Recently, Mark Zuckerberg shared Facebook’s plans to turn its social media business into a metaverse. And other companies are already developing metaverse-like products, such as Christian Louboutin and Fortnite. What is the metaverse? And how can blockchain technology help shape this? More on that in my newest blog.

Wi-Fi, smartphones, cryptocurrencies and augmented reality, they were all predicted in 1992 by ‘tech nostradamus’ Neal Stephenson in his book Snow Crash. Also known as the “Bible of Silicon Valley”. The book was even the source of inspiration for Google Maps. The metaverse is now starting to gain momentum.

What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is a valid social network. Besides communicating with each other here, you can also build and do things that were not possible in real life. Inspired by Burning Man, Second Life was founded 15 years ago, the first major metaverse.

Millions of people were part of this virtual community, including Barack Obama and a few hundred thousand Dutch people. Companies such as Philips, Nike and ABN AMRO had a virtual branch. Artists such as Direct performed on the virtual island ‘DropZone’ and the Dutch Political Party CDA even took to the virtual street to win souls. People paid with the virtual currency ‘Linden Dollar’ and met in the virtual bar, the predecessors of Bitcoin and Tinder.

The hype passed and the idea of ​​a metaverse was brought to the market in light variants, think of Facebook and Reddit. In the meantime, developments in the field of augmented reality and virtual reality have accelerated. Also through the acquisition of Facebook, Microsoft and Google of various companies in the sector.

Online gaming has undergone an insane growth and development in recent years, where various Second Life elements can also be found. Such as buying and setting up virtual environments and developing an online identity. Billions of dollars a year are now being spent in this in-game economy.

Facebook’s plans
Facebook also wants to transform the company into a metaverse. Now all kinds of companies were already developing metaverse-like products, from metaverse Christian Louboutin fashion shows to metaverse mushroom trips. The creator Epic of the wildly popular game Fortnite recently won $1 billion on its own metaverse vision.

It will be a massively participatory medium of a type that we really haven’t seen yet, with a fair economy in which all creators can participate, make money and be rewarded. — Tim Sweeney, CEO Epic Games

A company like Facebook takes this to a much higher level. This is due to the number of users of the platform, the knowledge of setting up a social medium and AR/VR and of course a large pocket of money to develop it.

This is going to be a really big part of the next chapter for the technology industry, It will be the next generation of the internet — Mark Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg wants to connect more than a billion people in this way. So this goes a bit further than reading a status on Facebook from a friend from another country. And also beyond an augmented reality app, with which you can see in real time what IKEA furniture in your home or make-up on your face might look like.

An environment that you are part of
What really matters is that as a user you feel that you are part of it. As if you are physically in it with other people, in a different place. That’s something most Frankwatching readers have probably never experienced, but many gamers have. Gaming platform Roblox, with over 120 million users, already offers such an environment. It is complete with its own identity, social network, its own rules and enforcement and even a functioning economy.

It’s the newest macro-goal for many of the world’s tech giants — Matthew Ball, Amazon

Facebook has now put 10,000 employees on metaverse projects, Google has already launched many cool projects, as has Amazon with Lumberyard and Sumerian. Apple will most likely launch its own AR glasses soon. With an amazing reach, the company obviously has great potential to set up its own metaverse with all kinds of different functionalities, which fit in nicely with its own products. But just like with Second Life, the strength will come from all organizations that will set up one metaverse together. Instead of all making their own world

A vision that spans many companies; the whole industry. It will be an embodied internet — Mark Zuckerberg

Get rid of the walled gardens
Leaving aside the cool plans of the big technology giants… the metaverse could, in my view, put many wrong developments around the internet back on the right track. The endless stream of disclosures and lawsuits surrounding privacy violations, the data silos that give an almost unassailable advantage in the field of AI, but also the far-reaching influence on many aspects of our lives, provide a fairly negative image of the big technology companies.

Everybody from an individual participant to a major developer should participate on equal terms. Only that way can you get a really enduring free and fair economy that is built on the same foundational principles as our country. If the metaverse is open, each company will still want to own some things. The principle here is every creator owns their original creations and has the right to make the profit from them — Tim Sweeney, CEO Epic Games

Within the developments I see a great role for blockchain technology, in 4 ways:

1. Decentralized organization
No central control by a company such as Facebook or Google, a government or a person, but by all participants collectively. In a decentralized way. Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are organizations without a central authority, which are governed on the basis of pre-programmed smart contracts. What Bitcoin does to money, a DAO does to organizations.

