What Are the Differences between Web3 and the Metaverse?

Craig Beddis, CEO and Co-Founder of Hadean, offers an explanation and looks at how web3 is edging closer to completing Neal Stephenson's vision of the internet becoming the metaverse.

Technology jargon has a tendency to churn out words such that workers at the Oxford Dictionary could sue for repetitive strain injuries.

But in the case of the metaverse and web3, these ‘buzzwords’ don’t just owe themselves to aggressive marketing, and instead are much more indicative of a number of changes in technology that are verified with new examples everyday.

In a sentence, the metaverse is an evolution in how we interact with the web, characterised by advances in 3D and spatial computing. This technological shift is part of a broader evolution known as web3, where the foundational infrastructure of the internet is becoming more distributed and decentralised. Let’s begin with looking at a little history of the words, so we can understand just where they came from and how they interplay.

In the 1980s, sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson imagined in his novel ‘Snow Crash’, a future where people could inhabit virtual avatars and interact in a digital world, essentially as a virtual reality successor to the internet. Fast forward to 2003, when ‘Second Life’ was released. It was heavily noted at the time that Second Life was not simply a video game, but instead a virtual world platform. Often dubbed as the very first ‘metaverse’, it allowed people to create avatars and enter a world in which they could create things and interact with each other. There was no objective or ‘completion’, but rather an experience of an online digital world.

So if that was nearly 20 years ago, why is it now that we’re hearing so much about the metaverse again? Because new technologies are enabling us to make it far more immersive and scalable than previously. Perhaps most importantly, web3 is edging closer to completing Stephenson’s vision of the internet becoming the metaverse. So what is driving web3 and how is it doing this?

Web3 is named as such due to the widely accepted key iterations of internet evolution. The first phase, the dawning of the internet, consisted of static, read only pages viewed through a desktop. Then along came ‘web 2.0’ which allowed people to engage and contribute to pages, exponentially increasing the amount of content found on the web. This of course was dominated by social media, with the interaction changing from desktop to mobile. The computing infrastructure also changed with this iteration, as it went from on-site servers to the cloud. Lastly, the data that made up the internet also changed drastically in its make up, with the emergence of high volumes of unstructured ‘big’ data.

During this change then, we had three key layers through which the web changed: interaction, computation and information. The reason that people believe web3 is arriving, is because each of these is going through significant change once again.

At the interaction level, wearables and augmented and virtual reality devices are offering new ways to interact across the web as a new alternative to 2D screens. At the computational level, distributed cloud, edge computing and 5G are providing methods to access much greater compute power, particularly when scaling across different distributed environments. And finally blockchain is changing how we structure data across the internet, with decentralisation as the name of the game. This ‘stack’ was recently illustrated nicely by Deloitte here.

OK, so the technology around the internet has changed. But what exactly has this got to do with the metaverse again? The metaverse was envisaged as a virtual world in which you could enter and conduct in a way that mirrored the physical world. With web3 technology, this is now possible and moreover, the internet that web3 is enabling is beginning to look a lot like it…

Instead of traditional chat rooms or social forums, we’re seeing people socialise in 3D virtual worlds like Roblox or Decentraland. Likewise, other usages are quickly unfolding. Virtual events and music concerts, workspaces, business conferences to name a few are seeing new opportunities made possible by web3 and the metaverse. Making these experiences true to the vision of the metaverse requires few technological challenges to be solved: how do we make it so the worlds can have more complex interaction than previously? How do we sufficiently network them so more people can be connected together in the same one? How do we then connect these different worlds so they form one seamless experience? How do we make it so experiencing these worlds truly feels like you’re in one of them?

For each of these, web3 has changed what tools metaverse builders have to hand. Complexity, scale of worlds, numbers of users and continuity of experience are essentially computation and networking problems, both of which are changing in web3 with the arrival of distributed cloud, edge and 5G. Worlds can be bigger, more detailed, more populated and simply have much more going on in them. Increasing the immersion at the interaction layer is also being addressed by web3, where you could use VR to gain a first person perspective. OK, so you’ve got your world, what about if you wanted to own something in it? How could we possibly verify ownership of something like that? Blockchain, another key part of web3 can account for this.

It is evident then, that web3 is the technological development that has made the metaverse possible. Much of what we may have done in the past over the internet, we shall do instead in the metaverse – and this is all thanks to the technology of web3.

By Craig Beddis, CEO and Co-Founder of Hadean.

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