It’s Thursday, October 13, 2022 in Portland, Oregon and I have a headache and am grumpy, but I’m going to write anyway.
Okay, so hear me out.
I had a long overdue catchup with a very good friend and it turns out that they’ve spent the last year or so building game-y things that include the words “NFT” (just going to rip that band-aid off right there) and “metaverse” (see?).
Let’s stipulate that crypto(currencies) are a shitshow, that they’re happening and won’t go away, that they’re gradually being regulated, that the people inventing/developing them are slowly, irritatingly going to discover and reinvent what most of “money” does and the institutions that have anything to do with money, that most of crypto is desperate clawing at trying to increase wealth in a time of waves hands whatever late, late, late, late, late, late stage of capitalism we are in, that there’s a bunch of things that crypto (blockchains) are being used for that could (should) just be databases instead, that yes, ethereum did finally do its shift to proof-of-stake, that otherwise (and all-wise?) the energy impact of crypto(currencies) in general is offensive and irresponsible, and so on.
So. My friend is making this game and it isn’t a massive game, but get this: it is a game, and it is not Axie Infinity. And we talked about NFTs (eh) and the metaverse and it helped a whole bunch of thoughts I’ve been having rotate and click into place.
I don’t have a good order for these, so they’re just coming out of my head in some sort of first-out, er, first-out.
In practice (i.e. this could change, but a norm is being set and followed), having “stuff” on a blockchain allows for some sort of permission-less integration. That is, the entire system is much more open to integration (in that you would generally have to do less reverse-engineering and so on) than otherwise because, well, everything is out there in the public. Duh. That is what people have been saying.
But the practical implication is that if you have, say, a game, and that you want to incorporate something about a thing, or recognize the presence or existence of a thing, then… you don’t have to spend six months to a year figuring out a business agreement with a publisher and studio and define interfaces and get a team to start figuring out the integration APIs. Broadly speaking. I know, I am hand-waving a lot.
So the vibe (sorry) is that stuff that you used to have to do (business agreements, engineering teams doing a lot of prep API work), you now don’t have to do, and it’s, in my opinion, slightly more to do with convention and custom and the spirit of the thing. Because obviously there is nothing to stop say ActivisionBlizzard from shitting a bunch of stuff onto a chain and letting you tie it to your wallet but then encumbering the whole thing in a bunch of non-blockchain, decidedly non-smart human contracts that govern usage. You can still do that, and ActivisionBlizzard is in the power dynamic where, well, they have the power to do that and you, tiny piddly indie developer, can’t stop them.
This is… a big deal? I’m not entirely sure how much of a big deal it is because there will be a bunch of people messing around with trying to sell you middleware, and obviously I have not done my homework, read the citations and yes you’re still going to need a data dictionary and whatever if I don’t know whatever’s being stored on the chain is a little json blob. Or if it’s being stored on the chain (ideally) and not just a reference to something stored elsewhere.
Anyway. So. Permissionless-by-vibe integration and open-by-vibe integration. Not by spec! By vibe! Dear god help me, I went from not using the word at all to reluctantly using it last week and now I can’t not use it, ugh.
Okay, second part, this one was super obvious in retrospect.
The Metaverse! (jazz hands)
Simple version: the metaverse is not a place, it is the in-between. Here’s why this fits, I think:
I’ve long said that I think Fortnite is “the metaverse” but that hasn’t been quite right. It is “the metaverse” in that there’s a shit ton of people there and they’re not always there to shoot each other, there’s, like, cultural events in there, too.
There’s the argument that Roblox and Minecraft are also “the metaverses” in that lots of people are in there and that you get to make things and move them around in there, which is certainly more metaverse-y than Fortnite, but not quite metaverse-y in that there’s much less of a vibe of Big Summer Concerts In Minecraft. But, you know. Thriving commercial marketplace empowering younger people to take part in capitalism! And learning to code!
Then there’s the metaverses that people have been trying to create for since forever, see: Second Life, PlayStation Home, and now Meta’s Horizon, which has the saddest Accenture office ever, complete with little Accenture people with no legs.
When people talk about some of the opportunities offered by “the metaverse”, they talk about how amazing it will be to take something from one place and then port it over to another place, as if what you really wanted was a way to digitally purchase whiteboard markers to use in a Horizons Teams Meeting that you’d be able to use in a Horizons Slack Meeting without having to also buy a set of Horizon Slack Whiteboard Markers. Imagine! Being able to use whiteboard markers in more than one virtual space, operated by different people!
