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Review: Making a Metaverse That Matters, by Wagner James Au
Also, my next adventures in the metaverse.
Greetings to all readers and subscribers, and special greetings to the paid subscribers!
Please scroll down for the main topic of this newsletter. But first:
I’m still in LA but I’ll fly back home in a few days. I guess I’ll fly over this LA beach where I’ve taken one of my best pictures ever:
So here’s my review of of “Making a Metaverse That Matters: From Snow Crash & Second Life to A Virtual World Worth Fighting For” (2023), by Wagner James Au, to be published on June 27. If you like it, please feel free to republish it for any purpose, with attribution.
I have been reading an advance reader copy of “Making a Metaverse That Matters: From Snow Crash & Second Life to A Virtual World Worth Fighting For” (2023), by Wagner James Au, to be published on June 27.
Au is the editor of the popular metaverse blog “New World Notes” (NWN) and the author of “The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World” (2008).
In the second half of the Stone Age of the 2000s I used to run a company called metafuturing that developed Second Life sims and events for high-profile clients worldwide. I used to read NWN daily then, and I continued to read it now and then after closing that chapter. Au has been one of the more perceptive and insightful voices in the metaverse industry for two decades now.
Now I’m rekindling my interest in all things metaverse and my burning question is, WTF did we do wrong and how to do it right this time? I thought I could find answers, or at least ideas, in “Making a Metaverse That Matters.” So I asked Au for an advance reader copy, and he graciously sent me one.
A note on terminology: Au doesn’t reserve the term metaverse for virtual worlds used with Virtual Reality (VR) headsets like Meta Quest, but uses it for all virtual worlds. So for example, Second Life is a metaverse platform that can be used in VR but is mostly accessed through flat screens.
I totally agree. VR headsets are cool, but they don’t have a large user base yet. Of course, it is important that virtual worlds support VR headsets for the users who have and enjoy using them, and perhaps VR headsets will be really popular one day. But virtual worlds must be usable and enjoyable with the flat screens of computers, tablets, and smartphones. This is and will remain a need-to-have requirement.
Au’s book begins with the source of all things metaverse: Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel “Snow Crash” (1992). Au points out that the metaverse was effectively designed by Stephenson for the novel, that Stephenson’s insights are still valid (but often ignored), and that Stephenson’s original metaverse is still the goal that the Virtual Reality (VR) industry is striving to reach.
Then Au moves to Second Life and his own adventures as an embedded journalist in the virtual world. Au tries to make sense of the fast rise and the hard fall of Second Life, the first virtual world that almost achieved mass appeal. I remember those times: prospect clients were calling us all the time, and then all of a sudden the phone stopped ringing. Au elaborates on the hows, the whys, and the lessons learned.
Interesting upcoming metaverse platforms are covered in the following chapters. In the chapter that I found most interesting, Au goes back to Stephenson, who is among the creators of a new platform called Lamina1. This is not a virtual world (yet), but a blockchain-based infrastructure for the metaverse. To showcase Lamina1, Stephenson and his team are also building a new virtual world. All this is still in a very early stage, but Stephenson’s project seems worth following. Join the Lamina1 Discord server to follow the project.
The book is packed with snippets of conversations with metaverse builders and influencers, including Stephenson and, of course, Second Life creator Philip Rosedale. There are human interest stories as well, some very moving. And if you love jazz, listen to the Second Life performances of the late lamented jazz musician Charles Bristol, and prepare to meet him in the book.
In the last chapter, titled “Metaverse Lessons for the Next 30 Years,” Au offers important advice to the metaverse industry. The first and foremost lesson is that the user community must come before everything else. I believe the industry should listen to Au carefully.
I agree with most of what Au says in the book, which I highly recommend to all metaverse developers, operators, and users. On the minus side, some of my favorite technologies (e.g. Croquet) are not covered. I agree with Au that the metaverse should be One Big World (as opposed to many small worlds) as in Stephenson’s original vision, but I think a network of independent but interlinked and interoperable virtual worlds, with portable avatars, could achieve this goal better and more robustly than one big virtual world.
My favorite metaverse technology: Croquet has what it takes to create a metaverse - a network of independent but interlinked and interoperable virtual worlds, with portable avatars. I have recently met Yoshiki Ohshima, co-founder and chief scientist of Croquet, who has answered my many questions about Croquet.
Back home, I’ll work on my Croquet microverse. loosely inspired by the launch area at Starbase, the home of SpaceX’s Starship development and testing. I want it to be a boutique creation, lightweight and efficient but visually appealing and inspiring. Won’t be easy, but I’ll find the time (don’t expect it soon though, this is a hobby project that will take a few months at least).