Into the Metaverse
Many of you may have heard the term Metaverse for the first time when Facebook hijacked META as the new name for its parent company. But the concept of a virtual digital space has been around since the 1980s, in the early days of personal computing, with the word metaverse appearing when Mark Zuckerberg was just eight years old.
What is the Metaverse?
The name for an immersive 3D world, a successor to the current internet, was first coined by sci-fi author and futurist Neal Stephenson in 1992. Metaverse is a portmanteau of ‘meta’ (meaning ‘beyond’) and universe. The metaverse in his book Snow Crash was Stephenson’s vision of how the internet would evolve into a collective virtual space populated by user-controlled avatars, accessed by both static and portable terminals including goggles.
It is entirely possible that the internet will eventually look as envisaged by the author; a digital space that users visit in avatar form to do everything that they currently do on today’s internet; meeting, socialising, sharing, shopping, gaming, learning, entertaining.
But the metaverse is no longer science fiction. Its early incarnation emerged in a platform called Second Life in 2003. Ahead of its time, Second Life offered an array of activities for three-dimensional avatars such as listening to live talks, dancing, and shopping. Sadly, the technology of the time was too slow and glitchy, and most users left to join Facebook. Now, there is a limited form through many virtual reality games, chat platforms like VRChat, and blockchain developers are leading the way as you will see below.
Accessing the Metaverse
Getting into these digital spaces is also no longer particularly futuristic. We can already access the internet through personal mobile devices, and glasses and goggles are available for virtual and augmented reality technology. 5G technology, sophisticated sensors and more advanced movement tracking mean we are more ready to head into the metaverse than we were back in 2003.
1. Playing a virtual 3d game (credit: Allen J. Schaben) 2. Apple’s iGlasses (credit: Apple)
What does the metaverse do?
Some key characteristics of the metaverse, as identified by American venture capitalist Mathew Ball, are a space that:
- Spans the virtual and real worlds
- Contains a fully-fledged economy
- Has interoperability; avatars and goods can move from one place to another in the metaverse
There is an all-important fourth characteristic: it must be decentralised. The metaverse should be hosted on distributed networks and not ’owned’ by the likes of Meta Inc. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg did suggest a decentralised metaverse that should not be controlled by any one entity. Where that leaves Zuckerberg’s set of companies we don’t know, but if Facebook’s large coffers are supporting the development of the new internet, then some of the technological hurdles to metaverse expansion and adoption might be overcome sooner.
Current Limitations in the Metaverse
Digital spaces will be dependent on Virtual- and Augmented-Reality technology which are still in relative infancy and efficiency. The lack of mobility and low image quality are current limitations. Further, the power needed for lengthy virtual reality usage is excessive with even high-end computers unable to power VR machines consuming power and bytes over many hours. Large scale, affordable and portable equipment cannot yet be produced at a reasonable cost.
Standards, interfaces and protocols are also still in development, to support greater scale and interoperability, although these are likely to arise in a more piece-meal fashion as is usual in an industry driven by technological advancement. There is also concern about how a metaverse could further encourage internet addiction and used as an escape from reality, with repercussions on mental health. Health experts have suggested that humans shouldn’t spend more than thirty minutes a day in the virtual world, but we already use the internet for an average of three hours each day.
Socially, we’ve never been more ready for the metaverse. The pandemic gave virtual work and entertainment a push forward; we are now comfortable with virtual meetings, gallery openings, concerts, and conferences. However, what would be the reason to turn most of our internet use into virtual reality; why put on the headset? It would need to be faster, more fun, possibly be cheaper, and have more, and more useful, content.
Why would we use the meta verse?
