Defining the Metaverse…
If you didn’t work in the tech industry prior to 2021, the term “Metaverse” might have been unfamiliar to you. But when social media giant Facebook changed its name to “Meta,” there was suddenly a virtual gold rush for NFTs and virtual land. News outlets and blogs covered Mark Zuckerberg’s “metaverse”, though they often misunderstood the term. Zuckerberg was talking about his vision of the Metaverse when changing the company’s name and not a singular virtual world, while at the same time launching Meta’s virtual world platform Horizons. This created a lot of confusion among news outlets and those racing to become knowledgeable on the subject matter to position themselves as subject matter experts. The Metaverse is not just a virtual world; it’s a by-product of the third generation of the internet, an entire connection of platforms at the internet level with the interoperability of digital assets.
Misinformation about the Metaverse has spread widely, making it difficult to re-educate people within their echo chambers. It’s worth noting that anyone claiming to have built “a metaverse” is factually incorrect since the Metaverse isn’t a virtual world or even a single platform of virtual worlds, but rather a network of interconnected platforms that allow digital assets to pass from one place to another with the same ease of being on one website and migrating freely to another.
Note: The word Metaverse is always capitalized the same way that the word Internet is. If “metaverse” is used culturally to refer to a virtual world then it’s lowercase.
Defining the Metaverse:
In his book “The Metaverse and How It Will Revolutionize Everything,” Matthew Ball defines the Metaverse as “A widely scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence and with continuity of data such as identity, history entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.” The problem with referring to being in the Metaverse as it stands is we do not have the accessible infrastructure for the Metaverse to exist currently.
Ball’s definition represents a significant evolution from the concept of the Metaverse as depicted in Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash,” which is credited with popularizing the term. Although Stephenson’s book portrays a capitalist dystopian world in which people live in virtual environments, the real Metaverse is likely to be much different. Nevertheless, “Snow Crash” inspired many futurists to begin exploring virtual world concepts, such as the now-cult social virtual platform Second Life, which enabled users to live out their lives on the internet prior to the widespread availability of VR headsets.
For many, “Web3” simply denotes the inclusion of blockchain technology, NFTs, or cryptocurrency. However, “Web3,” which stands for “third-generation web technologies,” is a comprehensive ecosystem of technologies that, when fully adopted, will take us from the second to the third generation of the internet. You might be wondering what characterizes “Web1” and “Web2.”
A little history…
The ARPANET was created on October 29th, 1969, and there was an enormous migration of online users, primarily comprising educational and government institutions. With advancements in the field, the US government passed regulations in 1993 allowing commercial content to be available on the internet, marking the start of the first generation of the internet, also known as the “information age” or Web1.
Around 2005, we transitioned from the first generation of the internet to the second generation when social media was massively adopted, leading to the rise of the second generation, also known as web2 or the “social media age.” As we continue to move towards the third generation of the internet, we need to achieve several milestones to gain mass adoption of these third-generation web technologies. Only then will we be able to enter the immersive age and experience the full capabilities of the third generation of the internet.
The ARPANET (1969–1989)
Web0: The Premodern Internet Era (1969 — 1993)
Web1: The Information Age (1993 — 2005)
Web2; The Social Age (2005 — Present Day)
Web3: The Immersive Age (est. 2030 — ???)
Web4: The Symbiotic Age (??? — ???)
Decentralization technology is only a part of the larger picture.
As I mentioned earlier, for many people, web3 simply means decentralization technologies such as NFTs, cryptocurrency, and blockchain. However, the third generation of the internet is a comprehensive ecosystem of technologies that work together. Entrepreneur John Randolph proposed the concept of “The Seven Layers of the Metaverse,” which includes different technology and execution areas such as experience, discovery, creator economy, spatial computing, decentralization, human interface, and infrastructure. Each of these areas addresses a specific use case and technology set. For instance, the experience area encompasses esports, theater, and games, while the human interface area includes voice, gesture, neural interfaces, haptics, mobile, and wearables, often in combination with virtual reality. In my personal opinion, there should be an eighth layer called “identity” that would impact the previous seven layers proposed by Radoff.
So how do we differentiate between the Metaverse and a virtual world? I would like to introduce you to a concept called “The Immersive Internet Scaling Model.” While the Metaverse comprises an ecosystem of technologies, it can be confusing to distinguish between it and virtual worlds, especially since each level has a specific responsibility.
Base Level: (Instance, Virtual World, Land, Game Level) The base level is where you experience the Metaverse, and it is a single place among many other virtual worlds. If you’re in any platform, your avatar will spawn in the base level.
Platform Level: (Subverse, Metagalaxy, Virtual World Cluster) The platform level serves as the controller for all virtual worlds within it. It establishes the rules and conditions that affect all instances or land that it controls.
Metaverse Level: (The Internet, The Metaverse) The Metaverse, which is a byproduct of the third generation of the internet, connects all these different platforms together and allows interoperability between them. Without this layer, virtual worlds would only be able to interact with other virtual worlds within their own platform level.
If we refer to a virtual world as “a metaverse” enough times will it change the meaning? No…
If we use the term Metaverse to describe a virtual world, will it become the new definition? This is a question/statement I often hear from NFT enthusiasts and social world builders who come from the same background. If we use the word “Metaverse” as a catch-all term, it will lose its meaning altogether. The follow-up question to this line of thinking is usually “How can we define the Metaverse as this thing we’re working towards if we don’t know what we’re building?” the answer is if we use “Metaverse” as a stand-in for the virtual world, we’ve already predefined it which defeats the line of questioning altogether. The misuse is purely cultural slang at this point.
By using the Immersive Internet Scaling Model, we can easily differentiate the different layers that make up the Metaverse from a virtual world perspective. Another point to consider is that we do know what we’re building towards, as there is a level of self-fulfilling prophecy within the industry. The entire industry is moving in a direction that has already been predefined to a degree. Many people may not know what the outcome will eventually look like, but for futurists like myself who have been in this industry for a long time, we do know what the Metaverse is going to look like with adjustable details. The challenge is to ensure that everyone else understands what we’re building toward and why specific terminology is so important.
If you find this newsletter useful, share or tag a friend.
Got questions? You can DM me directly on Twitter