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Happy Saturday! A few notes from home before we go to work. TechCrunch’s new crypto-focused Chain Reaction podcast launched this week, which excites me. And that’s the TechCrunch + team host a Twitter site Tuesday, April 26 with Silicon Valley-based attorney and TechCrunch + columnist Sophie Alcorn, who will discuss immigration issues and answer relevant questions for startup founders and workers.
I think that’s all. Now to work!
Ever since Facebook decided to map a new future for the metaverse, even changing its name to mark the change, the term has become ubiquitous. A myriad of startups and public companies gossip themselves with the term in hopes of catching the wave.
I do not really have a problem with companies adapting their marketing to the present. What I struggle with is exactly what the metaverse is is. For example, in January this bulletin said:
The funniest thing I’ve had this week has been a visit to Decentraland. Long story short, I edited and tried to distract myself from disrupting the editing team while they worked, so I turned on the social-crypto-environment – the meta-verse, in other words – and I went for a walk. With a mohawk and some pretty cool pants, I managed to get lost, visit an NFT gallery, and miss an arena.
Is the meta-verse a social crypto-environment that brings together human interaction and decentralized ledgers? It may be part of it, but it does not seem like a comprehensive enough definition.
The defining nuance of the term emerged this week in an article Jacquelyn Melinek wrote for TechCrunch + on how music and visual artists leverage cryptocurrencies to connect with fans and make money:
The MetaVersion of the metaverset consists mainly of virtual reality or augmented reality, allowing friends to interact with each other, while the web3 version of the metaverset is more focused on how users will experience the Internet in a digital world.
What’s nice about the special Melinek riff is that she’s got it right. That is more definitions of what the metaverse is. This is the exact gray area that has enabled anyone working with digital communities, or truly digital assets more generally, to claim the brand. The result is that everything is metaverse, which is equivalent to saying that exactly nothing is.
As Melinek notes, there are two main axes to building the metaverse. The meta-approach seems to be based on personal representation in a sustainable environment similar to a video game. This means that the “meta-verse” is akin to an MMORPG, but without a genre-specific quest goal; it is more open and therefore more open to continued thematic expansion. The more crypto or web3 approach is to consider digital assets that can be seen as an extension of itself as the metaverse, or at least part of it. For example, a “PFP NFT” is the way you want to appear in a digital environment. That kind of things.
It is possible to imagine a hybridization of the two definitions. A place where you and I could have some kind of persistent avatar, and where digital assets are stored on some kind of decentralized ledger.
The problem with this vision is that it is not super possible to build at the moment. Why? Because there is no way to build an MMORPG on top of blockchain, and companies capable of building such a platform do not want to allow decentralized asset creation and management, as this would limit their ability to extract value from their games or digital living environment.
Yes, it is a tension between decentralized and centralized systems, but in this case it is worth noting that it seems to keep what may be metaversed out of reach. It is not also hard to find a way forward. E.g:
- A DAO has been set up to raise billions of dollars.
- DAO funds the creation and maintenance of a sustainable digital environment, perhaps with its own symbol.
- The software – an amalgamation of Minecraft, Slack, Unreal Engine and refrain The Fire Ring – is open to people to change, create worlds, etc., maybe even allow companies to build more virtual offices.
- From there, everyone can participate and do what they want.
Is it a compelling metaverse? I think at this point, if that is not then we must completely rewrite what we mean when we say the word. For it is as close as I can get to putting things together without literally dropping all current definitions and starting from scratch.
Good luck, Facebook!