It's not their opportunity to further farm our attention, it's our opportunity to dissolve their empires and build our own decentralised communities. We must remain focussed on what's important.
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As a concept, it’s already beginning to evolve into exactly what it doesn’t need to be. The vultures are circling as they pick up the scent of opportunity, to batch farm our attention for maximum profit. That can’t be allowed to happen.
The metaverse is value moving on-chain. It’s the transition from web2 to web3. It’s the continued evolution of our digital identities as individuals, and more significantly as self-sustaining communities.
It’s everything that comes next, and for that to manifest it must be different to all that has come before. It’s our responsibility to protect the ideal it represents from all third-party corruption. There is hope on the horizon, and we have everything we need to build it.
Meta = Missing the Point
The Stage is Different Now
Our Hope is in Unity
Reclaiming the Buzzword
The Drivers: Discord. Tokenisation. NFTs. Web3. Community.
Meta = Missing the Point
We may well look back on the year 2021 and see it as the year that the ‘metaverse’ went from being a fringe concept to being front and centre of the world’s cultural and commercial attention. Conceptualised in 1992 from the mind of Neal Stephenson, it represented the electrified cyber-territory of hackers; the neon streets built of 1’s and 0’s; a fully programmable and immersive territory that was bound by nothing but the collective imagination of it’s makers.
Now, two of its three syllables represent the centralised vision of a Silicon Valley behemoth, in more than just name. The old regime is creeping in disguised as enlightened dreamers, to take it for their own. But that can't be allowed to happen. So it's important we continuously reframe the context and reinforce our vision for what we want it to be.
Fortunately, it’s clear that we have some of the smartest people alive today on our side, empowered by incredible technologies that we can all learn to use. With this plus a willingness to fight, we can build a path towards the open and expansive metaverse.
As Meta and Microsoft both position themselves as ‘metaverse companies,’ the immediate fear is that this vision we all share is going to become a washed up desert of blue-collar zombies lacking all sense of play and discovery. They seem to want us to yearn for a labyrinthine network of pastiche corridors lit by glaring fluorescent lights, filled with soulless interactions labelled as optimised virtual workflows; it’s only users dropping into infinite meetings to justify their position in a bland and enforced hierarchy.
Facebook’s ethos of top-down control is the exact opposite of what a thriving metaverse needs. To maximise the audience for digital goods, the metaverse must be open and cross-platform.
The more our digital worlds are cross-platform and inclusive to everyone interested in experiencing them, the richer and more engaging they will be.
I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg gets it though. The metaverse that Meta are trying to build isn't the same thing we’re all working to realise. Their's is just another social platform that exists in virtual space, which is what Zuckerberg has proven himself to be very talented at selling to us.
The metaverse, or what that word represents to me, is something completely different. After watching Zuckerberg speak with Gary Vee, I think it's somewhat obvious he doesn't fully see the shift that web3 is manifesting. Perhaps what’s closer to the truth is that he doesn’t see where Facebook fits into it. Hence, this next move to rebrand as Meta is a make or break one, because the empire of attention he raised via the closed networks of web2 is slowly dissolving before his eyes.
Over the last ten years he has pivoted and shifted with the flow of consumer attention, buying WhatsApp, Instagram, and attempting to buy Snapchat. However it’s the purchase of Oculus in 2014 that was his big play on Facebook’s lasting influence, beyond the limiting world of screens and into the immersive environments of AR/VR.
I think it may be their only way of staying relevant, by being the people that make the hardware, but I feel they will lose that war too as Apple invests in chip technology that will surely strip Meta of all its market weight. We know what Apple are like with design and hardware; they just do it right, and there’s almost no point competing.
People will vote with their virtual feet, and I can't see Meta maintaining the scale of influence that they do right now. Maybe I'll be completely wrong, and Zuck turns out to be positioning Meta perfectly to work interoperably with the web3 ecosystem. That was a word he was dropping over and over again with Gary Vee; ‘interoperability'.
You’d think that he would see the shift that is taking place with NFTs and blockchain technology. We've unlocked a limitless layer of digital ownership that is detached from any centralised organisation. As founder/CEO he has proven with Facebook that he can pivot and make radical decisions akin to a new startup, to push the company into emerging directions as the market evolves. Surely he has a few more things up his sleeve.
