For sure, a reason for this diversity is the individual background of different companies and communities that are involved in this topic. Technology companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Epic, Apple, and Amazon have different technological backgrounds, skill sets, and strengths. In 2021 it looked like that all of these companies want to be involved in the Metaverse or at least in required key technologies such as Augmented or Virtual Reality. It seems like those companies want to play out their individual strengths to play a key role or get at least an important piece of the future Metaverse market.
On the other hand, some communities are discussing the idea of a Metaverse towards more decentralized aspects of building it. Common sense is here that, in contrast to what was described in the novel „Ready Player One“1, not a single company should own the Metaverse with proprietary technologies that are not open for everyone. Especially those communities that are deeply involved in cryptocurrencies and the ideals behind them have strong feelings for a decentralized, open world.
The science fiction novels „Snow Crash2“ and „Ready Player One“ set a starting point to inspire a lot of people in silicon valley and around the world. „Snow Crash“ was the first time a so-called „Metaverse“ was described and „Ready Player One“ gave us an even more detailed picture of what could be possible in the future.
By taking these fictions as a starting point and combining possible upcoming technological advancements with the values and ethics of a future global society, the Metaverse can be described as a three-dimensional persistent virtual space in parallel to the world we live in, where we can socialize, build and create our own virtual spaces, enjoy digital experiences and benefit from value-added three-dimensional service offerings. It incorporates and fulfills some of the following key requirements and visions. It is open for everyone, delivers standards to ensure interoperability between virtual spaces from different developers, it happens in real-time, it is persistent, it converges the physical with the real world and it decentralizes ownership and power.
By thinking of the Metaverse as a next evolutionary step of the Internet or World Wide Web that we use today, but in an exciting 3D space, a logical requirement is, that just like for the „World Wide Web“ open standards have to be created to enable everyone involved to develop parts of the upcoming Metaverse. For the development of the World Wide Web, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) is the leading institution that drives the development of standards for the internet we are used to. The W3C consists of several member organizations and companies, employees, and the public working together to develop the web standards. These are very well-documented and accessible and open to everyone.
Some key features of the Metaverse will also require open standards. Just imagine that you can create an avatar to represent yourself in the 3D space. And this 3D space consists of millions of different parts and specific applications developed by different companies, communities, or even single developers. You can do different things like playing games, shopping, working together, conferencing, visiting concerts, and having virtual dates. You may wish that the avatar, that you styled, looks the same in every place you teleport to visit, that you carry the same cool virtual items with you while playing a game or going shopping. Or do you want that your Avatar changes his role in different 3D environments? Why would you need this magic blaster gun at a romantic one-by-one at a medieval castle dinner in the virtual space?
To make such scenarios happen, we would need standard development protocols that can define virtual items like avatars and their set of attributes. We also need a kind of teleportation system that is standardized to make sure the virtual visitor can reach destinations in the Metaverse fast and easily like we are used today to just click a link or type an address to reach a website. In order to make a Metaverse happen, where different companies and developers can create 3D Spaces, some standards will be needed that are open and usable for everyone. Some also talk about Web 3.0. That could already be the three-dimensional Metaverse or the next decentralized logical step towards it.
Openness and standardization are necessary steps for interoperability. That means that digital services and offers of the various involved companies and developers have standardized interfaces to exchange data (like the data of our Avatar mentioned before). 3D spaces developed for the Metaverse must have interoperability in mind to be able to connect to the Metaverse and deliver a seamless user experience across platforms from different developers.
This sounds sweet and nice but is not really trivial and easy to implement. Just think of the very different already existing 3D spaces. How can we achieve that those worlds that are based on different technologies e.g. 3D engines like Unity or Unreal Engine and even different graphical concepts work together and hand over e.g. our Avatar and other data? Some existing spaces have e.g. more cartoonish graphical concepts, like Roblox, and others tend to a more realistic style like Second life or the „in the making“ Earth 2.
Interoperability means also some common regulations concerning data exchange and data collection. Just think of different privacy policies like the European GDPR in different continents and countries. The key is to give users full rights to their own data and the power to decide who can make use of which data in what context (e.g. different virtual spaces or services in the Metaverse) and timeframe.
Users in the Metaverse meet each other in real-time. The 3D world around the avatars reacts and changes in real-time. Imagine an event like some virtual festivity where thousands of people from around the world meet each other at the same time, watching some virtual fireworks while listening to a band performing live during the virtual happening.
Such a scenario is partially already available with today’s technology. In 2020 the popular game Fortnite from Epic Games arranged a series of concerts from the rapper Travis Scott3 where 12.3 million concurrent players participated in the virtual 3d game.
That happening showcased what we are able to achieve with today’s technologies. Although the 12.3 million concurrent players in the concert were not really all together in one 3D space, but separated into smaller groups and spread over different cloud servers to make it happen with the given technical limitations we face today.
A „real“ Realtime Metaverse will need a technical infrastructure and a network backbone to an extend that is still missing today.
