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The Web Emergent Metaverse

Greg Fodor edited this page Oct 27, 2019 · 4 revisions

This article is about how we have made decisions around how we've built Hubs and Spoke.

Overall, we make the assumption that the oft-predicted 3D 'metaverse' will grow out of a similar set of pre-conditions as the World Wide Web. By noting the pre-conditions that led to the success of the WWW, and noting what was missing from those pre-conditions, we may be able to predict what a successful global scale 3D metaverse will look like.

What made the web work

The web was the first successful globally distributed, decentralized multimedia networked document platform. The key ingredients were several new technologies atop the Internet stack:

  • URLs, which uniquely identified and allowed retrieval of resources
  • HTML which enabled semi-structured, but forgiving, multimedia document creation
  • HTTP which allowed the resolution + retrieval of HTML documents
  • Free-to-distribute, easy-to-run web servers
  • Free web browser clients for displaying and traversing HTML documents
  • Neutral, profit-agnostic governance and actors shepherding its development

What the web did not do

The web was opinionated. It excluded lots of stuff:

  • Bi-directional linking
  • Unified user identity between sites
  • Transactions and commerce
  • Dynamic, programmable documents

Three decades later, only programmable documents has become part of the web. Clearly, none of these were necessary for it to succeed. So, it's important to know what to exclude as much as include.

What this tells us about the metaverse

The web was a small set of protocols and software that led to explosive emergent behavior when layered onto the Internet.

Similarly, we argue the metaverse will be a small set of protocols and software that lead to explosive emergent behavior when layered onto the web and Internet.

Nobody today would consider building a metaverse that is not part of the Internet. However, many metaverse projects are being built that are not part of the web. Why is this? Is it fair to assume the metaverse that first emerges with global reach will be part of the web, or not?

The document systems that predated the web which didn't leverage the Internet all failed. We conjecture that metaverse systems not built on top of the web will fail as well. The reason:

The collective endowment of an exponentially growing super-network will always vastly exceed anything that can be created without it.

For the web, this super-network was the Internet. For the metaverse, the super-network is both the web and the Internet.

The collective endowment of the Internet was connectivity to all of the services running on all of humanity's computers. The collective endowment of the web is its content, culture, and the browser.

Both networks are growing exponentially, similar to the growth of the universe, and each represent a beginning of infinity. The Internet and web are networks that will grow exponentially forever, and are anti-fragile. The metaverses embedded in these networks with the most reach will outlast all those that are not.

The web's point of abstraction

The web created a new medium at the right level of abstraction for its time. It was a way to create, view, and link hypermedia documents. It was higher level than the plain text Internet content networks of the time, but lower level than a full interactive, programmable multimedia platform.

The web gave users hyper-leverage, but within tight constraints. A person could join the network and quickly create value due to its choice of abstraction, the HTML page.

If the web at birth was too abstract, and closer to the web of today, it would have been too complex to grow. Imagine if using the Javascript ecosystem of today was necessary to create content for the web. Only software developers would have been able to create web sites, and the web would have failed.

Conversely, if the web was limited to plain text files, it would have never had the reach it did.

With the web, a school teacher could independently publish a web site about Roman history, instantly accessible and valuable to all seeking such knowledge. If the web chose the wrong abstraction, or had gatekeepers, this would have not been possible.

Companies such as Yahoo! and Google created discovery tools connected to the spark of the web. That such tools would emerge and create billion-dollar companies was unpredictable but inevitable. The reach of the web was inherent at its birth. Once a page joined the network, it was only a matter of time before it was fully leveraged.

The brilliance behind the design of the web was threefold:

  • Leverage the exponentially growing endowment of the super-network, the Internet,
  • By creating minimal protocols and software on top of it,
  • In order to create a hyper-leveraged medium forgiving to newcomers but vastly richer than its predecessors

What this means for the metaverse

If the web's history guides us, we can predict some things about the first metaverse with global reach:

  • It will be embedded in a super-network and leverage that network's exponentially growing endowment
  • It will introduce a medium with optimal abstractions, forgiving to newcomers but richer than prior media with similar reach
  • It will be simple for newcomers to join the network and contribute
  • It will not be overloaded with unnecessary capabilities

What is the right abstraction for the metaverse?

So, what medium is the right one to create a metaverse with global reach? This is another way of asking: what new hyper-leverage do we assume newcomers will get that will lead to global reach?

If you can answer this, build the system that provides that which is strictly necessary to enable that hyper-leverage, and embed it in the largest growing super-network, and you've created the first metaverse with global reach.

