The seven layers of the metaverse
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With the convergence of physical and digital worlds, the metaverse is indeed pushing the boundaries of our digital capabilities. Everything from human identity, personality and reputation to assets, emotions and history can be interacted with, controlled and experienced in the virtual reality (VR) of the metaverse in entirely novel ways. What end users experience, as a result, is pure magic! Poised to enter the mainstream, the metaverse is capturing the attention of investors from across the globe with obvious opportunities for early adopters.
With the metaverse gaining prominence as a revenue-generating opportunity among investors, there is an obvious need to understand this virtual universe down to the intrinsic layers of its architecture. According to the popular author and entrepreneur Jon Radoff, who has extensively been writing on Web3 and related topics, the metaverse has seven core layers. These seven layers represent different phases of the value chain of the metaverse market. Although simplistic, this is a systematic approach to describing the framework of the metaverse. This insight takes you through each of these seven layers to deepen your understanding of the metaverse and help you tap into its true potential. However, before we dig that deep, let us understand what the metaverse is.
- What is metaverse?
- Seven layers of the metaverse
What is metaverse?
The metaverse is a virtual universe that represents a new frontier where VR, augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), gaming, social interaction and commerce come together and create experiences that bridge the gap between real and digital worlds. That is why many view the metaverse and associated Web3 technologies such as the blockchain, NFTs, cryptocurrencies and decentralized computation as the birth of a new internet. What does the metaverse have in store for end users? Access to business opportunities, immersive social and personal virtual experiences and answers to many physical limitations.
Seven layers of the metaverse
Contrary to what many believe, the concept of the metaverse does not limit itself to being a 3D manifestation of the real world for our passive viewing. It will rather be a true representation of spatial dimensions and distances and will involve the dematerialization of physical objects made possible by photorealistic graphic elements.
With the metaverse dematerializing the physical space, the limitations that physicality presents might cease to exist within it. The VR of the metaverse has the potential to provide experiences that the real world can never offer.
This is an important reason many notable brands now put their money into massive interactive live events or MILEs. These events hosted on platforms like Roblox and Decentraland offer a glimpse of how events and activities in the metaverse would manifest interactivity. Failing to get a front-row ticket to a concert? In the metaverse, all tickets are going to offer a front-row experience.
The metaverse is all about experiences. The kind of buzz it has created and the investments it has attracted are all because of the lifelike experiences it is poised to offer. From games and social interactions to shopping, theater and e-sports, a true metaverse can transform a range of human experiences with its immersive and real-time nature.
This layer talks about the experiential discoveries that result from a continuous “push and pull” of information. It is this information “push and pull” that acquaints users with new experiences. Whereas “pull” represents an inbound system where users proactively look for information and experiences, “push” is more outbound and involves processes that inform users about what experiences await them in the metaverse. The discovery layer is, in fact, the most lucrative for businesses. Here are some ways in which inbound and outbound discoveries take place.
- Community-driven content
- Search engines
- Real-time presence
- Display advertising
- Emails and social media
Community-driven content will be a major inbound means for discovering metaverse experiences. It is, in fact, one of the most cost-effective means for those interested in learning about the metaverse.
If people are interested in something, they spread the word about it. They talk about its concept and, experiences and all the pertinent events they participate in. Any such content can easily become a marketing asset because it can be shared quickly. In the context of the metaverse, too, such community-driven content can help spread knowledge about its concepts, supporting technologies and experiences.
Real-time presence is another powerful facilitator of inbound discovery. Discovery about metaverse experiences is not going to result from content alone but also from knowing what other people interested in the metaverse are currently doing. After all, the metaverse is about interpersonal interactions through shared experiences.
When you log into Steam, Battle.net, Xbox or PlayStation, you can see what your friends are currently playing. These gaming platforms have tactfully used real-time presence to boost in-game interactivity. Nongaming platforms like Clubhouse have also leveraged the power and flexibility of real-time presence by allowing users to choose which room they want to join based on their friends’ location. In the metaverse, real-time presence will play a critical role in enhancing interactive experiences for users, which in turn will boost their understanding of this virtual universe.
The metaverse can digitize social structures and put a decentralized identity ecosystem in place that would shift power from a handful of monolithic entities to social groups, allowing for the frictionless exchange of information and experiences.