When it became clear that Zuck didn’t have his finger on the pulse though, was when Gary Vee spoke about Farmville, and how that for him was a signal for what was to come. As Gary explained, people were spending real money on virtual sheep to increase the yield of their farm’s produce, all to gain more in-game credit, which was simply a flex to their social group. Zuck said himself he hadn’t thought of that connection, and how that completely lines up to what NFTs are tapping into culturally. This is his weakness, and the reason I believe Meta will be left behind if they don’t wake up soon.
This gives us an opportunity, and a head start, to build the web3 that we want; the internet we need. He may have taken two thirds of our syllables, but he can’t take our freedom.
The Stage is Different Now
Why is it different now? Because the 'metaverse' or the web3 ecosystem, is moving value on-chain. Everything worth working on in this next digital epoch is going to be built on decentralised platforms. NFTs, and crypto as a whole, have woken us up to a reality where we can be fully empowered by our digital energy; our data, our wealth, our collectibles, our memories and communities. All of this digital ephemera is built on a decentralised ecosystem that supports the cross-pollination of value based on market dynamics, and everyone can freely take part in that game.
The Metaverse evolves from tokenization — tokens can represent many different types of assets, and the possibilities of what you can achieve with all this data are endless. With tokens on the blockchain, there's no more need for a centralized server — the Metaverse is free to use and accessible by anyone.
That leaves no room for web2 business models. That's why they are being quite vocal about their shifting, because now they need to work to earn our trust. They realise there is finally a place beyond their control we are moving to, and that is web3. So the ball is now in our court. Whilst certain fronts of their product will wither and die, they realised long ago that there will always be a corporate monopoly on hardware, and that’s a game Meta can win. Production and R&D requires intensely centralised structures. That’s why Meta’s Oculus acquisition and Apple’s M1 chip are big plays in the longer context of hardware.
The platforms that will come to play a huge part in the evolution of the next phase of the internet will be the ones that best support communities; that allow for the seamless flow of ideas and cultural exchange. As users we get to choose where we spend our attention as we look for the greatest digital social space. In web3 that’s going to be the one that best gets out of our way and lets us get on with creating things on top of their platform; Discord, Twitter, Clubhouse. The best ones allow creators to create and connect synchronistically as the value layers move on-chain. The products and services that will come to accommodate that shift will be the foundation of the ‘metaverse’ or the new decentralised and immersive web.
There are already companies who are operating in just the way we need for this new model of decentralisation to flow organically. The value is where the money moves, and the money moves where peoples attention is held. In these early days of the web3, the money is now flowing in places Meta won't be able to reach.
So the metaverse in my eyes, or what that word has come to represent; the next iteration of the internet, is going to be the open accessibility and composability of those value streams. The environments to explore and interrogate these new digital structures will be built by creators and entrepreneurs, on top of blockchain technology. There is a reason that Facebook tried to set up their own currency, Diem. They knew this was what would come next and they tried to steer the ecosystem into their own servers. Fortunately they failed at pulling that off, and in the meantime Vitalik and co. worked on their own decentralised networks of value exchange built on Satoshi’s work.
So how does that world of value exchange look and appear in terms of usability? And how do we design with it to accommodate the world’s population in all its creatureliness? That is the opportunity that lies behind the 'cmd+enter_buzzword’ metaverse. In order to pull this off though, we are going to need a completely new set of tools to enable creators to build effective communities in this new digital-social structure, and I believe there is another company who are doing exactly the right things to enable this.
Our Hope is In Unity
It may seem strange to be comparing the role that Meta/Facebook have come to occupy in our lives with Unity, a real-time game engine. Unity develop the tools to allow people to build video games and virtual environments. However I believe that Unity, with all they’ve learnt in working with game developers, have the perfect understanding of how to allow creators to get on with building what they want. They’ve built a freedom to create that extends infinitely in 3D space.
They understand how developers create interactive space for their users. They are the toolmakers tool; the artists paintbrush. They understand how we engage in space online, how we collaborate in building, how we share 3D assets. They also know game mechanics, how the goal-oriented play locks in our attention to a task. Between game engines as the tool and gamers as the users, the perfect system for creative expression has been incubating for decades. Game designers and players are the people who know what the future of our digital identities is going to look and feel like most. And that involves allowing people the ability to choose, to create, to share, to hack and mod their ideas into existence for others to experience.
One of the biggest bits of news to come out of the internet in regards to the future of the web3 ecosystem has to be Unity spending 1.7 billion dollars on acquiring Weta digital, the VFX company behind Avatar, Lord of the Rings and much more. Soon those tools that have been honed for the largest of Hollywood budgets will be accessible for everyone to build with. That is what we need as creators, not Meta.