Within a DAO there are no hierarchies, everything is transparent and people who do work for the DAO are paid in cryptocurrencies.

You can already see this nicely in action at Decentraland, an open-source virtual reality initiative. It calls itself the first truly decentralized world, fully operating as DAO. In this interactive 3D world, anyone can buy a piece of LAND, visit a museum or club and take a gamble in a casino. Companies such as Coca-Cola sell virtual products and recently the first VR music festival was also organised.

2. Self-sovereign identity
Decentralized organizations are also nicely in line with a topic I wrote about in my previous article on Frankwatching: Self-sovereign identity (SSI). As a user, you are completely in control of your own identity and data. An ‘open metaverse’, built with ‘privacy by design’ and SSI, provides a great foundation for a world where the user decides with whom he/she shares his data and in what way.

No more creating an account for every part of the virtual environment, where you are obliged to leave all your identity and name and address details. Only 1 account that you manage yourself, carry with you and of which you only share the necessary.

3. Zero knowledge proofs
Going a step further Zero-knowledge proofs (ZKP), a blockchain solution that allows you to prove to another party that you are real. Or that you share your age or gender, for example, without revealing your identity.

An example is a mortgage at Rabobank or ING, which ZKP uses to verify whether your income is in the range to get a certain mortgage amount. Without disclosing your actual income. This principle can of course be used very widely, in metaverse, for example, if you speak white to a medical specialist and want to share certain data, but you prefer not to identify yourself.

4. Non-fungible tokens
One of the major contributions of blockchain technology to the metaverse is the Non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which I also wrote about before on Frankwatching. The buyer of the digital artwork Beeple, who paid $69 million for this NFT, has now built up an NFT collection of $189 million and wants to use it to set up virtual museums within metaverse.

Adidas held a virtual fashion show at Decentraland, where the designs were auctioned as NFT. Gucci has sold exclusive virtual bags for $4,000 each, more than the regular physical retail price. Rapper Travis Scott has sold 27.7 million tickets as NFT with his in-game Fortnite concert. Pieces of land on Decentraland have recently sold for more than $500,000.

Online environments are going to be very very big. NFT real estate could one day fetch millions of dollars — Frederic Chesnais, voormalig CEO

More and more companies and industries are working on concepts within metaverse environments. I can already see different brands capitalizing on the metaverse trend in all sorts of cool ways by launching products or boosting their branding. Accenture is even taking it a step further with the ‘Nth Floor Project’, building a metaverse for its more than half a million employees worldwide. This way these employees can come together.

Metaverse: Critical Sounds
As with many other technological developments, metaverse is also dismissed as a bubble and doomed. Think of online gaming and Bitcoin. The amounts paid for a virtual Gucci bag or a piece of virtual land are also grist to the mill for critics. In metaverse, everyone should be equal and the big differences that we see in our contemporary society should not exist.

Unfortunately, social networks without central control and monitoring have already shown what they can cause. Parler and Gab are ‘good’ examples of this. The main criticism, however, remains that “big tech” should not be given too much power within the metaverse, as they already control more and more of our daily lives. However, it is the parties that have the reach, the money and the knowledge to set up a metaverse.

A sandbox for nerds and innovators
In the past year we have rapidly started organizing, arranging and experiencing many more things virtually. Not only the vrimibo, entire weddings and funerals were organized online and the fitness industry is trembling with the masses of athletes who have exchanged the gym for online classes. Although the technology still seems far away, developments are moving very fast.

Although it is still mainly a sandbox for nerds and innovators to play in, I can already see a broad, far-reaching metaverse emerging in 2025. I’m looking forward to going to a virtual concert with a good friend from Singapore with a beer in hand. And doing a calisthenics workout with my sister. Until then, I will continue to satisfy my skin hunger in the old, familiar, physical world.

See, the world is full of things more powerful than us. But if you know how to catch a ride, you can go places — Neal Stephenson

Jan Scheele is active in the web3 (blockchain, crypto, NFTs, DeFi) industry since 2013. Besides (former) CEO of a web3 scaleup and founder of an advisory boutique (working for governments, family offices and several multinationals), he is Digital Leader at the World Economic Forum and Board Member at the Blockchain Netherlands Foundation (BCNL). He is writing, consulting, speaking and training regularly about everything web3, all over the world. Furthermore, he is currently finalizing his book about the rise and global impact of blockchain technology.