3D requires a high data transfer from the servers to the different millions of clients (user devices). Real-time would mean that we can transfer huge amounts of data back and forth with a latency of fewer than 3 milliseconds between servers and millions of user devices simultaneously.
You may think, that it is not so important to see the 3D contents ten milliseconds later than your friend in a different physical location.
That might be true but depends on the application. Let’s take e.g. musicians from different towns that want to rehearse together or make a gig in the metaverse. For musicians to play to a recording with a latency greater than 3-5 ms is not really a pleasure. Everything above 15ms makes it extremely unpleasant or even impossible to play together.
Another area where low latency plays a key role already today is mass multiplayer online games. Users that experience a ping value of 200ms to a server have no fun playing. This depends on the type of game. A low latency is more critical in a combat or racing game compared to a role play.
Today’s still widely common 4G mobile network delivers a latency of 60 ms to 100 ms.4 The upcoming 5G networks promise to reach a latency below 1 ms, in field tests 3 ms were achieved by Deutsche Telekom. In comparison: the Internet over Cable reaches 10 ms latency, while fiber to the home5 could reach less than 3 ms latency.
Apple released the first 5G capable iPhone end of 2020.
To sum up, we are still far away from global fixed and mobile networks or even widely used devices that support a Real-time low latency for millions of users around the world acting simultaneously. Anyhow, if Murphy’s Law is still applicable, it might take just a few more years up to decades and we are there.
Convergence of the physical and digital world
It already started in 2002 when Michael Grieves from the University of Michigan originated the concept of digital twins6 that was picked up first by NASA in 2010 to remodel a physical spacecraft digitally to run simulations.
Today digital twins of physical objects and processes are already in use in a variety of business applications. Combined with IoT (Internet of Things) technology, digital twins help to streamline product lifecycle management, production, and logistic processes for the smart factory of today. Industry 4.0 is a key buzzword at the world’s largest industrial exhibition, „Hannover Messe Industrie“ for several years in a row. Business Applications for digital twins and the communication between virtual and physical devices don’t stop at industrial manufacturing. There are numerous examples in other areas, such as data centers, healthcare, connected cars, smart homes, architecture and urban planning, or improved field service for installation companies by using augmented reality (AR) technology to help the technician on customer’s premises with virtual repair guidance on a virtual copy of the product or even the installation.
To bring that in the perspective of a Metaverse, this is already the beginning. Whenever a new technology helps to create real use cases that help companies to advance their processes and to create new offerings that make their customer’s life easier by delivering valuable customer benefits, it has the potential to transform various industry sectors. We have seen that in the past with the convergence of Information Technology and the Telecommunications sector.
The Metaverse will expand the convergence between the digital and physical world even further. Not only single objects, but the whole physical world on our planet could have a digital counterpart that persists virtually. Each of us will have a digital twin in form of an Avatar, that helps us to express our individual character virtually. This could e.g. give owners of traditional shops possibilities to enrich their customer’s shopping experience as the virtual and physical world converge. The Ikea app that places furniture with augmented reality in your living room is a practical, already existing example today.
By reflecting the above-mentioned examples in industrial and consumer businesses it takes not much effort to imagine that a Metaverse could be much more than today’s virtual worlds like Second Life or Decentraland that focus mostly on gaming.
With the invention of open source and later bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) 7technology an ideology was formed as a reborn megatrend in our society. Decentralization. Not a few single authorities should own the web, social media, the Metaverse, or not even dominate key technologies needed.
The majority of the people involved in the crypto scene are looking to companies like Microsoft, Apple, Meta (Facebook) as negative examples. In their viewpoint Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, has far too much power as the biggest social media player that creates huge earnings by making use of the aggregation of user-generated content in a broader sense.
Other aspects that are seen negatively are companies like Microsoft or Apple that are binding their customers to their proprietary technologies and closed ecosystems like app stores.
Blockchain technologies like NFT carried out the vision that the ownership of created digital content belongs to their original creators and owners. That is documented indelible in the Blockchain. In addition, decentralized blockchain projects even transfer future development decisions and control from a centralized entity to a distributed network.
Already in 2014, the Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood invented the term „Web 3.0“ as an iteration of the World Wide Web that is decentralized based on blockchain technology8. The concept evolved as concerns about the over-centralization of the web in a few "Big Tech" companies grew.
The benefits for a Metaverse to make use of blockchain technology would be to enable a trustless environment, to simplify the verification of distributed data, to distribute resources to increase performance and consistency.
A decentralized Metaverse answers the question, „Who owns the Metaverse“? with a clear: All of us! - It is up to you to get involved.
- Ernest Cline, „Ready Player One“, 2018 ↩︎
- Neil Stephenson, „Snow Crash“, 2011 ↩︎
- See Article from Techtarget ↩︎
- See Article at howstuffworks ↩︎
- See Wikipedia ↩︎
- See wikipedia on NFT ↩︎
- See Wikipedia ↩︎