WHAT IS THE “METAVERSE?”

Science fiction is the most popular conception of the Metaverse. This view of the Metaverse is based on science fiction. It is a digital “jacked in” internet that is a manifestation or actual reality but which is based in a virtual world (often theme park-like), such as those depicted in Ready Player One, and The Matrix. These experiences may be an aspect the Metaverse. However, this concept is not as broad as movies like Tron that depicted the Internet as a literal digital information superhighway of bits.

It was difficult to imagine the Internet of 2020 in 1982, and even harder to communicate that vision to people who hadn’t “logged on” to it yet. We don’t know how to describe it. We can however identify the core attributes.

We believe that the Metaverse will…

  1. Be persistent — This means it never “resets”, “pauses” nor “ends” – it just continues indefinitely
  2. Live synchronized and synchronized – even though events are pre-scheduled, self-contained and will occur, the Metaverse will still be a living experience that exists continuously for everyone.
  3. There is no limit on concurrent users and each user has an individual sense “presence”. Everyone can participate in the Metaverse together and have their agency.
  4. A fully functioning economy Individuals and businesses will have the ability to create, own and invest in, as well as sell and receive a reward for a wide variety of work that generates “value” that others recognize.
  5. Be an experience that spans both the digital and physical worlds, private and public networks/experiences, and open and closed platforms
  6. Provide unprecedented interoperabilityof digital items/assets and data across all these experiences. For example, your Counter Strike skin could be used to decorate a weapon in Fortnite or to gift to a friend through Facebook. A car made for Rocket League or Porsche’s website could also be used to bring it over to Roblox. The digital world acts almost as if it were a mall. Each store uses its own currency and requires proprietary ID cards. There are also proprietary units of measurement that can be used to measure things such as shoes, calories, or dress codes.
  7. Be populated with “content” and “experiences created by a wide variety of contributors. Some may be individuals while others may be part of informally-organized groups or commercially-focused businesses

While there are some other ideas that could be central to the Metaverse, they are not universally accepted. One concern is whether participants will be able to use the same digital identity (or “avatar”) across all experiences. While this would be a practical benefit, it is unlikely to materialize as each leader in the “Metaverse Era” will want their own identity systems. There are many dominant account systems today, but they don’t cover all the web. They often stack on top of each other with limited access and data sharing (e.g. Your iPhone is built around an iOS account. You might log in to an app with your Facebook ID which is also your Gmail account.

It is still disputed how interoperability is necessary for the Metaverse not to be merely an evolution of the Internet. A true Metaverse cannot have one operator, as is the case with Ready Player One. Some people believe that a Metaverse must be heavily decentralized and built on community-based protocols and standards (such as the open web) and an “opensource” Metaverse OS or platform. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t exist dominant closed platforms.

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Another idea is the basic communications architecture of Metaverse. This idea is discussed in greater detail later in this piece. While the Internet today is built around servers communicating with each other on an as-needed basis (or “talking”), some think the Metaverse should be wired and operated around persistent many to many connections. However, even this consensus is not clear on how it would work or the level of decentralization that is required.

It is also useful to think about what the Metaverse is sometimes, but incorrectly. Each of these analogies will be part of the Metaverse but they aren’t the Metaverse. The Metaverse, for example, is not…

  1. A “virtual universe” – Since decades, virtual worlds and games with AI-driven characters as well as those that are populated by “real” people in real-time have been around. This is not a “meta”, which means “beyond” universe in Greek, but a fictional and synthetic one that was created for a single purpose (a gaming game).
  2. A “virtual place” – Digital content experiences such as SecondLife are often referred to as “proto-Metaverses” since they (A), lack game-like skills or goals; (B) persist in virtual hangouts; (C) provide nearly synchronous content updates; (D) feature real people represented by digital avatars. These attributes are not enough to make the Metaverse.
  3. “Virtual Reality” VR is a way of experiencing a virtual space or world. A Metaverse is not created by the sense of being present in a virtual world. This is similar to saying that you live in a vibrant city because it’s easy to see and navigate around.
  4. A “digital economy” These are also available. World of Warcraft has had a functioning economy for years. Real people can trade virtual goods for real cash or do virtual tasks for real money. In addition, platforms such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, as well as technologies such as Bitcoin, are based around the hiring of individuals/businesses/computational power to perform virtual and digital tasks. Already, we are transacting at scale via digital marketplaces for purely-digital items.
  5. A game . Fortnite contains many elements from the Metaverse. It (A), combines IP; (B), has a consistent identity across multiple closed platforms; and (C) provides a gateway to many experiences, some of them purely social. (D) compensates creators who create content. It is, however, limited in its scope and how far it can extend, just like Ready Player One. Although the Metaverse may be game-like, involve games and include gamification, it’s not a game or oriented towards specific goals.
  6. A virtual theme park or Disneyland – The “attractions”, while infinite, will not be designed or programmed in a central location like Disneyland. They will also not all be entertainment or fun. The distribution of engagement will also have a very long tail.
  7. A “new App Store” – There is no other way to open apps. Neither would opening them “in VR” (as an illustration) allow you to unlock the value that a successor Internet might offer. The Metaverse is fundamentally different from the Internet/mobile architectures and priorities of today.
  8. A “new UGC Platform”-The Metaverse does not have a YouTube-like or Facebook-like platform where countless people can “create”, share, and “monetize content.” The most popular content is only a small percentage of total consumption. The Metaverse will be the place where proper empires can be built and invested in. This is also where richly capitalized businesses have full control over customers, APIs/data, unit economies, etc. It’s possible that, just like the web, several dozen platforms will hold large shares of user experience, content, and time.

If you prefer a simpler way of thinking about the Metaverse, imagine it as the Nightmare Before Christmas. You can access any activity or experience and address nearly all your needs from one world or starting point. It’s also populated with everyone you know. Hypertext is a great example of this. It is important to understand that the Metaverse is not a game, a piece or online experience. It’s like saying that the iPhone is World of Warcraft or Google is Google. These are digital worlds, sites, services, and devices. The Internet includes a variety of protocols, technology and languages as well as access devices, content, and communication experiences. Metaverse will also be available. ()

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