The Metaverse Will Drive Huge Innovation (And Facebook Isn’t The Metaverse)

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Here’s a hot take: The metaverse isn’t what Mark Zuckerberg says it is. It is not a place or alternate reality that we will all migrate to. It’s not a game. It’s not a land grab (although it does happen). And it’s not just a huge opportunity for branding (although there are many opportunities for brands to thrive).

The truth is that the metaverse is a decentralized system that has a lot in common with peer-to-peer services like Napster, Skype, and BitTorrent. Oh, and not Facebook and Meta.

wait what?

In decentralized peer-to-peer networks, all technologists come together and create the architecture that drives innovation. And the same goes for the metaverse.

I’ll give you two examples relevant to understanding the metaverse (full disclosure, I had the pleasure of working with both companies earlier in my career).

Founded in 2003, Skype was part of a wave of technologies (including BitTorrent, Kazaa, and Napster) that connected individual computers in an automated, reliable way. These networks were optimized for bandwidth and reduced the bottlenecks for tapping into popular content. Why was Skype able to rise above the competition as a major player in the market? Peer-to-peer technology. It created a network of nodes that enabled an ever-active hyper-efficient community and a connected network. This meant that it was not bound by the restrictions of a telecom provider.

Of course, when Skype moved to the Azure platform, the core technology changed. But when it first arrived, Skype was revolutionary, unlocking an incredible burst of innovation that continues to make our lives better today.

Or take Spotify. Like Skype, it used peer-to-peer technology to store and distribute content. Decentralization allowed the service to gain millions of users and deliver great audio, and the service eventually became ubiquitous. The fingerprints of world-changing peer-to-peer decentralized innovation and disruption are all over the internet.

And that brings us back to the metaverse

The real promise of the metaverse is new data-rich experiences and services that are faster, better, and cheaper, be that in finance, virtual socialization, business meetings, healthcare, or anything else we can imagine. The metaverse will include all of these use cases and they will all be decentralized. In fact, decentralization is not just a feature of an open metaverse, it is a core principle that avoids bottlenecks and enables interoperability that traverses wall gardens.

Over the past 20 years we have seen peer-to-peer or decentralized technologies start out as marginalized technology built by geeks for geeks, be that file sharing, peer-to-peer music or crypto mining. But these technologies need to be seen through the context of the times and how they’ve improved the user experience, whether that’s enabling free calls and video or instant-on music services like Spotify.

The next generation of peer-to-peer services will allow even greater participation of users who, in a decentralized metaverse, can interact directly with each other and trust the network for things like money transfer and social media rather than relying on a centralized operator or service. We’re looking at you, Meta and Facebook.

Napster was a decentralized network with a central index. And that’s what Facebook is trying to build. Napster was the center of the network and it failed. While BitTorrent, a truly decentralized network, is a self-driving and self-governing technology that powers a rich existing ecosystem.

History shows that open networks win

The architecture of the metaverse will be more like that of BitTorrent – or better yet, blockchain. Blockchain is decentralized and truly distributed. We don’t even know who created the ledger. There is no central index. And blockchain has already unleashed an explosion of innovation that will only grow in the coming years.

You might be tempted to roll your eyes at blockchain or crypto or NFTs, but don’t think of those as fully formed products just yet. They are prototypes of the operating system for how we move forward.

And just in case you think the peer-to-peer decentralized connection is still a challenge, consider who invested in the original technologies and who is investing in the same space today: Tim Draper. He was a strong believer in peer-to-peer technology in companies like Skype, and he also believes that blockchain and bitcoin solutions are better, faster and cheaper than fiat currencies. Same man, different year, natural evolution.

We wouldn’t have free video calling if we didn’t have peer-to-peer. We wouldn’t have instant music anywhere in the world without peer-to-peer. And we wouldn’t have cryptocurrencies without peer-to-peer. Even the internet wouldn’t exist without it! All of these technologies that we now take for granted have their roots in decentralization.

And the metaverse is just the next step on that journey.

Faisal Galaria is the CEO of Blippar, a technology company specializing in AR. He is also a former executive at Skype and Spotify.

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