We’ve had the Capulets v the Montagues, the Jets v the Sharks (not to mention Apple v Microsoft) . . . is a new rivalry around Web 3 already emerging?
So, now Web 3’s going nuclear? Not quite, but its definition and meaning already becoming polarized; and that’s not good news if it is to realise its true potential. Many of my clients and contacts are living what I call a Metaverse ‘half life’; their background, experience (to date) and (immediate) priorities risk reducing it to one of two extremes.
First, there are the ‘immersives’, for whom Web 3 is characterized (and largely limited to) VR and 3D; it’s about Oculus headsets and augmented reality. All essential components of the Metaverse, but not defining ones – VR was alive and kicking on Web 3, and I remember donning a pair of 3D specs to see Avatar in 2009! Admittedly, it was hardly immersive (unless you forgot to take off your cardboard specs and attempted to drive home), but at the time it was the only ‘immersive’ we had.
(On a side note – it’s my post, after all! – I recall visiting the ‘laser show’ in Oxford Street, London in 1978 on our annual Christmas trip to the capital (I must have been 9 years old). We had to actually squint to see the lasers as we drove past . . . immersive has come a long way in 40 years!).
The ‘immersives’ often hail from the creative side of my client and contact base; their sectors of predilection include design, marketing, customer experience, gaming and media. For them, Web 3 is all about creating a new type of reality – a type of Third Life, to reference one of my previous posts? They never tire of imagining what a virtual expedition could look and feel like in the Metaverse, as if it were even more valid than the physical alternative. In some instances, the physical experience is actually presented as a pale imitation of the virtual real thing!
Fine – it’s not my thing, but Web 3 offers unlimited opportunities to be creative and personal. However, that’s only one part of the story.
Diametrically opposed are the ‘Decentralists’ for whom the defining quality of the Metaverse is its decentralised nature. For them, the demise of intermediaries to aggregate (or censure) every imaginable activity on the Web, from content sharing to financial transactions represents as act of liberation, and a defining one at that. Decentralists see every peer-to-peer crypto trade as an act of defiance against central banks and – in many cases – Government taxes; every Discord post as a raised fist against the invasive surveillance of GAFA.
Decentralists find a type of superior form legitimacy in Blockchain – that collective validation process whose certainty is based on little more than the essence of mutual collaboration. It reminds me of Adam Smith’s invisible hand – the great legitimator of market forces; pure demand and supply, liberated from the distortion of third party intermediaries.
For decentralists, this is the essence and opportunity of the Metaverse; the creation of a new generation of social, financial and commercial instruments, released from the bonds of third party interference. For them the immersive aspect of Web is purely ancillary – virtual reality existed before the Metaverse and it will continue to exist without it.
I’ve heard both perspectives ad nauseum – but this polarization misses the point. Peer-to-peer networking has existed for decades, most notably to harness personal computing power to support so-called open research programmes requiring high volumes of processing capacity in sectors such as space exploration and medicine. Web 3 didn’t create decentralization, any more than it invented virtual reality.
My view is that the Metaverse is the combination of these features; a world characterized by personalized immersive experiences based on technologies as VR and AR, based on a decentralized infrastructure which is maintained and validated by Blockchain. The latter facilitates a range of decentralized instruments ranging from crypto currencies to NFTs enabling people to create, share and store value directly, without recourse to third party intermediaries.
Viewing the Metevsre exclusively through one of other of these binary perspectives misses the point. Either way, I’d love to know what you think.
In terms of the Metaverse Halflife – putting the immersives against decentralists – it’s only a question of time before it hits Broadway. I can imagine the – virtual – song and dance routines already (the immersives would be dressed as colourful avatars, while decentralists would adopt a more anarchist look. The central villain would, of course, be called GAFA).
Watch this space for the NFT!