Are you ready for the next generation of the internet? We’re not talking about some future possibility…this next generation is already here. Welcome to the metaverse.
In this article, we’ll start to explore this new frontier that is the metaverse. Specifically, we’ll take a deep-dive into the 7 layers that make up the metaverse so that you will understand and be prepared to navigate the new online landscape.
What is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is the merging of virtual and physical reality. It combines technologies such as VR, AR and video to create persistent online spaces where a digital representation of yourself can interact and engage with other digital people, places, and things.
As Jon Radoff, CEO of Be Amabale and author of the Building the Metaverse blog describes it: “[The Metaverse] enables creators to deliver connected, immersive experiences based around activities.”
As this quote suggests, some of the key attributes of the metaverse are:
- Focus on activities and experiences with the ability to learn, train, collaborate, or even escape
- Immersion in a virtual environment or “third place” community with social interaction and creative expression
- Links to embedded existing and emergent immersive content
- Opportunities for creators to build, interact, exchange, and grow
Significantly, “the” metaverse is not just a singular totality – it is better conceptualized as a decentralized multiverse driven by a creator economy.
The multiverse can be categorized into 7 layers, each of which solves problems and produces value and thus provides opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors.
Layer 1 – Experience
This is the layer most people seem to currently focus on when they think of the metaverse, the experiences people have interacting in digitally driven environments. Experience is where the user engages with content, shopping, NFTs, sports, immersive worlds, games, digital media, and more.
Gaming perhaps best demonstrates many of the features of the evolving internet that constitute the metaverse: immersion in virtual environments, avatar identities, storytelling, progression, and real-time social interactions. Just think of online and digital gaming experiences from brands such as Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, Activision Blizzard, Nintendo, and Xbox.
Layer 1 also includes many other everyday experiences where the physical and digital worlds collide and blend: Zoom office meetings, Peloton home gym workouts, or Alexa assistants in the kitchen. A glimpse of the future is offered by Bloktopia, which promises an unprecedented immersive experience for the crypto community.
Layer 2 – Discovery
Someone might create what ought to be the hottest new online experience, but in order for it to become a trend it must be discovered. Discovery is the advertising network and placements, stores, rating systems and social curation / recommendations.
Generally speaking, discovery happens through either inbound or outbound information-sharing / marketing systems. Inbound includes community content platforms where people can find out what other people like and recommend. It also includes app stores and search engines that provide reviews and ratings. Outbound discovery includes notifications and display ads.
One of the key features of metaverse discovery will be real-time presence. Beyond just what people like, users will discover what people are currently doing right now in the metaverse so that you will be able to join in on the shared experience. For example, right now you can log-in to Clubhouse and decide which room to enter based on where the people you follow are currently participating. Or, your group of friends can currently jump between different gaming experience on Roblox.
Layer 3 – Creator Economy
This layer is for all the tech that creators utilize to build the various experiences available in the multiverse. Creative economy is where the makers and creators use design tools, apps, asset markets and workflow platforms.
When the internet was first being developed, any creator essentially also had to be a coder and develop their programming and tools from scratch. Later, web app-frameworks like Ruby on Rails made it easier to develop web applications, and libraries like DirectX and Open GL made it possible to render 3D graphics without getting into all the intricacies of coding.
In the metaverse generation, creators will have at their disposal a variety of templates, tools, and marketplaces to create their web tech. For example, today you can use Shopify to launch and run a fully-functioning e-commerce site without having to deal with code. Or, you can use Unity or Unreal to craft games utilizing the tools of their studio environments.
The tools bring more opportunities and decision-making powers to the creators, enabling a true creator economy.
Layer 4 – Spatial Computing
Spatial computing refers to the blending of physical and virtual spaces. Whether it’s making online 3D spaces more manipulable and uncannily “real” or augmenting the real world with more digital experiences and information, spatial computing erodes the barriers that exist between physical and virtual spaces. The spatial computing layer refers to 3D engines and programs, AR, VR, XR, and mapping.
3D engines such as Unity and Unreal already create animations that evermore closely mimic the experience of physical reality. Nvidia provides an omniverse where creators can collaborate in an interoperable 3D space. And, geospatial mapping such as Cesium, Descartes Labs, and Niantic Planet-Scale AR interpret both inside and outside worlds.
This layer also includes the Internet of things (IoT), which includes the rise of biometric applications for health and fitness. It also includes voice recognition and gesture recognition technology
Layer 5 – Decentralization
Unlike the science fiction dystopias portrayed in Snow Crash or Ready Player One in which the future would be controlled by some centralized authority, a key feature of the metaverse is that it will be decentralized, open, and distributed. Decentralization includes blockchain technology as well as smart contracts, open-source platforms, and the possibility of a self-sovereign digital identity.
We’re already seeing the development of blockchains for NFT games built on Ethereum. The rise of Web3 and decentralized finance (DeFi) help liberate financial assets from centralized control.
Companies such as Wolf3D and Crucible are making possible 3D avatar platforms. Ion and Evernym are tackling the challenge of self-sovereign identity in apps and games based on a wallet not an authority.
Layer 6 – Human Interface
The future may or may not belong to robots, but in the metaverse humans are already becoming robotized. The interface between digital tech and human bodies has already arrived and is becoming more prevalent.
Human interface refers to all the technology that extends our physical bodies with digital tech. It includes VR headsets, smart glasses, neural networks, haptics and wearables.
Oculus Quest already shows where future tech is going, as well as nascent smart contact lenses that not only will perform all the functions of a smartphone but literally transform how we see the world around us. 3D printed wearables, biosensors and interfaces between brains and computers expand our bodies with digital capabilities.
Layer 7 – Infrastructure
The infrastructure of the metaverse is all the technology that enables, connects, and powers our digital devices, ultimately making possible everything in the surrounding layers. Infrastructure is the underlying tech and network components such as data centers, cloud computing, wireless, materials and processing.
Infrastructure includes the development of 5G and 6G computing built with microchips that are just getting denser and faster. We’re also seeing the evolution from cloud computing to edge computing, with computation and data storage brought closer to the locations where data is produced and used.