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The Metaverse takes place without Meta’s permission

By renaming the parent company Meta, Facebook put a stake in the ground: it would be the symbol for the evolution of the Internet, the Metaverse. Whether we liked it or not.

According to Meta, the metaverse is “a series of digital spaces for connecting, learning, playing, and more.” His first real attempt came in the form of Horizon Worlds, a virtual reality universe so lifeless and meaningless that people wonder if the metaverse is a step forward or backward.

Luckily it doesn’t matter.

The metaverse, a term that existed long before Facebook existed, is underway. Its potential and appeal lies in existing places – games like Fortnite, platforms like Roblox, and online hubs like Discord. There will be no start of the metaverse, no switch to turn it on. You experienced parts of it whether you realized it or not. More and more of your real identity has merged with your digital one. IRL to URL and back again.

The Metaverse is not what you read

To put it bluntly, the metaverse is not what meta says it is.

“A series of digital spaces for socializing, learning, playing, and more” accurately describes current apps and games, but this simplified definition has made the term “metaverse” synonymous with stilted software like Horizon Worlds, a painfully unimaginative 3D world with early 2000s. Era graphics and plenty of space for advertising.

Empty 3D world with big digital billboards with advertising, digital art, Y2K aesthetic. Source: DALL-E

For those not deeply tangled in the weeds of writer Matthew Ball’s precise definition, the Metaverse can be viewed as a shift in the way we view and experience our digital lives – not a 3D world, but a shift towards a more immersive, simultaneous, representative relationship between our physical and digital selves. The Metaverse blurs the line between the real and the digital, an evolution of the change brought about by the mobile internet.

Of course, the Metaverse won’t thrive because of Meta’s isolated, soulless dystopia. Nor will it in Decentraland’s bid to create a digital world that, after two years and billions of dollars, doesn’t garner more attention than a mildly popular indie game.

Related: Facebook is on a quest to destroy the Metaverse and Web3

No wonder: Horizon Worlds and Decentraland compete with digital escapes that are exponentially more fun – games, films and social networks.

And even more directly, they compete with the real world. When you tell people they’re going to work and play in the metaverse, you better offer them something magical beyond their normal lives. For now, the meatspace still wins. It’s not even close.

The metaverse needs magic

That magical feeling has always been present in games. Visiting your feline neighbor in Animal Crossing is infinitely more compelling than seeing your legless colleague at a conference table in Horizon Worlds. Making immersive experiences compelling requires that magic, and creating a culture that can be fun is difficult, perhaps impossible when your revenue is made up of more clicks — or whatever calls-to-action exist in 3D.

3D platforms like Roblox and VRChat have instead created a path for creators to inject their own magic, albeit a narrow one. Spending time on VRChat vs. Horizon Worlds shows the difference between a user-generated world and an enterprise world. The former is human and surprising, while the latter is depressing and expected.

But creators need to be motivated to create in a specific medium – and given the tools to do so. The old way of motivating creators with sponsorships is toxic and dying. Creative people don’t want to limit their visions for corporate profits or limit their opportunities through platform limitations.

Fortunately, there is another way.

The Metaverse requires ownership

Nonfungible tokens (NFTs) have been widely seen as returning power to the consumer by serving as a way to keep actual ownership with the collector rather than the platform. And that’s all true.

But ownership has another effect on creators: it motivates them. Rather than creating content for other platforms or ads for brands, their work is instantly monetizable with no limits. And in the rare but best scenarios, it’s handled in a truly decentralized way away from deception.

Decentralization and ownership represent this key motivating factor for creators—the people who should define what the metaverse looks like. Tokenization frees creators from the bondage of today’s social networks (think Instagram or Snapchat), which allow them to create and sell their work without having to be sponsored by a brand to support themselves. Protocols designed for decentralization will be where creators are naturally drawn to, creating avant-garde spaces and defining what creativity means in the metaverse. Gentrification may come later.

Related: Facebook and Twitter will soon be obsolete thanks to blockchain technology

Rather than giving creators power and freedom, Meta is structured to think of ad revenue and brand partners first, a strategy actively hostile to creators and users overall.

A direct relationship between creators and their communities (an increasingly blurred distinction) creates a new level of trust, and the foundation for that relationship will usher in an awe-inspiring metaverse. The “grey space” where developers and communities meet — an idea embraced by David Bowie — drives an entirely different dynamic and experience than one in which a platform’s core relationship rests on the relationship between the platform owner and its advertisers builds up.

A futuristic green city painted by a brush held by an artist, digital art. Source: DALL-E

The metaverse needs context

Honestly, creating this magic in the metaverse is a challenge, even with digital ownership and the right motivation. Even the best 3D worlds and digital meeting places do not create a meaningful connection to our real life. NFTs have yet to impact the physical world beyond their financial impact. We didn’t bring the URL back to IRL.

But the signs are there.

Related: Nodes will dethrone tech giants – from Apple to Google

Mixed reality games like Pokémon Go, which bring iconic digital characters to augmented reality, demonstrate a centralized approach to an immersive digital world built on top of the physical world. By tying our inherent connection to our digital collectibles like Psyduck back into our real life, the metaverse can take on a new relevance.

The context-driven version of the metaverse alone is also threatened by the centralization and economy of the attention economy—and needs to be paired with decentralization and a creator ethos. Empowering creators to define reality for themselves will create a future that enriches, rather than takes, our lives.

The metaverse takes place

The Metaverse is happening and it won’t look like Meta’s version.

The Metaverse is not a specific technology, but an era in which we have an altered perception of the role of technology in our lives. A world where digital realities are a larger part of our shared reality, and where the mere use of technology is replaced by its creation, ownership and experience. The more tangible and connected to us these digital realities become, the more real is the metaverse.

Protocols, not platforms. Creators, not brands. context, not isolation. Principles and people will define this next evolution of the internet, and meta is not the arbiter of either.

Alex Herrity is co-founder of Anima, a protocol for custom dynamic augmented reality. Before Anima, he created products and games used by billions of people with companies like Epic Games, HBO and his former startup Ultravisual, which was acquired by Flipboard.

This article is for general informational purposes and should not be construed as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

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