Over time, the internet and digital technologies have expanded and evolved in ways that have fundamentally changed our human experience. For many of us, digital spaces are now where we live, work, play, and create. But for all of the ease our connectivity brings, we can’t ignore the fact that today’s internet is limited by the handful of companies who control our online spaces. Nearly every website, app, and online realm we inhabit is owned by a corporation—and in a sense, so are our digital selves.
What if there was a space on the internet that functioned independently of corporations, where we owned our own data, identities, and interactions? What if our digital experiences and assets could co-exist without a brand, company, or platform controlling their very existence?
The next iteration of the internet is starting to emerge now. In it, a new world is possible. Enter the metaverse.
The word “metaverse” first surfaced thirty years ago in Neal Stephenson's science fiction novel Snow Crash, in which humans gather and interact in a massive multiplayer virtual world.
Today, the metaverse is used to describe an emerging shared digital space that can be navigated without corporate interference. As it evolves, the metaverse will reshape how we think of the internet by emphasizing collective ownership, community support, and a decentralized economy—and by giving rise to a wide range of new digital-native assets, spaces, and experiences.
Unlike the current internet—where content is made available through proprietary apps, websites, and platforms—the metaverse will be supported by individual nodes all across the world. There will be no need for platforms or corporations to enable us to experience digital spaces, because the blockchain will endow independent proof of existence to anything and everything digital.
It empowers us to own our own data.
Today, corporations own most of the data and value that we create on the internet. Imagine if all of your social media data, for example, wasn’t automatically fed back to Facebook or Twitter to be analyzed by an algorithm and then repackaged into personally targeted ads.
It decentralizes power.
No one person or entity can control the metaverse. When we have infinite freedom to own our own data and travel freely without a third-party platform or app regulating our experience, Google and Facebook won’t feel as monolithic—they’ll merely be destinations within a much broader world.
It helps free the internet.
While it may feel far-off today, an open, borderless internet is still possible. As blockchain technologies enable the metaverse to more fully emerge, data will begin to move much more freely, and we’ll all be able to experience a lot more personal autonomy in terms of how we exist within digital spaces.
It’s a creative upgrade to the human experience.
The metaverse introduces added dimensions of expression and communication. Existing in multiple forms and not needing a “real” identity will become the norm. Self-expression will evolve in entirely new directions, and technology will enhance our ability to explore who we are, and who we want to be.
It removes many of the physical world's limitations.
In the metaverse, there’s no limit to the amount of space we can utilize and build on—and many of the laws of the physical universe don’t apply. Without a lot of overhead, you can create the wildly inventive environments and experiences you want to live, play, and hang out in. The only limit is your imagination.
It opens up a new global economy.
As cryptocurrencies continue to pick up momentum, a digital-first, global economy is already blooming. Devoid of a central government, this new economy will have collectively written rules that will be developed to best support our financial needs inside the metaverse. Fiat currency will continue to look more and more outdated.
The underlying infrastructure of the metaverse works like a public good, which means that no one company owns it. Instead, it’s owned by all the people who contribute to it. As we all invest in the services and architecture of the metaverse, it will get faster and better.
The metaverse is currently in its infancy, but there are two main ways that it’s already different from the existing, platform-based internet:
Portability. Content can’t be siloed in the metaverse. For example, when you upload an artwork on Foundation, you’re using your own wallet, which means you can move it to another application if you want to—and Foundation can’t modify it or take it down.
Decentralized nodes. There are 11,000+ nodes currently hosting the Ethereum network around the world, which means you’re not dependent on one company or server to provide what you need. (To see this in action, take a look at the Ethereum Node Tracker here.)
While nobody moderates the blockchain at the protocol level, there are ways it can be moderated on the application level. One of the prime examples of this type of moderation is the use of consensus-based governance models, where individual users can submit proposals, and communities then vote to collectively decide on how an app should develop over time. Uncensorable protocols prevent governments from shutting down free speech, but moderation at the application layer remains important to ensure there are safe spaces for people to interact with each other.
Until crypto and blockchains existed, online social spaces like Second Life were the best examples of a metaverse-like realm. However, Second Life was not the real metaverse because all the value it generated was locked inside its centralized servers.
Imagine if you could take your belongings from Second Life and carry them with you as you travel to different destinations in the metaverse. Thanks to the blockchain’s ability to work as a universal language for proving a digital object’s provenance, crypto makes this actually possible. Ethereum, digital tokens, and blockchains were the missing pieces to the metaverse puzzle because of their emphasis on decentralization.
Editor’s note: Need a primer on crypto? Read our blog to get up to speed on the terms you need to know.
There are already active nodes all over the world, and the metaverse’s evolution is well underway. As this new space is coming into focus, anyone who wants to develop the rules, set precedents, and contribute to the future can and should get involved. Join us on Discord to share your vision for the future of the internet, and to continue building the metaverse together.