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Barriers to the Metaverse: Part 2

In a self-fulfilling “Part 2” to our “Barriers to the Metaverse” series, we continue to explore the factors that could impact the Metaverse and potential challenges that might need to be overcome before a boundaryless, persistent, immersive, virtual world can be fully realised. In our previous post, we discussed the underlying network infrastructure required to power the Metaverse. Next, we’re looking at open standards and interoperability.

First of all, what do we mean by interoperability? Interoperability is defined as a characteristic of a product or system to work with other products or systems. For example, any web browser, be it Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Apple Safari, can open any web page, that’s interoperability.

Interoperability is built on the concept of open standards, agreed ways of doing things that are accessible and usable by anyone. The internet is built on open standards, because they allow devices, services, and applications to work together. Take the Internet protocol suite, commonly known as TCP/IP, which describes how devices using the internet should communicate with one another. TCP/IP protocols are available to everyone and are developed and changed by consensus.

In the Metaverse, interoperability means that anyone, anywhere, can use any device, such as VR googles, haptic gloves, haptic suit, or a brain-computer interface, to enter different environments owned by different companies. Today, this means environments like Horizon Worlds, Horizon Venues, Decentraland, Minecraft, and Roblox.

Moreover, it means that your avatar, your virtual representation of yourself, is interoperable in any Metaverse, i.e., the characteristics of your avatar remain the same, the clothes the hair, the accessories, but perhaps look and feel of your avatar can change to suit the aesthetic of a certain Metaverse – think the Lego-esque look of Roblox versus the more humanoid form of Fortnite. Ready Player Me is an avatar creation system that allows users to maintain a consistent identity across environments, such as VRChat and Animaze.

Why is this important? It’s important because the ability to move unhindered between worlds is part of the fundamental promise of the Metaverse. In a future Metaverse with a seemingly infinite number of worlds to explore, we’re going to want to retain our avatar’s characteristics, and who is going to want a near infinite number of login details? We want to be able to move from Meta’s Horizon Worlds, to Horizon Venues, to Disney’s Metaverse, to the “L’epique” Metaverse, and to any other Metaverse, as easily as walking through a door - Taiwanese company HTC’s VIVERSE is a good example of how this might work, as it allows users to travel “seamlessly” between different (HTC) virtual worlds via an in-Metaverse portal.

The key interoperability barrier to be overcome will probably not be the development of open standards and interoperability itself, after all, the Metaverse is the next version of the internet, and the interoperability issues have largely been solved thanks to protocols like TCP/IP. The key interoperability barrier is likely to a business problem, where the different companies competing in the Metaverse fail to reach economic alignment, whereby they establish the economic incentives required to participate together in an interoperable ecosystem.

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