And then you scale this up to, like, “imagine being able to take the chestplate armor that you’re using in Destiny and wear it to Fortnite and then simply apply a different decal for it in your Horizon Teams Meeting!” and people start scratching their heads about how exactly you’d describe the asset, how it gets rigged, how it works with whatever character model and it starts to get complicated, and that’s before anyone even says something like “and omg what about this purple energy weapon, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could use that in Horizon Jira to mark tickets as done?!?!?!”
And that, clearly, would be very difficult to do, but at least it would be fun and perhaps make Horizons somewhat more fun.
So my friend’s point was this: people keep thinking of the metaverse as a place (i.e. a noun) when perhaps it acts more like a verb. When what it means is portability, and maybe that portability gets a lot easier if we’re not so… bloody minded?
I mean, they’re just bits and bytes, I don’t know, just a json blob or whatever. Maybe what the metaverse is, in terms of the in-between bits, is the translation layer that lets you take a something and then have it in a something-else but with transmutation or, I don’t know, essential-object-characteristics. Obviously you don’t have to port your spaceship from, say, my friend’s game into Horizon: More Sticking USB Sticks Up TechnoDinosaur Asses, but what you could do is import the colour scheme or the design of that spaceship as a decal or stamp on your stuff. It doesn’t need to be a 1:1 translation/port, fuck, in whichever annoying-ass side-quest minigame incorporated into a Triple-A that’s actually a rip-off of chess or whatever, you could buy/import little models of whatever you have in some other game and you don’t have to worry about physics models or rigging or attach points or even other inherent characteristics. It. Doesn’t. Matter! It does not have to be, hilariously, literally taking an item from one room and taking it to the other room and expecting it to be the same, and once you start thinking that way, well, it gets a lot more fun and a lot easier. Certainly opens up more degrees of freedom for creativity, I think.
I can’t remember if I wrote about this already, but I am just about ready for distinct groups of my friends to move, ish, from Twitter and then set up shop in a host of different social apps.
This isn’t “move from Twitter to Discord or Slack or Mastodon” because those are different things, definitely Discord and Slack are different things than “a giant undifferentiated town square where you can be exposed to anything and can choose, kind of, what you’re exposed to”.
Here are some bits of Twitter that I am in:
Each of these groups might overlap a bit, and they certainly overlap when there’s enough of a shared-context universal-moment breaking through that it would cross multiple groups, I don’t know, stuff like That Dress (remember that?), or whatever internet drama is happening that day (Bean Dad?). Wait, I should add another bit of Twitter I’m in:
Anyway. It definitely feels like the moment is steadily approaching that bits of those groups are going to hive off and go over to their own social spaces outside Twitter.
Discord is its own thing that I’m technically in but still am not really using, Slack is its own thing (gosh I am in so many Slacks already, both social and professional). Instagram is its own thing (though increasingly a shitty mall run by Facebook where I might run into some friends), and I’m not going to TikTok to find out what’s going on with my friends. TikTok for me is more like TV. Facebook is whatever Facebook is.
I suppose what I’m saying is that Twitter is becoming gradually unbundled, that while it won’t go away with The Great Eloning, it will certainly be a different place, and that my stick-my-neck-out prediction is that different groups will end up in different places and that will be… okay? Almost as if giant global village that appears unmoderated with no clear boundaries considered harmful.
Or to put it another way, perhaps it is that a general social media network/platform with a giant undifferentiated feed (a la Twitter, Facebook, etc) will always try to create some structure (communities, circles, groups, and so on), but that those types of places are fundamentally not the vibe (sorry) nor the point of the place. The point of Twitter and Facebook was an undifferentiated (although opaquely ordered in a non-reverse-chronological way through application of algorithm [sic]), and for the value inherent in that.
What’s maybe interesting is whether there will be (thinking out loud here) a sort of container app? But again I think not, other than “the browser”. You go to different places for different things and there is the overhead of going to different places (less so when using/launching an app), but this isn’t going to be like “we’ve got usenet and a bunch of different places there” nor is it going to be like “you have an email client and a bunch of mailing lists” and nor is it also like… or maybe it is like? something like Reddit with all its distinct subcommunities.
But you see of course the difference with Reddit unlike all of those other social platform examples was that it was built from the start with the proposition of explicit communities that then get, uh, their content extracted into a feed for you (also not necessarily reverse-chronological now either).
And what’s the motivator for splitting all of these communities off into their own separate walled-garden apps that don’t talk to each other? Money, of course.
Okay, that’s it for today!
How are you doing?