The most effective outbound discovery means include display advertising, notifications, emails and social media. The discovery of metaverse experiences can also result from metaverse creators putting relevant information out in front of the audience through outbound means.
3. Creator economy
The vision of the metaverse is to create an immersive 3D world with interconnected virtual spaces that would mirror reality. These spaces, powered by AR, VR and other similar technologies, will be specifically designed to attract visitors who will be able to do virtually anything within them. It is easy to see that there is tremendous potential for economic growth in this virtual world. It is almost certain that we will witness significant growth in the number of companies creating metaverse spaces as the idea of the metaverse becomes more mainstream.
Content creators will play a key role in creating this new world. They have been achieving great success on social media platforms and will continue to be a major driver of growth in the virtual world of the metaverse. Experts believe the metaverse will make the creator economy a multibillion-dollar industry. And who constitutes the creator economy? Independent creative people who produce digital content such as images and videos and digital goods such as e-books, webinars, art and blog posts.
It is only natural that this class of creators will try to capitalize on the metaverse as it matures. They will create their own metaverse spaces where their audiences will be able to connect, hang out and interact with them. With technological advances, creators will be able to migrate their followers to the metaverse seamlessly. However, to make the most out of the metaverse, creators will need to focus on skill building.
Creators will be able to turn the metaverse into a revenue-generating opportunity by
- Selling commercial goods, NFTs, and IRL products.
- Displaying and selling NFT collections.
- Collaborating with brands and promoting them.
- Influencing buying behavior by making their avatars wear virtual fashion apparel and accessories like trainers or clothes.
- Hosting parties and get-togethers for their followers for strengthening relationships and boosting sales.
The metaverse will open up a promising new market for the creator economy. And the best part is it is a win-win for all: the creators, the user community and the metaverse.
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4. Spatial computing
Spatial computing has already made our lives easier with virtual assistants and ride-hailing apps. It has made fashion fun and shopping more convenient by allowing shoppers to try on clothes in virtual changing rooms. Now, spatial computing is all set to enable you to work, shop and socialize as avatars in a rich, 3-dimensional digital world that mimics the real one.
Spatial computing combines AR, VR and MR to bring the idea of the “metaverse” to life. With spatial computing, the vision of a parallel, three-dimensional, virtual universe that interacts with the real world and never shuts down can be realized. For instance, a game that uses spatial computing will enable you to play it against the backdrop of your immediate real-world surroundings. The characters in the game will not just detect the physical objects around you but will also be able to interact with them, like sitting on a sofa in your living room. Essentially, spatial computing allows you to interact with both the virtual and the real world simultaneously in real time.
Spatial computing has grown to be an important class of technology over time that allows us to access and manipulate 3D spaces for improved experiences.
For spatial computing to work as desired, specialized software and hardware are required. In this section, you will only learn about the software components needed; the hardware part will be dealt with in the “human interface” layer discussed later in the article. Various aspects of the software layer that power the metaverse have been listed here:
- 3D engines for displaying geometry and animation (Unity and Unreal Engine).
- Geospatial mapping and object recognition for mapping and interpreting the real and virtual worlds.
- Voice and gesture recognition.
- Internet of Things for data integration from devices.
- Human biometrics for identification purposes.
- Next-generation user interfaces designed to support concurrent information streams and analysis.
According to Roundhill Investments, the metaverse industry will grow at a compound annual rate of 13.1% in the years to come. This growth will continue to accelerate as the metaverse becomes more widely accessible.
Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, views the metaverse as a “multi-trillion-dollar part of the world economy,” which like the internet in its current form, would not be under any particular entity’s ownership.
However, currently, the biggest tech companies entering the space are creating all the buzz around the metaverse. Clearly, major corporations will play an important role in the further development and evolution of the metaverse. This raises the following question: Will they create the same privacy and data protection issues that plague the internet today?
Let us take the example of Facebook. The company’s business model is based on user data, and it uses the data it gathers to enable third parties to show targeted advertising to its users.
Imagine a corporation or centralized entity controlling the whole metaverse. This situation would create infinite opportunities for the controlling authority to analyze user activities within the metaverse and use the resulting data as needed. The authority might then design the working of the metaverse in such a way that it benefits advertisers and businesses by giving them access to these data.
