The Metaverse is Chaos

The Metaverse is chaos. Which can be a good thing. It's Homebrew and a SV garage. It's hacking in a basement or tinkering in a shop. But there are downsides if you don't know what you're wading into.

The Metaverse is Chaos
You can see the chaos.

We're living in the wild west (east, north and south). This is chaos.

There are serious people having very reasoned discussions about what the Metaverse actually is, how to define its boundaries and, as such, how to build the systems, standards and protocols to match that definition.

There are serious people doing serious experiments and creating mind-blowing demonstrations of what true spatial interoperability will look like.

There are serious thinkers who are wondering about the policy, privacy, cultural and social implications of sharing increasingly realistic digital environments which may or may not be able to track our every eye motion, chat or lustful stare across an avatar-filled room.

There are serious, deep-pocketed and hugely ambitious (and defensive) companies going 'all-in' on their Metaverse strategies, whether Facebook, 'we're-a-real-world-not-a-dystopian-Metaverse-Niantic', Epic or, gosh, Microsoft (but for enterprise, duh).

And so with all of these serious people, and all of these super smart coders and developers and thinkers, and with all of these major enterprises putting their weight behind 'the Metaverse' (and I used the quotation marks quite pointedly), then why do I find it so hard to answer a few simple questions?

  • How do I get started in the Metaverse? Usually asked by a student or someone who's worried their job is about to be taken over by a robot. Or a brand. Which is kind of the same thing.
  • How do I invest in the Metaverse? Usually asked by someone wanting to make fast money with very little down. Or VCs. Which is kind of the same thing.
  • How do I log in to the Metaverse? Usually asked by all the people who ask the first two questions. Except the VCs. Who are fine with a demo video or a white paper on your token.

Listen to Me. Now Go Away

OK. So I've backed myself in a corner right out of the gate.

Because it seems like the more we talk about the Metaverse, the more chaos it can create. The more that people want to add it to their home page. The more times people use it as a hashtag.

But I DO want to talk about the Metaverse. I want everyone to talk about it. I think it's hugely important. For a few reasons:

The Metaverse is a metaphor which allows us to more easily grapple with profound and much broader issues related to technology (and culture). I believe that the concept of the Metaverse is an analogy that a large number of people can understand. Even if it never happens, it provides an archetype that lets us discuss, as citizens, the next wave of technology: from artificial intelligence to simulated reality, from transhumanism to surveillance.

We tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. If we don't talk about it now, we're going to bake in some of the same old paradigms that keep getting us into trouble. I'm not convinced, for example, that we necessarily WANT to transpose the concept of URLs to a spatial world. Because I'm not sure we ever really thought about how useful links were in the first place. I'm not sure we WANT single identities, pseudoanonymity (or being identified! The jury is out!).

If we don't figure out how the Metaverse will save humanity, what's the point? Seriously.

So, I want to talk about the Metaverse. And if you're actually building the damn thing, I hope you get pissed off hearing the word.

Because that's the thing: the talk has actually roiled up a lot of chaos.

Now, chaos can be a very good thing. It's early days stuff. It's tinkering in the garage in Silicon Valley. It's the Homebrew Computer Club. It's an upstart country (in this case I'll point to South Korea) ready to take on the big guys.

It's everyone with an idea and a dream! Let's put on a show!

All this chaos can be a very good thing. But if you're going to wade into these waters, do so with extreme care.

(And I make that note as much to myself as I do to you).  

Let's Be Clear

We can argue about the following points. I'm clearly on a rant right now. So I might as well go all-in right?

This is one person's entirely subjective view.

How do I get started in the Metaverse?

  • Avoid almost any company with Metaverse on their home page
  • Do stuff you love. If you like making stuff, go to Creative mode in Fortnite. Build something in Roblox. If you like coding, try doing something with Three.js. Scan your shoes (scans of shoes will make you very 'in' in the Valley). Pull them into the browser. Code a little AR app in Swift or Flutter or whatever. If you like to write, start a blog. Tell me that you have and I'll Tweet it out! I have zero reach but hey - I might give you a dopamine hit.
  • Do stuff you love. Yeah, I repeated myself. But I mean it. Just don't worry about that "M" word for now. Your talents will be needed eventually.

