Thoughts on the “Metaverse”

The Metaverse, as is described by the Wikipedia for Snow Crash (the cyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson), is:

“…coined by Stephenson as a successor to the Internet, constitutes Stephenson’s vision of how a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Resembling an MMO, the Metaverse is populated by user controlled avatars as well as system daemons.”

If you’re a fan of Tron, whether it’s the 1982 or 2010 movie, think of the grid, minus the pseudo-religious tones and user-hating programs.

This whole idea of having an Internet that’s based around virtual reality has been around for quite a while in science fiction, usually in a dystopian future with corporations at the seat of power. The corporations were hubs for bustling activity because any business done over the Internet (which, in these dystopian societies as well as today, was a lot of it) required security, couriers for transmission, as well as a multitude of other employed people that have various tasks related to the products/services of a corporation. The most interesting part of these virtual worlds are the areas outside of corporations, where most people spend their time doing recreational activities, even to the point of having an effect similar to being drunk or various drugs.

But, even more than recreational activities, it was interesting that between all of these corporations, which were essentially the largest entities left when the governments of the world deteriorated, there was a society of anarchy. In these novels, by the point at which the story began, it wasn’t just the rich that had access to this technology, but many people. I would say that the Metaverse itself was a creation that was a result from the growing deterioration of the “real world.” So, most of the people that were part of this second world were mainly people that were employed by corporations that were hired for their skills in the virtual world as well as hobbyists. Which, with the deterioration of the outside world, it was likely that many people were hobbyists that learned from others how to set up the equipment in order to replace their reality with another.

This doesn’t even take into consideration that it was likely that most of the jobs were in the Metaverse, meaning that either people would risk physical health damage from working in the real world for 8 hours a day (or for whatever time they were traveling between their job and where they slept) or they could learn how to use terminals or their own devices in order to be part of this second society.

One of the significant points I can bring up about some of these stories is that they were all written before the Internet became popularly used by all people and even before they were truly understood. They were writing science fiction and were letting their imaginations take them to unknown territory, a frontier that hadn’t been tamed or explored yet. A place where it can be argued that anything is possible. Whether they believed that their fiction would become reality in the future can vary between the different authors that wrote about virtual reality, but the real question is: is a virtual “second world” possible?

I want to explore that question at least a bit in this post. The possibility of a second world depends on exactly how you interpret that question. Some people might mention that modern day MMOs already incorporate many of those concepts including a virtual world hosted by a corporation that’s inhabited by both humans and programmed creatures. The users are there for recreational purposes as well as socializing with other people.

And that’s a valid point. To a person that was born before the Internet was around, the concept of such a virtual world with many people playing on it at one time from all around the world sounds incredible to them. That people are meeting on these games and falling in love and, in some cases, getting married is ludicrous to them.

But to me, when I talk about a second, virtual world, it’s one that’s not limited to a single game or type of fantasy, it’s to the point where it would be on an entirely different level of the Internet, even possibly on a second Internet. It would require a separate protocol from what we use now. There wouldn’t be central servers, just nodes that link larger nodes together. The most intricate and detailed areas would be owned by either groups of people or businesses/corporations not necessarily because of their wealth, but because of the concentration of users. That would either mean that they are personally hosting their own server or that between all of the users, they have enough processing power to have a sizable piece of land.

Let me try to explain this way: today, when we think of the people that use the Internet, we’re usually using it either at our home, at work, or while we’re out. Each of these have a network, even if you’re not necessarily connected to other people. If we think about it, the concept of a network can be related to having a piece of land. You have your personal land, your home network, where your family and friends live/visit. Sometimes it’s secured, but it’s also fairly open to outsiders depending on what you’re using it for. You also have your workplace network, where you interact with your co-workers and transmit information regarding the business. This network is (hopefully) well secured in order to protect information about products or services you’re involved in, so it doesn’t allow any unauthorized users in. Websites you visit are usually under fairly strict rules as opposed to your  own home network, but are a bit more flexible than your work network, at least in most cases. This would be like a restaurant or a bar where you can meet other people or go with friends to have fun.

The entire concept of a Metaverse/second world is based on an idea of a virtual world on the Internet that is open for you to do what you want as long as you know how to program/script/draw/”paint” what you want to create. The closest game that even comes to that concept is Second Life, a virtual world where you can get your own plot of land, go to a public plot or land, or maybe have access to a restricted plot of land. You can create whatever you want to as long as it doesn’t break any parts of the game and it isn’t on someone else’s plot of land. But, even with this game, it’s hosted by one company. You have to go to them in order to get a plot of land. You’re limited in what kind of scripting you can do to create objects.

There needs to be something else that allows anyone with the knowledge and skill to set it up, with a widespread programming language to create what you would like to create in your own world, but the ability to make it public and allow people to come onto your plot of land if you’d like them to. A true virtual world where the only limits are your imagination and what resources you have to use.

We’re already getting to a point where many analog formats are going digital, requiring more and more infrastructure for even a basic home network. In this sense, I think that it won’t be long until there will be a subset of society that has a personal server set up in even their own homes. The goal will be using a system that allows people to have their own plots of land based in their own network. They can only be local-based, but with that only people that were connected directly could access it. The other option is making a restricted network, where you need to be an authorized user to get access. This is for a secure home network or a business/corporation that needs to keep most people out. Then there are public networks, for people that provide services or recreational activities. There are still people that have control over their land, but they are open to anyone.

The concept behind this second world being that you need to travel a certain distance to get to some of these places, but it’s related to how far your connection has to travel to get to them rather than the geographical distance. In this sense, you will be able to visualize places you travel by on the way to your original location, seeing the different networks that are set up near the major nodes connecting these people together.

Before I write any more, I want to get some opinions on this and see what some other people think. With that, I can see if this concept of the Metaverse makes sense. I’d love to talk about it and discuss how certain problems, including having a bad connection, would translate to this Metaverse.

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