The metaverse is an opportunity and a revolution, offering profound innovation in lifestyle and communications far beyond what we’ve already seen in the digital age. You will be able to try on a piece of clothing in a boutique a world away the have it delivered to you in the real world. You will get the benefit of working from home with no commute but still be in an ‘office’ where you can bounce ideas off your colleagues and complain about your boss around a virtual water cooler. You will be able to have immersive experiences — visit an art gallery in Paris, or a disco in Berlin. You will be able to earn and purchase tangible assets in the metaverse that can be exchanged for real-world goods. You can already catch up with your family and friends in another state in a zoom call now, but in the metaverse you will be able to have a virtual cup of coffee together, face-to-face. One day, you will be able to taste the coffee and feel your friend’s hug of greeting.
The hype of Meta Inc. and Mark Zuckerberg’s sudden announcement, detracts from the work already done in this area by those who came before; Second Life, World of Warcraft, Pokémon Go, Fortnite, and all the companies developing VR and AR technology. However, the sort of funding levels that Meta Inc. can leverage will be game changing. The company is already both developing and buying up technologies that will support its move into the metaverse, including spatial computing, interfaces, gaming platforms, and it now has a cryptocurrency and exchange platform (Novi).
Malignancy of Big Tech
One particular concern is if Facebook is likely to meet its promises of decentralisation. The reality is that control and sale of social communication and data is the Facebook model. The question is when, not if, Meta Inc. tries to manipulate and monetise its metaverse, controlling access and censoring communications. Just like Apple users get tied to the company through their products, we may be forced to use an oppressive metaverse, and its related technologies, controlled by Meta. It’s not just Meta; Apple and Microsoft, also investing heavily in metaverse technology, are built on vertical integration and are openly hostile to decentralisation. Will these companies readily give up control and access to the new internet, with the billions of bytes of monetizable data flowing through their consumer-ready hardware and software, for the sake of decentralisation? Unlikely.
The solution to this is for users to support other metaverse developers, and ensure there are many spaces, not just a few. Infrastructure-building blockchain developers — Ethereum, Cardano, Solana and more — will give the metaverses foundation and structure. Polkadot, in particular, is working on supporting the interoperability of blockchains which may provide the infrastructure for movement between metaverses. This week, the Gemini Group announced a capital raising of $400 million to develop a free, open-source metaverse in parallel to the corporate-led programs of Meta et al.
Gemini co-founder Cameron Winklevoss emphasised in an interview that decentralisation was important to Gemini, but of course they have to start with their own platforms first. But the seemingly more benign crypto whales such as the Winklevoss’, Vitalik Buterin and Gavin Wood, Cardano’s Charles Hoskin and the Solana team will be in direct competition with the likes of Apple and Meta to develop the metaverse.
Blockchain platforms are already developing and running metaverse real estate right now. Decentraland is a 3D online space; users can buy and own a parcel of land virtually on Decentraland and build games, applications and scenes…whatever you want. You can purchase assets called LAND with the Decentraland token, MANA (which, since the aforementioned Facebook announcement, rose nearly 4x in value on crypto exchanges). You can read our post on Decentraland here. In the gaming sphere, the most advanced blockchain metasphere is The Sandbox. Another Ethereum-based project, users on The Sandbox platform create their own virtual worlds in the game and interact with others’. Its associated cryptocurrency is SAND with which users can create their own digital assets such as NFTs for integration in the game or for sale on the platform. The platform’s first play-to-earn event is being trialled at the end of November 2021, and the full metaverse is being rolled out in stages in the next few years.
These developments give us hope for a more open, independent metaverse, driven by users and with greater choice and rights.
The Metaverse and Web3
The metaverse is not so much an extension of the current web 2.0 — the internet you use now — but its successor. Web 3 will encompass decentralised and distributed networks, blockchain, DeFi, Virtual Reality, NFTS, 2D and 3D spaces, and augmented reality, plus areas that may still be in an early stage of development that we don’t know about!
Stay with us; despite the complications and concerns about big tech, the future is bright and dWeb Guide will be helping you enter the world of the new internet with our ‘metaguide’.
We’ll be looking into how to invest in the beginnings of the metaverse soon, so stay tuned by following dWeb Guide on social media and subscribing to our website.