspiration and learning

Mutually beneficial DIY gifts

Consumers have acquired new hobbies after a year of having to find different forms of entertainment. Through activities like baking and crafting, we feel mental health benefits like a sense of pride, an antidote for depression, an outlet for anxiety. With gifting, sharing homemade items delivers a sense of empowerment to givers. Recipients feel a stronger emotional connection to these gifts, too, because they place sentiment over the need for generic material items.

Moving into 2021, social conversations continue to highlight the sustained value creative expression brings to mental health. And in a shift toward more conscious buying, making things for others or yourself feels more enriching.

At the start of lockdown, conversations around gift cards and supporting local surged. This interest was reinvigorated around the holidays
At the start of lockdown, conversations around gift cards and supporting local surged. This interest was reinvigorated around the holidays

The revamped gift card

Businesses continue to suffer as Covid prohibits many stores and restaurants from operating as usual. But we’re still finding ways to support local businesses. Gift cards – once associated with dull, last-minute presents courtesy of generic stores – have become popular and thoughtful gifts. They allow us to support the businesses we have a relationship with from afar, or invest in future IRL shopping or dining. Gift cards make shoppers feel good and also help local businesses stay afloat in the interim.

As we enter 2021, we can expect consumers to continue going out of their way to support local businesses in this fashion. With the 2020 wave of the Black Lives Matter movement fresh, many will shop conscious of supporting BIPOC owned outlets. And having experienced financial struggles themselves, consumers post about how they empathize with the plight of small stores. We will see more interest in mutually beneficial shopping that helps communities and makes consumers feel good – and gift cards allow anyone to show support, even at a distance.

2020 took a lot away, but it also gave consumers a deeper appreciation for the simpler things in life. A collective understanding that we all face hardships left us with a desire to give to others, and also invest in our own happiness. Amid financial strife and isolation, with both our mental and physical health in flux, we became more creative in the ways we care for ourselves and those around us. Moving into 2021, consumers feel more gratitude for life’s simple pleasures and are willing to spend the time and money to bring a little joy after a rough year.


Gift card economy: ((giftcard* OR “gift card*” OR “gift certificate*” OR giftcertificate OR giftvoucher OR “gift voucher”) AND (localbusiness* OR “local business*” OR smallbusiness OR “small business*” OR supportlocal OR “support local” OR “shop local” OR shoplocal)), Nov 1, 2019-December 31, 2020

Intimacy meets technology: Brandwatch: ‘sex tech’ OR sextech, Nov 1, 2020-Jan 4, 2021

Mutually beneficial DIY gifts: TikTok: #giftideas, #diy