Everyone’s talking about the metaverse, but it doesn’t take much listening to discover that everyone seems to have a unique idea about what the metaverse will be. The one thing people agree about is that it’s coming and it’s going to revolutionize the internet. The hype train has left the station, and even old-fashioned brokerage houses now offer a metaverse ETF or two.
Let’s take a look at this emerging technology and see if we can separate certainty from speculation and facts from hype. What is the metaverse? Read on.
Computer scientists look at the existing internet as multiple layers. The lower layers govern the transmission of bytes of data across the network. The top layers are implemented by browsers and apps that present the data and allow users to interact with it.
The metaverse will be composed of layers too.
A broad consensus has emerged about the presentation layer. We expect the user interface to look less like a browser window full of text and informative charts, and more like a video game. We won’t pull down menus or click on the shortcuts bar to visit different sites or use different services. Instead, personalized avatars – our on-screen representations – will walk or fly or teleport from place to place in a visual world populated by libraries, newsstands, banks, concert halls, and shopping malls. Lots and lots of shopping malls.
For a preview of how all of this might look on your screen, visit Decentraland, The Sandbox, or Minecraft. These games are full of virtual spaces where your avatar can interact with other users and conduct e-commerce.
It is no great challenge to create the metaverse’s top levels. Dozens of video games already deliver the basic functions.
The 3D user interface serves as a metaverse definition for many people. But adding a pretty face to existing websites or social media platforms does not deliver the full benefits of the metaverse.
For the metaverse to be a truly transformative platform, things must change at deeper levels. Every virtual space in the metaverse must present your avatar in the same way. Each must allow you to purchase and pick up items, and to carry them with you into other spaces. There should be a single log-in when you enter the metaverse, not a different log-on procedure for every business in the virtual world. The currency you use online should be universally accepted or invisibly and automatically converted so you don’t have to pop back into the old-fashioned internet to exchange funds at a bank website.
For the metaverse to deliver on its promise, every element of it must observe a consistent set of protocols – just as all websites currently observe the protocols that define information transmission and display on the internet. That’s how we define “metaverse.”
By that standard, projects like the Facebook metaverse and the Epic Games metaverse fall short of the promise of a true metaverse, meaning an open platform with standard protocols – not a walled garden that exists for the benefit of one corporation.
Suppose you’re planning to relocate to a new city. Today’s internet allows you to prepare for the move online.
- You use a reputation-monitoring website to locate a local real estate agent who can help you find a house to buy.
- You switch to your email app to introduce yourself and secure the agent’s help.
- The agent refers you to the agency website where you fill out a questionnaire about your needs and budget.
- You use your online banking app to gather financial information for the agency’s questionnaire.
- You consult an online listing service to browse homes in your price range.
- You identify some likely candidates and copy their URLs into an email so you can get your spouse’s input.
- Meanwhile, you paste the addresses into a mapping application to see if the houses you like are within walking distance of schools.
- You jot down the names of the schools so you can type them into a rating service and see how they perform on standardized tests and other measures.
The fact that you can complete all of these tasks online is an indisputable miracle of modern life. But it’s a cumbersome and tedious process that involves pasting data and website addresses into a series of six or seven separate services and apps, each with a different user interface and user-registration procedure.
Wouldn’t it be great if websites and apps interoperated seamlessly, without all the cutting and pasting and incompatible data?
That’s the promise of the metaverse.
What’s That Got To Do With Blockchains?
There are three major ways that blockchain technology can play an important role in a worldwide metaverse.
First, the metaverse could incorporate blockchain technology as a low-level service for ensuring that the emerging consensus reality is truly decentralized. Without such decentralization, the metaverse is likely to be implemented as incompatible walled gardens. You’ll visit the Google metaverse or the Apple metaverse or the Meta metaverse. All three companies are pursuing this goal as fast as they can. Interoperability will require protocols and decentralization that may limit tech companies from making the kinds of profits they are accustomed to. But that interoperability is essential for the metaverse to reach its potential.
Second, the metaverse will need a worldwide friction-free currency. It doesn’t have to be Bitcoin or Ether, but it makes sense for it to be a blockchain-based cryptocurrency. Every e-commerce site will want to set up shop in the metaverse. Currency conversion and credit card regulations stand in the way of the interoperable future. The metaverse could use multiple currencies, but conversion must be automatic, invisible, and instantaneous.
Finally, the blockchain world offers a neat solution to questions of personalization and ownership. You might visit a virtual shop to customize your avatar or decorate your metaverse home. You’ll need a way to establish ownership of the digital items you purchase – and that’s just what non-fungible tokens are for. Today’s NFTs could serve as a plug-in technology to address a number of the metaverse’s technical needs.
Among the most enthusiastic supporters of today’s game-based metaverses is the rapper Snoop Dogg, who has created a version of his real-life mansion for users of The Sandbox to visit. Users will be able to tour the mansion and interact with visual representations of the musician’s pets, cars, statues, memorabilia, and more – all created as NFTs. They can also purchase concert tickets, including VIP access passes, within the virtual Dogghouse. Users who acquire Snoop-branded NFTs can use them outside of Snoop Dogg’s portion of the Sandbox virtual world.
Snoop’s Dogghouse gives us a glimpse of what the metaverse might be like. But because it is available only to Sandbox users, it is not the metaverse. For the metaverse to succeed, it must be universally available, interoperable, and integrated.
What’s Past Is Prologue
No one has fully imagined what the metaverse would be like. These are very early days. But it is reasonable to think that it could provide the compelling use case that the technology behind augmented reality has sought for years. Voice recognition is on the table. Immediate, automatic translation.
Some of the metaverse’s innovations may turn out to be distracting inefficiencies. Today, you can order a pizza by visiting a website and clicking a couple buttons. Metaverse dreamers imagine a bustling city in which your avatar walks into a pizza restaurant and places an order by having a conversation with the clerk behind the counter. That’s more entertaining but less efficient. As the metaverse evolves, we may find that placing a spoken order through a digital assistant like Alexa or Siri is a better way to feed the family.
Many commercial projects are already using the word “metaverse” to describe their online offerings. In most of these cases, all they have really done is added a game-like 3D interface to their existing computing platforms. While such interfaces may make applications easier or more fun to use, they do not deliver the full promise of the metaverse, in which the entire internet is navigable as a single set of compatible data sources and services.
For a true metaverse to emerge, all companies and creators will need to adopt standard ways of depicting and interacting with each other and with objects in the virtual world.
Individual elements of the technology required to implement Metaverse 1.0 already exist. We have the technology to create and navigate virtual neighborhoods while embodied in avatars. We have demonstrated the viability of e-commerce. We have virtual-reality headsets for use at home when enjoying entertainment and electronic eyeglasses that serve as displays for apps running on the computers we carry with us – our smartphones. Current PCs, tablets, and phones are powerful enough to handle the demands of a virtual-world interface layer between users and apps. All that’s left is to put the pieces together.
Once the internet has morphed into the metaverse, we may find that the game-style visual interface is the least important element. Researchers will learn from feedback to early implementations, and by the time the metaverse rolls out to a worldwide audience, it may be quite different from what we imagine today. Only time will tell if researchers are successful in transforming the internet from a task-oriented work and entertainment platform into a place we will happily spend our lives.
This text is informative in nature and should not be considered an investment recommendation. It does not express the personal opinion of the author or service. Any investment or trading is risky, and past returns are not a guarantee of future returns. Risk only assets that you are willing to lose.