For the web, here are examples of what were not part of the hyper-leverage at the outset, but which the web eventually grew to include:

  • Interactive applications or games
  • Real time voice and video communication
  • Collaborative content creation
  • New business models and commerce
  • Online community and co-presence

The web was simple: globally addressable hypermedia documents with links. This was a medium that had global reach. The fact it could not do these other things at its birth did not prevent its success. It had the right medium and abstraction, and leveraged the super-network of the Internet. Those were the only necessary pre-conditions for its success.

It has evolved to enable more forms of hyper-leverage, but if it had tried to embed all of them to start it would have been too complex, difficult to contribute to, and would have failed.

So, what things seem unnecessary for a metaverse to have global reach? It's hard to say, but here are some potential examples of what the metaverse is likely to grow into, not start out as:

  • Large 3D worlds
  • Collaborative editing, building, sculpting
  • Rich games and 3D applications
  • A global marketplace and economy for virtual goods
  • A home to a universal identity
  • A place to live out your "second life"

So, can we guess what the ideal medium would be to introduce to get to global reach?

The minimal metaverse medium

We are on the cusp of a radical shift in the way society values physical co-presence with others. Recent research has shown VR devices are, today, competitive with face-to-face interaction in delivering social presence. This capability is unprecedented. The telecommunications revolution connected the world in many ways, but despite tools like messaging and video conferencing, it has so far completely failed at delivering remote social presence on par with face-to-face. However, with VR and AR, that final frontier is about to be breached.

Social presence and shared spatial awareness without physical proximity would be as transformative a shift in society as the Internet and web. As such, one fair guess is that at its core, the first metaverse with global reach will grant this hyper-leverage: those on the network will be able to instantly experience social presence and shared spatial awareness in a contextual mixed media environment with any other humans on the network.

Publishing a page on the web allowed your document to be leveraged by being connected to a web of documents accessible around the world. Similarly, publishing an addressable, mixed-media, networked 3D space will enable social presence and shared spatial awareness with any human on Earth around any conceivable content or context at any time.

It's this hyper-leverage that could yield something of global reach.

As such, it minimally needs:

  • Real time, avatar based communication (voice + body language)
  • Dynamic mixed media in 3D space
  • Virtual environments
  • Addressable places

Additionally, like the web, it must have:

  • Free, accessible, easy-to-use tools and software
  • Neutral, profit-agnostic governance and actors

Those trying to seed the metaverse should not build abstractions higher than this, since it will not add to reach, and will undermine adoption since it will be more complex than others that avoid abstracting further.

It should also be embedded in the super-network of the web, not just the Internet, to maximize its endowment.

The web as medium

The web provides solid footing for each of the needs above:

  • Real time, avatar based communication: browser platform (WebRTC/WebGL/WebXR)
  • Dynamic mixed media in 3D space: browser platform, web content and standards (glTF, video, etc)
  • Virtual environments: browser platform (WebGL/WebXR)
  • Addressable places: URLs

Beyond that, to deliver these a few things remain to be built:

  • A free, easy to use tool for creating 3D content and avatars
  • An easy to use 'browser' for participating in mixed media spaces
  • An easy and cheap to run server to join the network independently

This is exactly what we've been aiming towards with Hubs + Spoke.

It remains to be seen if what we are building will have global reach, but the thesis outlined here seems like a good one for any project with similar aims to consider.

Still to do

For Hubs and Spoke, it seems we are close to being able to see if these assumptions, combined with our execution, will lead us to a system with global reach. So far we have:

  • Embedded ourselves in the WWW and Internet
  • Created free, easy to use tools for creating 3D content
  • Enabled free-to-use avatar communication in mixed media, globally addressable spaces

We have deliberately not:

  • Enabled dynamic scripting and rich applications
  • Enabled large, continuous open world 'land' (somewhat analogous to bi-directional linking)
  • Created collaborative editing tools or world building
  • Created embedded or decentralized transactions or ecommerce

Though we fully expect these to emerge, they seem unnecessary for delivering the hyper-leverage that will lead to global reach brought about by the sudden availability of remote social presence and shared spatial awareness.

For Hubs, we still need to give people the ability to join the network independently. And it should be cheap and easy to do. The early web would have not worked if not for the creation of cheap, easy to run web servers. And similarly, the early metaverse is unlikely to work without the creation of cheap, easy to run 'space servers'.

And that's what this repo is all about!

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