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To those that were part of the dot-com era tech scene, 2022 has a familiar energy. But now it’s all about the metaverse. And, just as they did in 1993 when the World Wide Web was launched into the public domain, many are asking themselves, “what is it, anyway?” What’s real, what’s hype and where are we headed?
The truth is, much like Internet 1.0 and all of its subsequent iterations, the metaverse is being defined as it’s being built. And contrary to what many believe, it’s more than just VR headsets and avatars. The metaverse is a place, an ecosystem, and above all else, an entirely new dimension. But to better understand this, it’s important to know how the metaverse is being developed.
The decentralized metaverse
At the moment, the metaverse is made up of a hodgepodge of ecosystems. Unlike the World Wide Web, there currently aren’t any standardized gateways (like Google Chrome or DuckDuckGo) that help metazens seamlessly navigate from one world to the next. Many speculate that Meta is making moves to own the gateway, but they’ve already lost the battle. That’s because much of the momentum for the development of the metaverse is happening within the decentralized foundation of the blockchain.
One of the foundational principles being set by many of the metaverse’s founders is that it shall be governed by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). According to Cointelegraph, “a DAO is an entity with no central leadership. Decisions get made from the bottom-up, governed by a community organized around a specific set of rules enforced on a blockchain.”
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Think of it as the Internet’s version of democracy. In that regard, DAOs are owned and managed by their members. And, decisions are made through proposals that the group votes on during a specified period. It’s somewhat similar to how U.S. Congress would work if the representative government was replaced by the majority will of the people.
Decentraland is the most notable place within the metaverse that claims to be decentralized. For those unfamiliar, Decentraland is a world that exists on the Ethereum blockchain that is controlled by individual players who can vote to change the policies that determine how the world behaves. But at the moment, Decentraland is more of a democracy than a decentralized universe. What keeps its users somewhat tethered to the platform are the limitations imposed by its ecosystem.
Decentraland vs The Sandbox
In Decentraland, a user’s ownership of their avatar, real estate and other digital items (NFTs) doesn’t necessarily transfer over to other platforms. A big part of the decentralized philosophy is being able to take custody of in-app items and use them outside of their native platforms. The inability to trade items freely and use them in multiple games or platforms is something Decentraland will need to work on if it truly wants to be the front door of the metaverse.
In many ways, The Sandbox has an advantage over Decentraland when it comes to the liquidity of virtual assets like real estate. The opportunity to purchase virtual land and other assets exists on both platforms. However, The Sandbox gives users more flexibility via its integration with OpenSea. Decentraland only allows users to purchase and trade land and other items from its MANA marketplace.
This brings up an important point. Overall, there is a major lack of cross-platform interoperability within the metaverse. Seamless interoperability across the whole ecosystem is the only thing that will enable true user ownership of digital assets. But this can be easily fixed with cross-chain bridges.
According to Web3 Labs, “cross-chain bridges are going to play an important role in enabling interoperability between heterogeneous networks. A truly global blockchain infrastructure and ecosystem will be connected via bridges which will further strengthen the security of individual networks and support scalability.”
Once cross-chain bridges are standardized and implemented across all platforms, the metaverse will become the vast, interconnected network that many dream it can be. And this will make those Nike and Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT holders extremely happy.
A user-owned metaverse
Decentraland and The Sandbox both give metazens an incredible amount of control over the online worlds they inhabit and create, which is a step in the right direction. However, the ability to carry one’s assets and digital selves from one platform to another is the hope of many working to develop a truly integrated and decentralized metaverse. Under this model, the users themselves will be the gateway, not the platform owners. And with a keen understanding of this, metaverse projects like Ready Player Me are taking advantage of blockchain technology to deliver user-owned experiences that are interoperable with one another.
Ready Player Me is a cross-platform avatar for the metaverse that lets users create 3D avatars of themselves. And it works across more than 2,000 compatible apps and games. Any developer can integrate Ready Player Me into their apps and games using the company’s free avatar SDK. Cross-platform-minded innovations like these will help make the metaverse materialize much more quickly.
A new dimension, a new mindset
Against the backdrop of a growing mistrust of big tech and a push for more privacy, the metaverse has to be different than the Internet we know today. If it isn’t, users will flee from it out of fear of having every aspect of their lives recorded, controlled and exploited. And, to keep the metaverse from turning into some dystopian nightmare, a cartel of big players can’t have control over it. For the metaverse to develop into what it can and should be will take a new mindset.
Closed, tightly controlled ecosystems like those created by the likes of Meta, Microsoft, Google and others will need to be a thing of the past. Walls will need to be broken down, borders removed, and freedoms granted. And to do that, the technologies driving the metaverse forward will need to work in harmony rather than in competition. This is the only way consumers will be able to experience the metaverse from a place of safety, greater privacy and less manipulation.
Decentralized, cross-platform networks give users greater control over their experiences and take the power away from those who value profit over user privacy and control.
Experiencing the metaverse through these types of platforms will open a new world of possibilities and give users more control of what they experience and do. It will be a new dimension, one full of possibilities. And to achieve it, we must learn from the lessons of the past.
Veljko Ristic is Chief Growth Officer at SDV Lab.
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