Fundamental Considerations In Building The Metaverse
There is a great deal of excitement about the future of the metaverse! But there is still a considerable amount of work to be done to build it for individuals, businesses, brands, and communities. There are many fundamental considerations we need to contemplate for a vital and thriving metaverse that offers benefits and opportunities for the broadest possible impact.
Next Wave Digitization
Digitization has increased significantly since the 1990s. For example in 1991, the first 2G cellular network was released, and 28 years later 5G networks expanded digitization. These types of advancements mean more of our events, environments, and objects need to be rapidly digitized in multiple and variable media formats.
One term used to describe both digitized and born-digital content is digital twins. For the metaverse to capture not only production in our dynamic contemporary and future culture, an increase in digitization of elements from the past is also urgent. This urgency is driven by the need to bring content, products, and services to customers on-demand and wherever they can connect with it through the internet with lower cost and sustainable hardware.
Organizations that have yet to undergo rapid digital transformation across all aspects of their organization’s culture, personnel, products, operations, and services face irrelevance, obsolescence, and even extinction. The moment for an organization to begin investing in bringing their products and services to digital-first marketplaces has already moved ahead. It is still possible to catch up with radical reinvestment and reprioritization to participate in the metaverse.
Interoperability And Portability
Market innovation is rapidly driving the evolution of asset classes, such as avatars, 3D models, mixed-reality, and spatial environments. Asset classes work together with metadata to comprise content packages that populate the varying platforms of the metaverse. Many of these formats may be proprietary or platform-specific. While these platform-specific and proprietary approaches are potentially a quick way to scale innovation, the metaverse will require portability and interoperability of assets and content between systems.
Some critical aspects of portability include published and transparent documentation, persistent traveling unique identifiers, direct transfer of assets from one platform to another without extensive intermediary services, and collective portability that enables groups of users to share and transfer together.
Interoperability enables the sharing of assets and data between various platforms and networks. There are multiple standards, but these do not yet account for all the new media types today in an integrated and broad way, let alone prepare us for tomorrow’s asset and data types. Nor do the existing standards account for the large quantities of unstructured data. Neither does it account for digitized assets across types with a minimum viable and straightforward processes.
There is not yet a common data model for the metaverse, there’s not even one for existing environments but an enhanced common data model, such as the one developed by Microsoft, could point to the next step towards a more holistic approach to data and metadata if adopted by others in an expanded open ecosystem. More dedicated collaboration and cooperation amongst corporate, government, and nonprofit actors to quickly develop open standards should be prioritized, such as in the past with Open Data Initiative. For the metaverse to be accessible to as many people as possible, it needs to be cross platform, working across partners and platforms seamlessly.
Migration, Emulation And Re-Presentation
For a thriving metaverse to exist with the richness of the digitized and born-digital present and future, assets and data need to be managed continuously throughout their lifecycle from source software and hardware environments into new ones as technology continues to change. A metaverse rich in the spectrum of history and contemporary production will be accomplished through emulation, migration, and re-presentation.
Emulation seeks to imitate the experience and presentation of the content in its source context while it may undergo technical changes in the background.
Migration brings the assets and data into contexts and environments, sometimes with significant changes in the conditions or experience, resulting in meaning and interpretation substantively different from the source.
Re-presentation is the experience of assets and data continuing to evolve and move through the metaverse in newer media, formats, and platforms.
It is critical to think of data and assets, and the metaverse itself, as performative, in terms of what happens in a computational environment and what activities and interactions users do.
Copyright At The Speed of Innovation
A possible severe limitation of the growth and reasonable use of the metaverse is copyright. In the United States, the general rule for copyright protection for works created after January 1, 1978, lasts for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years. Even the 1790’s copyright act passed by the United States Congress with a term of 14 years of protection may be too long.
While some intellectual property can have lasting value for their creators, given the high volume of content generated with easily accessible and malleable digital tools, the pace of creation and copyright structure do not necessarily work in the metaverse. In the metaverse many professionals are consumers that modify products to tailor them to their own needs. We call these consumers prosumers. In a digital culture, it is prosumer’s abilities and tendencies to remix and recreate digital assets and data that scale awareness, brand power, and market growth.
With increasingly short content lifespans from mere minutes to less than two years, content in the metaverse needs vastly shorter copyright terms that move at the speed of the innovation powered by digital-first content creation. Clear, concise, and global rights to use and reuse content that spurs innovation while supporting creators and incentivizing new content creation are essential, especially as both human and machine makers build the metaverse.