How do I invest in the Metaverse?

Huh? What Metaverse? There's no Metaverse. How would you invest in it?

Yes, Matthew Ball has a Metaverse fund. I love Matthew. He's truly a genius. His analysis of Epic is one of the best pieces of insight I've read in close to a decade.

But let's be clear: these are technology companies. Almost all of them will make lots and lots of money on the technologies they're building whether a Metaverse emerges or not.

Take a look at his fund's main holdings:

I mean. You tell me. If the Metaverse never even happens - which one of these companies will go out of business?

Don't get me wrong: the Metaverse as investment thesis is a solid thesis. There's worse. But you're investing in technology companies. I don't buy into the bet that their success or failure will hinge on the success or failure of the Metaverse.

But NFTs! Blockchain!

I'm going to dive deeper into this in a future post. Maybe. It's also chaos. But to be clear: NFTs are NOT some asset that is required for the Metaverse to happen.

Most of the Metaverse will be free junk, easily uploaded, traded, shared and used. It will be scans you take of your cat. It will be a fishing hut you buy for $2.99 on Sketchfab. It will be free stuff handed out by Coke in the same way they hand out free swag at a rock concert.

Sure they'll mint an NFT now and then, but the Metaverse is not going to be built on scarcity. It just won't.

I DO believe in NFTs. But for very different reasons.

As for bidding on virtual real estate - unless it's the actual center of Fortnite island, don't expect it to hold its value.

You do realize that this valuable real estate is just a server right? Do you really think there's some global shortage of servers?

Because if you live in a world where there are two towns: they both have the same reasons to visit, the same amount of fun, but one of them sells tiny parcels of land for thousands of dollars.....which town are you going to move to? And where do you think the fun people will hang out?

How do I log into the Metaverse?

Here's what I'd suggest. Figure out how you like to have fun. Go there. Stay. If it gets boring, go somewhere else.

And wait. The Metaverse will eventually come to you.

The Best Experiences (and the best stories) Win

Maybe it's just me. But I love great games, amazing builds, interesting people, and the ability to participate in a story.

A gallery of NFT artwork is really cool. I'll never forget my visit to the Louvre or the Impressionist museum back when it was in the Jeu de Paume. But it was in Paris that I really wanted to hang out.

I love to dance. I'll never forget the 12-hour set Danny Tenaglia gave and how we stumbled out into the sun when it was over. But I can't do that every night. And even if you can, it gets pretty boring if you aren't doing it with friends.

The Metaverse will happen because we want it to.

It's in our human nature to follow a really good story. It's the secret to the Marvel universe which bridges comics to movies, TV shows to merchandise. It has really good stories with really good characters.

It's human nature to want those characters to jump from media to media along with us. And while Hollywood can try to contain them and restrict all the rights and residuals and whatever - it doesn't take the blockchain for the story to eventually go where the audience wants it to.

The best stories always win. They just do.

The best games will always find an audience.

And the technology will always find a new way to take those stories further, to reach people in deeper and more meaningful ways, to find new ways to let people capture memories, to play games, to be engaged.

The chaos that we're living in right now is the birthing sounds of stories trying to break free, resulting in new types of games, strange new forms of communal dancing or radical acts of art, all of which feeds back on itself, creating new pathways across worlds much like new neural circuits in the brain, new ways of thinking (and, eventually, new habits).

I believe that there is an unstoppable tendency for everything to connect.

A new toolkit of connection has been born. It is often called the Metaverse.

It's chaotic. It's a roiling ocean of tokens and NFTs, half-finished demos and...well, blog posts that will be read once and then archived by the Wayback Machine.

Ride the waves with extreme caution.

Or join that little crowd over on the beach. The serious looking ones who are telling their stories quietly by the fire. Because if you wait long enough, they're the ones with the hidden power to control the tides.

So...I'd really like to hear from you. If you get this by e-mail, please do reply. I love it when people hit reply.

You can also hit me up on Twitter. I like having chats in the public square when I can.

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