Metaverse or Crypto-cities?



For the record, Neal Stephenson coined the term Metaverse in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. In less than three decades, fiction has turned into virtual reality - or as some hatted singers would say, virtual insanity. Back in 2003, residents in Second Life already experienced the creation of their avatar evolving in a virtual universe. Second Life was a successful forefather (or betaverse) of today’s metaverse, with no set objective, which made it differ from a video game, but with a closed-loop economy backed by a virtual currency, representing up to $567 million in 2009. At that time, Second Life's residents could already find real jobs at real companies such as L'Oréal, or become real estate tycoons converting their Linden tokens into tangible fiat currency savings. Since then, the gushing rise of new technologies such as cloud, crypto-currencies, NFTs, and AR/VR has offered a stupendous opportunity to enhance the hybrid user experience in entangled 3D real and virtual life environments. But overall, the Matrix-like framework and overarching principles of Second Life may remain pretty much the same in what is bombastically called the “next phase of the internet”. What is strikingly new in 2021 is the speed of massive adoption beyond geeks' communities, the financial dry powder invested by the venture capital industry in metaverses’ foundations, from hardware to the payments of digital assets, and the vivid eagerness of global brands to jump into the bandwagon. The most of us are simply not ready for the upcoming tsunami. Business-wise, metaverses may be prone to enable unsuspected growth levers and offer new market outcomes to certain traditional industries, such as luxury and fashion, art, or gaming, unlocking thus a market which was at first sight predominantly reserved for blockchain, cryptos or NFTs expert companies. And yes, there might be several metaverses despite the heralded “winner takes all” ambitions of certain deep-pocketed newcomers, letting aside Meta’s (goodbye Facebook) erratic strategy so far. For example, crafting one single metaverse that would encompass both a fancy entertainment-driven content and corporate applications relating to collaborative work is indeed quite a challenge, requiring close but uncertain cooperation among competing tech giants. By the way, how precisely would the Sandbox virtual universe interact with Meta? More importantly, how will metaverse change our real world life? Seoul officially intends to become the first city to enter the metaverse, which is far from being just an anecdote. This fact confirms that metaverses foreshadow the dawn of a new social and societal model, both exciting and terrifying, with sprawling ramifications that may deeply affect our daily virtual and real life through unprecedented data-greedy strategies. In a nutshell, next gen metaverses aim at offering a hybrid life experience by bringing certain aspects of our real life into virtual worlds. Conversely, the reported purpose of crypto-cities is to rely on digitization to enhance our real city life as citizens. The crypto-city alternative raises a seemingly relevant question. Do we want to put a virtual world or an actual city at the center of tomorrow’s life? Let’s glimpse through the looking-glass. Real life experiments in emerging crypto-cities, such as crypto-friendly Miami for example, are already numerous. In fact, two major paths could actually be further explored, from blockchain-secured voting to new crypto-based economic and tax models in real cities. The first one relates to quadratic funding at city level. Quadratic funding optimizes matching funds by prioritizing projects based on the number of people who contributed. City tokens could also create economic alignment between residents and the city. For example, the coin held by residents become more valuable as the city becomes more attractive, without unduly favoring the most wealthy. The second radical experiment refers to digital democracy through real-time quadratic voting. Crypto-cities might extend the range of optionalities available to revise our social models, based on restored trust in a political system benefitting from the transparency offered by blockchain-based solutions. Please read Vitalik Buterin's article (1) on crypto-cities for further details on this fascinating outlook. At the end of the day, the central scenario for tomorrow is that we may have to cope with both addictive and data-voracious metaverses, and some ring-fenced or interconnected crypto-cities. Indeed, metaverses and crypto-cities seem not incompatible since they have a diverging focus, respectively on virtual and real worlds. They eventually have in common to accelerate the blur of the remaining boundaries between real and virtual universes, forcing now most corporations to adapt their business model to the forthcoming hybridation of their markets. (1): Crypto-cities by Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum co-founder

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