Can There Be Two Metaverses?
Platforms for People #6: Social VR in the Metaverse
Social VR Platforms . . . . . . People . . . . . . Companies . . . . . . Society
Can There Be Two Metaverses?
October 29, 2021
After all the Meta/Facebook CEO’s recent talking and all the articles recently written about his talking — Please imagine your idea of Your Metaverse.
How you’d like it to be, with some amount of realism and some amount of wish fulfillment.
OK, now …
How much overlap do you think there is between what you are now imagining and what Xi Jinping is now imagining.
Do you imagine, in the implementation of your plan, for example, some degree of Openness? I am confident that Xi Jinping would Openly say, ‘Correct, you must be Open, not the Party. This is to prevent instability.’
We have one Internet now, but it is accessed and experienced very differently inside the People’s Republic of China than it is in some other parts of the world.
It is possible that entirely different technical standards could evolve into incompatibility and separate tracks of development, as was literally the case when different gauge standards in early European railways meant total incompatibility when the metal met at national borders. You had to get out and transfer, if they’d let you.
Tencent is one of the ten largest companies in the world and it runs the world’s biggest video gaming business, so naturally the company would tend to view the Metaverse through a gaming lens.
Tencent recently announced a new “F1” Gaming Studio, with new job positions in its Shenzhen headquarters already appearing on job websites. When asked if this was a Metaverse project, representatives said, “the company is dedicated to the development of AAA games, but has no intention to discuss trendy words.”
Tencent is caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the constant need to grow and change and keep its market value as a publicly-traded company (Stock Exchange of Hong Kong) as high as possible.
The hard place is the Chinese Communist Party, which has targeted the company as part of a broader crackdown on Big Tech. No company in China is too big, at this time, to avoid punishment for being too big.
Remember how you were imagining the Metaverse earlier?
Imagine Jeff Bezos being critical of the US Banking system and then disappearing off the face of the earth for months — and not because he flew away into Space!
It happened in China only the former CEO’s name is Jack Ma and his e-commerce company, Alibaba, is comparable to Amazon in some ways, not to mention his personal public profile which is even higher than Bezos’. Didn’t matter. Questions about any kind of de-centralization of authority in China are answered.
Tencent was the world’s first superapp, the way into WeChat, which opens up messaging, social media and payments. It’s Social, mostly in service of buying stuff, but not completely by any means. If significant numbers of people start griping about something on the no-gripe list, usually the topic will be shut down.
The western Metaverse, conceived between Neuromancer and Snow Crash and recently overhyped by the Meta guy, emphasizes individual pseudo-freedom in a limitless space dominated by corporations or the State. The eastern Metaverse will have CCP characteristics, most of all elimination of de-centralizing tendencies, ensured by monitoring everything.
The visions aren’t that different. Xi Jinping is convinced that the Party is a better custodian of long term security for China than global corporations. Competing networks of global corporations are convinced that hegemony is the best strategy for their own survival.
Both of them could be right, in which case parallel, adversarial Metaverses are likely.
Neither of them interests me at all. Neither of them hold out much prospect of meaningful global cooperation. Both of them lead to massive inequality. Both types of leadership, state and corporate, maintain power by asserting they are the best repository of trust because we all know we can’t trust each other.
My nano-efforts are directed toward a third way, and I don’t mean some vague New Age of Aquarius.
I want stability and contractual agreements that are enforceable in the Metaverse. I am not convinced that Xi Jinping or a faceless Corporation has to be involved all the time. Maybe they have been until now. Maybe direct dealing between people at scale hasn’t been technologically possible without a central authority, but I don’t need to debate that point.
It is possible now
Peer-to-Peer Agreements, documented on the Blockchain, make freedom and responsibility transparent. You can’t bullshit the Blockchain. It’s too distributed. Of course the devil is in the details. Some learning and experimentation is underway, like this one in Australia. More is needed and lessons need to be shared, but there will be substantial resistance.
Xi has taken complete control of blockchain and crypto in China. He’s all for the technology, just not the de-central part. The Party must intermediate. Experiments are also underway throughout China. I don’t know what lessons are being learned.
There are already two Metaverses.
Is there room for a third? Can there realistically be one?
/Platforms for People #6 — previous issue, Platforms for People #5
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