I like the version of the metaverse where we're all making our own stuff,” he says, “and there's a good capitalist chance to work hard and make a cool thing and have a version of what we got to do with our games, Wolfenstein and Doom. We worked real hard on something and it was pretty new and people liked it, and we got the benefits of that. It would be cool if people could have that now in whatever the metaverse becomes.”
Zuckerberg mentioned in a 2015 email that he thought buying Unity was a move that would protect them into the future, even if it was just to stop competitors doing so and cutting them out. Unity was the platform he saw as being the future space for social communication.
That buyout never happened for whatever reason, and instead Unity are now acquiring companies and assets of their own.
Why I believe this is a great thing for the metaverse we want to build, is because Unity is free to download, relatively easy to pickup, and completely collaborative in how you can work with others to build environments. That is a massive plus, because what we need to decentralise and make accessible is not only the tools to enter the metaverse, but also the tools to create the metaverse.
So as Meta and Microsoft announce their attempts to build the ‘open’ world they want us to nonchalantly fall into, with dollar signs strapped to our faces, Unity and other real-time engines will instead be the sandbox for us to run into with our playful caps on, to start building meaningful spaces as members of communities that we enjoy being in and have embedded value into partaking in.
Spaces and communities mean much more to us when we've played a part in building them. We take pride in something when we put time into making it happen and then see it take on a meaning of its own. That is the joy of creating with and for others. If we can harness that power in the way we build digital communities together, then the place we come to call the metaverse is going to be wildly creative, diverse, ever-changing, playful, and endlessly collaborative.
Unity can be the rails to materialise that vision. Tony Parisi spoke of his 7 rules for the metaverse, and I think he summed up what it should come to represent perfectly: “My mission has never changed: to use the power of real-time 3D graphics to connect people.”
Reclaiming the Buzzword
So, as cliche as the word 'metaverse' is becoming, it's so important we keep reminding ourselves of why we are moving away from web2 and towards web3. It's not to move work online and add texture to Kevin’s face so we can see his expression with greater fidelity as we pitch the data for Q3 sales in a model of the office. That would be a dark day if that was our end point. No.
The Metaverse is the next evolution of the Internet; nothing more, and nothing less. Keep it simple, stay focused on the goal, and the Metaverse of our dreams will become reality. - Tony Parisi
The opportunity ahead of us is to completely transform the definition of work, to leave it behind and instead build a world of play and creative expression, that in turn creates value that sustains us, and enables us to go on helping others. Collectively we lift each other up and slowly we manifest an open and decentralised world of interaction with abundant opportunity. It's about creating a digital space that is open to all and controlled by no one.
It’s not one man’s idea of everyone else’s freedom. It’s about finding a set of tools that will allow us to all work on building an ongoing iteration of everyone’s accumulated pool of knowledge and experience. That's the magnificent vision. It's not what we carry individually, it's what we share together that connects us and brings it all to life.
Joe Rogan was talking about it with Ben Shapiro on his podcast, and I hear his arguments. He doesn't want the next generation to be this goggle-wearing limp race of zombies that are weak and fragile in the real word, who have pushed all their meaning and existence into a layer of reality that exists solely in wires and processing chips.
I get that. That's not what I want either.
But the idea of the metaverse is a place where ideas are brought to life for people to engage with and immerse themselves in. It's a place that will develop heightened sense of empathy and emotional intelligence, built upon an unlimited sense of community at its’ core. That's what I hope for. Dream big.
Tokenisation, DAOs, cryptocurrency, NFTs - these are the rails for a radically new place for our digital selves to exist and thrive amongst; tools to support one another and celebrate our collective successes. It’s clear that many don’t want this to succeed and we will have a fight on our hands, but I back us every day of the week. That’s because the sense of community, and the power that web3 seems to have to consume people and bring them into the fight is unlimited.
Gaming has been working on solving this problem for decades. This next financial ecosystem has way more in common with World of Warcraft than Wall Street, and the energy required isn't one of competition and victory, it's one of collaboration and endless quests to solve together.
When one person wins, the whole community wins. That's plain to see on Twitter and Discord. We celebrate when someone else changes their life, or strikes lucky with a rare mint, or sells their first piece on OpenSea. It's not a solo hustle, it feels like the whole forest is at work together, and that's why it feels unstoppable.
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