I’ve worked at Meta, and I’ve thought a great deal about the metaverse. The core question that I’ve been asked by people as I pitch my platform is of two forms. First, there is how on earth did Zuckerberg spend that much money. Second, what on earth is Zuckerberg thinking? I generally give a pithy answer to the first question, but the second question has a simple answer. It’s his company, and he believes in the metaverse.
Time will tell how Zuckerberg navigates the choppy waters ahead, especially given the brutal blow delivered by the marketplace to the stock price. Thankfully, for myself, I watched Enron implode and learned the value of dollar cost averaging. I’m not sure what will happen in the long term, but I do believe in the metaverse. However, we really must define what the metaverse is.
I’ll avoid the fluffy nature of the metaverse, and I’ll focus on the technical aspect. From a technical viewpoint, the metaverse is powered by a single universal game engine and game server. It’s one runtime that can power all experiences whilst bringing people together. For the skeptics, I’d argue the client runtime already exists in a weaker form: the internet browser.
However, the browser is missing a bunch of things. It’s a solo experience rather than a multi-player experience. This is one way to think about the metaverse application is that it is a multiplayer browser. Instead of visiting a website with your unique view, you visit a shared environment. For example, there is something special about having a meeting in VR that is radically different. You’re fully present and not distracted, and you can get a sense of this by running a meeting in Horizon’s Workplace. Granted, if you like to check out during meetings, then this is a bad thing.
Thinking about the metaverse this way, the core investment question is whether or not Meta is going to build the new runtime on any reasonable schedule towards any meaningful audience. I’m highly skeptical of the current strategy which is one reason I left. I voted with my feet.
But! I believe the future is bright for the metaverse. The key question that I would use to guide technical asset development would be “which minimum browser extensions are needed.” Meta should look at its current efforts and boil them down to a minimal set of browser extensions. From an evolutionary perspective, the metaverse should go through an ActiveX phase.
The browser team is focused on bringing forth standards, but the standards are such that you can use the browser to build full apps. These standards are too low level. Rather, there are some evolutionary gaps to fill in like making an easy baseline possible. The browser needs an opinionated API for building the 3D environment, rendering people, and making sense of the existing 2D content. I’ll go on record that I did the responsible thing and promoted X3D heavily where I failed.
Unfortunately, these extensions only bring forth a 3D web which isn’t the metaverse. We also need a new type of infrastructure to easily connect people, and this is something that I accidentally discovered. Granted, I discovered it on my own time as I was building out board game stuff. At Meta, I failed to transcribe my thinking into a meaningful way since I had a scattering of ideas. However, after a year, my original board game effort is starting to take on a real form. The infrastructure is maturing, and my 2023 goal is to make an actual game.
The metaverse needs two networking layers. The first layer is the real-time person synchronization using something like WebRTC which has to be exceptionally low latency; this brings people into a shared environment well. The second layer is a transactional coordination layer, and it isn’t powered by your daddy’s database either. This transactional layer needs to be easy such that people can coordinate and play together.
The “Hello world” application of this transactional layer is chat. Now, you may say that chat is a solved problem, and ok… sure. However, there is chasm between hosting a traditional website versus hosting a chat application, and the cost to cross that gap is non-trivial. The metaverse, in my view, should radically change the cost function. Not only should chat be radically cheaper, but every type of application as well.
Now, this is where I enter crazy land because I’m just working on board games, right? Well… I believe that board games are a representative model of every type of online interaction possible. I believe that building this infrastructure is akin to simplifying the infrastructure for the planet. Time will tell if, like Zuckerberg, I’m a madman or messiah; however, the journey is the reward. I’ve spent nearly a year building my dream infrastructure, and I love it even though it is not where I want it to be.
You can play with my infrastructure today at https://ide.adama-platform.com/ and launch a dynamic website today. You can start with chat, hearts, tic-tac-toe in 20 seconds as your base. It’s going to be ugly, rough, and poorly documented… However, I believe I’ve stumbled into the infrastructure which could power the metaverse.