A few years ago I wrote a piece on Forbes about the number of competing standards in the Internet of Things (IOT) industry.
At the time there were 10 major factions fighting to become the standard for IOT, 6 vendors, in reality, controlling the outcome of the Internet of Things and they had a joint market cap* of $670 billion (*as of 2015, things have changed a lot!).
To enable widespread adoption and help accelerate the development and evolution of an interoperable peer connectivity and communications framework based on AllJoyn for devices and applications in the Internet of Everything. — Allseen Alliance
We are defining the specification, certification & branding to deliver reliable interoperability — a connectivity framework that abstracts complexity — Open Internet Consortium
It’s a mesh network designed to securely and reliably connect hundreds of products around the home — without blowing through battery life. — Thread
The issue facing the metaverse is much the same now.
The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) was founded in 2003 by a collection of global companies with a vision to easily connect and enjoy photos, music and video among networked consumer electronics, PC and mobile devices.
In order to achieve the vision of a digitally connected home, DLNA published industry design guidelines that allow OEMs to be involved in a networked device market, leading to “more innovation, simplicity and value for consumers.” According to the Alliance, this ultimately meant that industry collaboration and standards-based interoperability produced compelling products. And it worked.
What we have today is Epic, Unity, NVIDIA, ARM, Valve, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple…and the many other companies they’ll eventually acquire and swallow to create toolsets specifically for designing, building and operating their versions of the metaverse. They’ll all compete to create a set of seemingly open standards but will not want to relinquish their sense of proprietary ownership.
Building the metaverse has largely depended on game engines such as Unity3D and Unreal Engine but in the coming years, we’ll see more and more venture-funded attempts to wrestle that control away from just the two or three major solutions. This will also mean that the platforms that every version of the metaverse will exist on will also start to diverge — presently they’re interchangeable and accessible cross-platform on PC, mobile, and console but more sophisticated and potentially proprietary worlds will exist that would exclude one or more platforms and restrict access.
Yes, APIs are key to interoperability and the need to use tools across the ecosystem but it won’t be the silver bullet as platforms compete and fragment.
To grow the Metaverse, we will need many new tools and technologies. They will span rendering, compute, XR, payments, tools, projection, volumetric compression, AI, ML, you name it. And the quality and capability of these tools will be key to what’s built and by how many builders. But so too are the rates these tools and technologies require, the extent to which they lock in developers, and ways in which they limit consumer choice and the creation of competing innovations.
As the need for interchange solutions grows, economics tends to generate a solution. For example, Disney’s Pixar open sourced its Universal Scene Description (USD) file format to help developers create interchangeable 3D data. Nvidia’s Omniverse platform then uses USD to coherently bring together assets from Maya, Houdini, Unreal, AutoCAD, and more, into a shared virtual environment. Epic’s Twinmotion platform can also be used to import models from nearly any BIM and CAD program, such as Archicad, Revit, SketchUp Pro, RIKCAD, and Rhino, and will then use machine learning and AI to upgrade and integrate them wherever possible and in a matter of minutes.
There won’t be one encompassing metaverse to rule them all.
Much the same way there will never be a single Skynet of artificial general intelligence. There will be hundreds of metaverse, spread across a multiverse of genres and types for people to interact, live and conduct business and pleasure in. Not to mention personally owned versions.
You have your avatar and your digital goods, and you want to be able to teleport anywhere. You don’t want to just be stuck within one company’s stuff.
Others, such as Outlier Ventures, propose and champion an Open Metaverse OS, a completely decentralised set of tools and technologies rather than proprietary platforms that are designed only to operate through standards and APIs.
We have created a framework to assess and interrogate Metaverses, as well as a toolkit to design alternatives based on principles of user centricity and sovereignty of identity, data and wealth.
From the Open Metaverse OS Whitepaper by Outlier Ventures
There is also the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group, a small team focused on bridging virtual worlds by designing and promoting protocols for identity, social graphs, inventory, and more. Its members include businesses and individuals working towards this common goal. Aside from technical work, the group aims to create a community of artists, creators, developers, and other innovators to discuss and explore concepts surrounding the design and development of virtual worlds.
We’re just at the beginning of another iteration of building the metaverse — we’ve seen the promise of Second Life and others that have come before which have allowed users to build lives, operate business and economies, sell and trade goods and services both corporeal and digital. We’re now at the cusp of another, much bigger evolution that requires everyone to build a metaverse not only for the users but to exchange and work with others.
This doesn’t even go into the many, smaller personal metaverse that will exist for individuals as their own personal safe haven.
How this is all managed is going to be a painful ride ahead.
In another blog post, I try to tackle what I think the structures of the industry could look like — Metaverse, Multiverse and Omniverse.