What is all the fuss about this thing called the Metaverse? It must be something big if it made Facebook decide to change their name and branding to “Meta” making explicit the company’s new target in the near future. Rivers of ink have been flowing in the past few weeks in the mainstream media with descriptions of what the Metaverse is, its potential impact, and what it could mean for the Internet. Unfortunately, if you have exclusively read this mainstream publications it may seem to you that the Metaverse is something that will simply add an additional dimension to traditional social media to enable richer interactions with your friends; something that will take Fortnite to the next level by offering an immersive experience; or a new way to watch movies and buy online. But the truth is that the Metaverse is all of this at the same time. To me, the Metaverse is a new front-end to the Internet.
“The Metaverse is this promised technology that would revolutionize not just the infrastructure layer of the digital world, but also much of the physical one, as well as all the services and platforms atop them, how they work, and what they sell.” — Matthewball.vc
When posed with this question myself, I sometimes have a really hard time explaining what the Metaverse is. One of the reasons for this is that the full vision for the Metaverse remains hard to define, seemingly fantastical, and decades away. However, the pieces have started to feel very real ranging from VR to decentralized identities and DAOs. Something I would like for you to take out of this publication is that the Metaverse is not just what Facebook is presumably trying to build, i.e. a 3D walled-garden you can enter to talk and play with your friends, but an open universe of digital worlds collaboratively created and offering you a great gamut of experiences.
Some of the key traits of the Metaverse everyone agrees on are:
If you want a simpler way to think about the Metaverse, you can imagine it as the Nightmare Before Christmas — you can walk into any experience or activity, and potentially address almost any of your needs, from a single starting point or world that’s also populated by everyone else you know. This is why hypertext is such a key example. But what’s important is to recognize the Metaverse isn’t a game, a piece of hardware, or an online experience. This is like saying is World of Warcraft, the iPhone, or Google is the Internet. They are digital worlds, devices, services, websites, etc. The Internet is a wide set of protocols, technology, tubes and languages, plus access devices and content and communication experiences atop them. Metaverse will be too. — https://www.matthewball.vc
In the above description you’ve come across some of the buzz words the web3 thrives on such as “decentralized”, “digital economy”, “decentralized autonomous organizations” or “interoperability”. Another of the questions I started asking myself (and others) when thinking about the Metaverse was “what is the role of Web3 in the Metaverse?” As before, mainstream media didn’t have compelling answers, but fortunately, the right people were able to give me some light on the matter.
Building an infrastructure able to support the promises of the Metaverse can be technically challenging. Fortunately, some of the modules being built for the web3 can really lighten the challenge towards an open Metaverse:
And there’s a common denominator in all the web3 modules mentioned above, a blockchain network orchestrating all of these interactions. Every monetary transaction of the Metaverse, every ownership exchange, or even the minting of a new digital asset will potentially be operated and recorded in a blockchain. The same will happen with identity related actions. Unfortunately, in their current state blockchains aren’t well-suited to support the Metaverse: they lack the performance (a thousand transactions per seconds doesn’t seem enough for the Metaverse); the economy of scale is not there yet to plummet transaction costs to an affordable level (only the rich would be able to afford the Metaverse if it was currently built over Ethereum); and we lack the interoperability (we shouldn’t expect a single blockchain network powering the Metaverse but many of them).
This is why all of the advancements being made by projects in the blockchain space are not only important for the blockchain market, but it may also unlock impactful use cases at the Metaverse. Projects like Metis exploring a L2 to minimize gas costs leveraging the trust of Ethereum could be a good entry point for the integration of the Metaverse with blockchain. Or the advancements around sharding and interoperability, enabling different worlds, assets and identities to be hosted in different blockchain networks but enabling a smooth interaction between them.
Improvements like the one I mentioned in this post to avoid the fragmentation of digital assets in different blockchain networks will end up being a utmost requirement in a blockchain network supporting the Metaverse.
In many of my publications, I’ve introduced the concept of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), and Decentralized Autonomous Corporations (DACs). They are both key modules in the future of Web 3.0. The Metaverse is as much a technical revolution as a social revolution, and DAOs, being the operating system of communities, will be key for the Metaverse. DAOs offer a technical layer to provide global and decentralized collaboration between individuals without having to trust third-parties or a small number of representatives (as is the case nowadays, see organization structures or representative democracies).
DAOs are a set of smart contracts to help orchestrate the decisions of individuals in the community. Thus, whenever a community formed in the Metaverse needs to handle property over a set of digital assets, or even the interaction of voting and governance. Funding a state in the Metaverse and rewarding the actions of individuals in this world through a DAO should be something straightforward.
Unfortunately, DAOs may not be a perfect fit for the Metaverse, and may lack some important features to support the digital economy of a community in the Metaverse. This is why projects like Metis are exploring the evolution of DAOs, DACs. What are the improvements of DACs over DAOs and how do they fit the Metaverse? Apart from plain voting and the orchestration for governance, DACs are more scalable enabling horizontal scalability as the organization grows; DACs will be able to grow or be subdivided as the organization changes. DACs also have ways to implement access permissions and roles to different participants, enabling for richer interactions and use cases. They also include capabilities to implement HR, payrolls, corporate management, etc. in a decentralized manner, i.e. everything you need to start your own decentralized corporation. But what does this mean in the Metaverse?
At first, it was really hard for me to think about use cases of the Metaverse aside from games and virtual spaces. Then a good colleague of mine told me “think of the Metaverse as adding an additional dimension to the Web”. Since then, when I want to think about the potential impact and use cases of the Metaverse, I try to add an additional dimension to the current use cases in the Web. Try imagining how online shopping would look if you could do it in 3D and have an immersive experience. Or imagine how cool it would be if all over the Metaverse there were Quidditch fields for anyone to use. You could meet with your friends to play Quidditch the same way you do every Saturday in the basketball court next to your house. Even more, as you need a good pair of shoes to play basketball every weekend, you’ll need a brand new Nimbus 2000 broom for your Saturday Quidditch games. A broom that you’ll need to pay for, and which can be an actual NFT (only for you to own).
But the Metaverse is not only for fun. Think of the possibilities it opens for work. What happens if you add a third dimension to Google Drive, or Zoom? No more “I wish I had a whiteboard to show you what I mean”. You and your colleagues could be in the same space sharing a whiteboard and brainstorming as if you were in the same room.
If I had to summarize the Metaverse in a sentence it would be: “the front-end to a 3D-version of the Web”. Will we reach this? We’ll see, what it is clear is that many of the web3 modules required to build the promise of the Metaverse are here to stay.
Thanks to Protocol Labs researcher/great blockchain mind Alfonso de la Rocha for producing this article for Metis. Check out more of Alfonso’s work in his own Medium channel!
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