Machines can sometimes produce new media almost instantaneously with cloud computing scalable resources. Additionally, some jurisdictions may have further limitations to free global exchange, including heritage and moral rights, that constrain the agency of creators and entrepreneurs who have the desire and tools for global collaboration and production connected by the internet across people, places, and objects. As with interoperability and portability, more international cooperation will be needed among various actors to develop a copyright structure and licensing frameworks that move at the pace and speed of innovation.
Global Commons Of The Metaverse
The metaverse will also potentially need a new global commons built on the internationally operative framework like Creative Commons legal tools, which are human and machine-readable. A commons, a set of shared resources from which all may contribute to and draw upon, plays a vital role in the relationship with markets as a wellspring of innovation for the metaverse. The commons of the metaverse will need aligned policy and critically committed financial support from individual creators, corporations, and communities alike. A commons is a place where we come to collaborate, share, and work together.
Simultaneously, the global commons of the metaverse should be a platform of possibility that provides for the individual expression, identity, and extensible opportunities towards self-actualization. A functional global commons in the metaverse will require dialog, discernment, generosity, and trust to be successful. Open Access will be an integral part of the metaverse. The legal tools best positioned to support open Access in the global metaverse at this time are the Creative Commons Attribution license and Creative Commons Zero Public Domain Dedication as they support commercial reuse, remixing, sharing, and new content creation.
Companies and organizations like Crucible Networks, Outlier Ventures, and the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group seek to create an open metaverse. Crucible Networks’ plan is to create “blueprints for the open metaverse” by building shared standards that allow people to use the same avatar and virtual identities across platforms. Outlier Ventures created what they call The Open Metaverse OS. It’s an operating system built on decentralized protocols like DeFi, NFTs, and crypto. Finally, the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group works to bridge virtual worlds by exploring interoperable identity and designing protocols for social graphs and inventory.
Call it the spatial web or the metaverse, the industry will need standards. Recently IEEE, in partnership with the Spatial Web Foundation, announced their collaborations and backing of comprehensive standards to enable ethically-aligned 21st Century “cyber-physical” web. This is an important step for the future because the spatial web is the next era of global network computing. The spatial web will unleash Smart Cities and the metaverse. Digital twins will be brought to life along with other digitization that a hyper-connected, contextually aware, network of humans, AI, and machines allows.
The set of standards presented by this partnership for the metaverse are developed not just by technologists, but by privacy advocates, technology ethicists, and cybersecurity experts. The spatial web Foundation specifications include Hyperspatial Domains, Hyperspatial Transaction Protocol (HSTP) and Hyperspatial Modeling Language (HSML) to govern a context-aware collaborative computing that ensures data provenance, data lineage, and data interoperability across connected hardware.
Sustainability In Focus
The excitement for the metaverse must be accompanied by action towards economic and environmental sustainability. The materials used to build interactions in the metaverse should seek to be made from reusable substances or those that can be incorporated back into the natural world. The ability to reconfigure and repair devices will be an essential aspect of providing more people worldwide the opportunity to participate in the metaverse. The resources and manufacturing capacities will significantly impact users within their regions due to climate, public health, and safety matters.
In the metaverse, we will need to acquire the soft and hard technical skills to enhance and upgrade our interconnected suite of devices. Hardware and software will need to stretch to last as long as possible to allow many users to join the stream with their tools. The metaverse should be designed from the outset with a serious effort to manage impacts on climate change, pollution, waste, and after-effects. Responsible stewardship of the physical world and the metaverse are mutual requirements for all those involved in its making.
Accessibility And Inclusive Design
The metaverse should make assets, data, and platforms accessible to serve a broad range of users. Inclusive design approaches support diverse groups of people, including those with disabilities. The metaverse should not perpetuate the mistakes of the past with regards to accessibility. Building accessibility into the fundamental infrastructure, applications, and policies of the metaverse is essential. Accessibility is a baseline requirement for the building of the metaverse. Working with and learning from the experiences of users with varying needs and perspectives will benefit the metaverse. An accessible and inclusive metaverse will be guided by individuals, companies, and communities whose lived experiences and profound expertise define paths forward. As with other topics discussed in this article, global cooperation and shared resources are vital for success.
Future In Focus
When we step into our Smart Cities and into the metaverse, we can walk into a digitized world improved from what we’ve learned in the past. The metaverse is an opportunity for new economies, ecosystems, and a chance to put an emphasis on ethics and privacy. This will not be an easy task. Companies and governments will have to rethink the way they see the world (physically and virtually). But, the hope is that through collaboration, transparency, openness, and accessibility, we can create a thriving metaverse that’s built to last and that’s built for everyone.
Written with insight and in collaboration with Neal Stimler, President of Stimler Advantage, LLC.