With Facebook’s rebranding to Meta last year, the world was conceptually introduced to the metaverse: a futuristic world knocking on the doorstep of the mainstream. As companies like Amazon, Nvidia and even Wal-Mart ready for the next phase of the Web, or Web3, many are confused about the promise held in this digital frontier.
Coupled with the frenzy on Wall Street and Main Street around crypto-currency and NFTs, it is difficult for the non-techy to imagine what the metaverse could look like and how they will participate. It is something I continually study, myself, having to explain the concept to TV audiences across the country. I’d thought I’d connect the dots for my readers who may just want to start with some basics:
Right now being in the metaverse looks like you’re playing a video game. Its future involves bringing the real world inside the virtual world and collapsing the two. Though the metaverse is years away, the potential for it is in the trillions, according venture capitalist Matt Ball:
Even if the Metaverse falls short of the fantastical visions captured by science fiction authors, it is likely to produce trillions in value as a new computing platform or content medium. But in its full vision, the Metaverse becomes the gateway to most digital experiences, a key component of all physical ones, and the next great labor platform.Matthew Ball in his piece “The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, and Who Will Build It”
What is the Metaverse, exactly?
The metaverse is a collision of online, virtual and augmented reality worlds with the physical world we live within. Right now there are barriers between our physical world and the virtual world. Over time, the walls collapse. The metaverse is evolving into a multi-sensory, digital experience that can mimic what you do in real life. It will be enhanced with music, gaming, social, video and commerce, should you choose it. You will game with friends, create an avatar that shops the latest gear at Nike and even meet co-workers for a meeting in a virtual board room (read: no more Zoom!). It is real life – enhanced.
If your child plays Roblox, you have a sense for the metaverse already. Kids are already immersed in this virtual platform. They are transacting and creating personas, both of which make Roblox money. That avatar your child has created can change hairstyles and wardrobes with payment. To get new weapons or tools inside a game, you spend coins. Imagine a universe at work, home and socially built in a similar way that, in theory, you don’t have to leave.
But, it will be more immersive than what we have available today – with virtual movie theaters, boardrooms for work and even your favorite couch from home put inside. Check out Mark Zuckerberg’s demo to bring it to life:
Where does Cryptocurrency fit within the Metaverse?
Behind the scene of the metaverse will be a demand to deliver permissionless identity, financial services and high-speed exchange. Data will have to be stored and served to millions if not billions of people. The answer to these problems lies in the technology of cryptocurrency.Coinbase.com
Coindesk has a great primer on the connection between these two concepts. As people live more of their lives in the metaverse, they will want to buy and sell digital items and that’s where cryptocurrency will come in.
Every large tech company from Apple to Microsoft is placing huge bets on creating spaces where people work, gather and socialize. Not so obvious, companies like Coca-Cola, Nike and Wal-mart are too. They want to sell us items in the metaverse. So how would you pay for them? A credit card? Nah. That’s where crypto and blockchain comes in.
“Cryptocurrencies are a method for online payments that are used for buying goods and services…it uses an online ledger, and it works based on the already known technology: blockchain,” according to Crypto Academy.
“What makes cryptocurrency special is that there is no need for a central party to approve the transaction. These transactions are exchanged just between parties who are involved in a specific exchange….you can easily exchange goods and services for cryptocurrencies. ”
Blockchain allows you to own goods in the virtual world, taking music, movies, games and other features across platforms. Within the metaverse, your virtual Nike kicks go everywhere your avatar does.
Bitcoin and Ethereum are examples of popular cryptocurrencies. In an upcoming series on my Instagram, I will explore how to buy these.
Connecting NFTs to the Metaverse
NFT is short for “non-fungible token.” Like cryptocurrency, NFTs are secured on blockchain. Currently in virtual experiences, including Roblox, you can only “rent” items inside your virtual world. You cannot take your avatar or tools outside of Roblox to other virtual platforms. Essentially, they are owned by those who provide them to you, Roblox, in this example.
In the metaverse, people are being given the opportunity to finally own things and take them wherever they go, virtually. NFTs have an important role in this part of the expansion of the metaverse: By buying and creating NFTs inside the metaverse, you essentially establish ownership of virtual goods. It could be an avatar, a piece of land, a virtual Coke or a pricey pair of Adidas virtual shoes, something people are paying big bucks for, according to the Wall Street Journal. Commerce takes off with NFTs. Though many are buying NFTs for investment purposes, similar to purchasing art.
Interested buying an NFT? First choose your metaverse and proceed cautiously, as you can read here. Know that in order to purchase an NFT, you first need to purchase cryptocurrency and hold it in a wallet. I will explore this in an upcoming Instagram which you can see by following me.
How does this tie into Web3?
Perfectly, actually. Web3 is more than crypto and NFTs. It is the next evolution of the web being built on blockchain, which is the backbone of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, as well. It is the backbone for the metaverse, crypto and NFTs to build upon. Ethereum, Solana and Polygon are the more popular blockchains, says Ankita Dhakar of SecurityLit, with different pros, cons and costs. Dhakar is launching an NFT later in March called Cyber Cosmos World.
That’s different than the Web2 era we are in, which involves big players (Google, Twitter, etc.), the government and user-generated content. Dhakar shared this example with me about Youtube. “Currently, if you post a video on YouTube, Alphabet owns it. It can monetize it, take it down and essentially control it. With Web3 and the decentralized platform, you will be able to post your video, collect the royalties and own the rights. No one can take it down.”
But with decentralization comes challenges, as there are no regulating bodies. Forbes has an excellent piece on Web3. In it, it is written that “blockchain is a relatively new method of storing data online, which is built around the two core concepts of encryption and distributed computing…put together, these concepts mean data can be stored in a way so that it is only ever under the control of the person who owns it, even if it happens to be stored on a server owned by a corporation or subject to the control of a local government.”
The Dark Side of the Metaverse
Where there is excitement, hype and profit potential, there is reason to be cautious. In a research piece written at USC, there are red flags in this new frontier:
Most of metaverse’s envisioned activity will have a financial aspect, and much of it will be unburdened by today’s technological, regulatory, legal and even logical/ethical constraints, opening the doors wide to an army of fraudsters, large and small crime cartels, and cyber criminals, thieves, spies, blackmailers, and every vice in between.“The Dark Side of the Metaverse,” published by USC
For me there are more personal reasons to be concerned: our personal data and privacy could be exploited in new ways by companies who don’t have a good track record for protecting it:
“Ads are going to continue being an important part of the strategy across the social media parts of what we do, and it will probably be a meaningful part of the metaverse, too.”Mark Zuckerberg
In addition, our emotional and mental well-being also become more challenging to maintain in a world where we cannot distinguish real from virtual. Already, experts are weighing in on the pros and cons headed our way.
Curious? Try 24 hours in the Metaverse
Ready to live, work and socialize in the metaverse? Slow down, bruh. For now, check out this video about WSJ’s Joanna Stern’s 24 hours in the metaverse
Virtual world hopping