If the data were stored centrally, it would be difficult for regular users to verify who had access to it and under what conditions. This could lead to security issues, which would, in turn, upset the users.
Blockchain technology is a revolutionary way to address privacy and data protection issues that might plague a centralized metaverse.
Innumerable blockchain-based applications, also called dApps, are being created and used across industries, benefiting from the blockchain’s inherent quality of being secure and decentralized.
Decentralized finance (DeFi) is a way to make financial products available via a decentralized blockchain network. Anyone can use DeFi wallets such as MetaMask and Trust Wallet without going through banks or brokerages. A government-issued ID, social security number or proof that you are a resident of your country is not required to be able to use a DeFi wallet. This also boosts privacy by ensuring anonymity.
A host of decentralized metaverse projects are already using blockchain technology to provide user-owned experiences that resist censorship and ensure interoperability.
Decentraland is perhaps the most well-known example of the decentralized metaverse. It is a decentralized virtual world running on the Ethereum blockchain and controlled by a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO), which can be voted on to alter its policies.
Individuals and corporations are already grabbing land in these decentralized universes of the metaverse.
To realize the full potential of the metaverse, it will be necessary to have a transparent and traceable way to perform transactions and interactions. Both blockchain and cryptoassets offer a solution to this problem. NFTs, meanwhile, will ensure there are no asset ownership disputes within the metaverse. Although the metaverse is certainly remarkable on its own, blockchain, cryptoassets and NFTs will certainly play a key role in enabling this technology to reach its full potential.
6. Human interface
The human interface layer talks about the hardware or the devices that will enable users to experience the true magic of the metaverse.
Technology is slowly bringing us closer to our devices. In a 1985 essay titled “A Cyborg Manifesto” by renowned scholar of technology and science studies, Donna Haraway, the reality of the shrinking distances between humans and gadgets was highlighted. The author introduced the concept of a “cyborg,” a human with physical abilities beyond human limitations enabled by certain mechanical elements built into their body. What she envisioned in 1985 is turning into a reality in the present times. As gadgets get smaller, smarter and highly portable, they are coming closer to our bodies, probably turning us into partial cyborgs. Are we heading toward becoming complete cyborgs? Although we do not know the answer to this question yet, our smartwatches and smart glasses give us a good reason to believe we are. This growing proximity between humans and machines is, nonetheless, imperative for an immersive, lifelike experience of the metaverse. With advanced spatial computing and the right interface, we will soon be able to experience the metaverse just as we experience the physical world.
This layer pertains to the technological infrastructure that will be required to create a fully functional and interoperable metaverse.
Five technology clusters power the metaverse:
The computing power and network, including spatial positioning algorithms, edge computing, GPU servers, real-time network transmission and virtual scene fitting
Video gaming technologies, including 3D game engines like Unreal Engine and Unity, for the creation of resources such as animations, sounds and images
Display technologies such as AR, VR, MR, ER and XR not just for an immersive audiovisual experience but also to adapt the experience to users’ changing tastes and preferences with time
Blockchain technology. Supported by decentralized value transfer mechanisms, settlement platforms and smart contracts, it will assure value ownership and circulation. With decentralization, an economic system featuring transparency, efficiency and stability will be realized
As far as hard technology is concerned, the metaverse stands on the foundation of powerful computers, integrated circuits, network equipment, communication components, advanced display systems, precision freedom optical systems and mixed reality equipment as well as sophisticated, high-resolution cameras.
With tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft overtly showing their obsession with the metaverse and investing big money to make it a reality, the metaverse has become a major talking point among interested investors, technology enthusiasts and commoners alike. Everybody wants to know what the metaverse is, where it exists and what its capabilities are. However, comprehending the metaverse is somewhat challenging, considering it still does not exist in its true, full-blown form. A great way to understand the metaverse is by understanding the seven layers that make it up. Each layer represents a key aspect of the metaverse and cannot operate in isolation from the other six layers. Breaking down the metaverse in layers has another important benefit: you understand how the layers interact with and complement one another to create the expansive network of 3D environments that the metaverse is.
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