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Beyond Second Life and Addressing the Excesses of Web 2

The Metaverse has often been described as a type of ‘second’ Second Life. One enhanced by virtual reality and powered by artificial intelligence. It certainly is a neat description. As you may recall, Second Life enabled (enables) people to create an avatar for themselves and enjoy an alternative, parallel life in the virtual world. 

The problem is, that the Metaverse doesn’t simply offer a parallel, alternative life, but the potential for an extension of our existing, physical one. What I mean is that events occurring and decisions taken in Web 3 will necessarily have an impact and consequence on our good old traditional lives. And this is not a bad thing.

On the contrary; the concept of ‘immutability’ could prove definitive in how we use Web 3 and derive benefits from the same. It could also help to address some of the most glaring excesses and contradictions of its Web 2 predecessor.

One of Web 3’s fundamentals is its basis in Blockchain; the process of a state or transactions being recorded across a digital ledger whose elements are validated, independently by millions of individuals (‘peers’) in a certain order to create a ‘chain’ of records. Apart from being impregnable – the cost and complexity of breaking or attempting to adjust each, individual element of the ledger would be technically and economically unviable – Blockchain also removes the requirement for a centralized clearing house. Such clearing houses traditionally serve the purpose of validation and authorization (think of banks or, even, social media platforms); but their role is inherently one of surveillance. 

Centralization can also lead to a conflict of interest between the individual and the clearing house; the former’s right to self-expression and privacy, against the latter’s existential need for control.

The peer-to-peer nature of Blockchain eliminates these risks and also the potential for content (transactions, status etc) to be modified by some third party. This is the concept of immutability: Blockchain as a permanent, indelible, and unalterable history of transactions – an indelible ‘watermark’ proving the origin or status of any element or asset.

To quote Kevin Doubleday in his brilliant explanation on Medium (from 2018):

“With blockchain, we can prove to our stakeholders that the information we present and use has not been tampered with, while simultaneously transforming the audit process into an efficient, sensible, and cost-effective procedure.”

And it’s here that the distinction from Second Life becomes apparent: what is defined on the Blockchain will make a difference in the real world. The former could be a financial transaction (a loan or a mortgage) or a qualification (academic or vocational), or an employment history, or membership of a loyalty programme . . . .

The nature of Web 3 also means that a person’s participation and contribution to a particular activity can be documented and preserved for perpetuity. This is what I call ‘Work Absolutes’; a group or individual’s role in the creation or delivery of a product can now be incorporated into the product itself.  Any attempt to adjust such Work Absolutes would not only be futile, it would also irredeemably change the nature and identity of the product – it would no longer be the same.

If Work Absolutes could become a watermark reflecting the groups or individuals that contributed to a product or experience, they would fundamentally alter the economics of business. Much of the latter is based on some form of rent seeking; the creation or maintenance of barriers to entry, and then charging a premium for access.  Such behavior – even in its most benign form – is present across most industries, from professional services, to agriculture.

In some cases, the requirement for capital expenditure and infrastructure, adds logic to these barriers, but the introduction of Work Absolutes would add a counterpoint to this logic. If the identity of the consultant who came up with the business solution, or the name of the farmer who tended the sheep whose wool became a designer garment were indelibly associated with their respective products much of the rent seeking excesses could be mitigated.

Work Absolutes could represent one tangible example of a Metaverse for Good. They would also help to address the greatest anomaly associated with Web 2; the idea of disintermediation removing artificial barriers between creators and their audiences.  Such barriers traditionally included ruthless intermediaries (think Colonel Tom Parker) and media/broadcasters interested in maintaining the status quo and their dominance of the same.

Web 2 promised direct access to the public – no intermediaries, no manipulation, no interference on the creative process. What it actually delivered was in effect stolen content published without permission or remuneration to its creators. But the precedent has been set, and we’ve all become dependent on the same.

Web 3 and Work Absolutes have the potential to address Web 2’s biggest abuses, and go much further.  It offers the possibility of selecting your shopping based on the people behind it, the conditions in which they worked, and how they were remunerated.

It’s a long way from Second Life!

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