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In the middle ages scholars imagined the “Summa”, a book that could contain all knowledge. The internet is that book. Navigation is the problem.

Starting in the 1970s, internet scholars began to imagine ways to navigate a digital Summa. Because they started with books and libraries, the first internet guides looked like tables of content and indexes. Google Search engine still looks this way. Punch in a search for “metaverse” and you get a table of contents, a very bookish digital / human interface.

But unlike a book, a search engine gives you a menu that connects you to links… that take you to new menus… that take you to other links… on and on in an unending wander. Search engine navigation tools let you reverse, save a page, return to home.  The map that describes this wander is called a “decision tree”.  

Eventually, this decision tree wander takes you to an end point: an article, a photo, a video, some music.  To summarize, the table of contents leads you along a path to an end point.  Now let’s substitute digital talk.  Meta-data guides you through the Meta-verse where you find NFTs.

Metadata is simply data about data. It helps to organize, find and understand data. A table of contents is a very simple kind of metadata.  Below is a drawing of a complex and imaginative metadata map from cyber punk fiction of the 1970s.  Cyber-space, the matrix. The map below represents one sector of a much bigger map, the Metaverse. Like the medieval Summa, the Metaverse links all knowledge into a huge data library.  The contents of this library are NFTs, digital assets.  NFTs are the things we want, like information, internet collectibles, digital clothes, avatars, clubs, governance groups.  NFTs are the unique owned “things” in the metaverse. Put on your Virtual Reality visor and fly, follow the links from node to node, gather NFTs as you go. Cyberspace is a giant three dimensional shopping mall where you work to earn tokens to buy NFTs.

The Cyberspace map above was generated in Web 2. Unfortunately, the Web 3 block chain is not yet a good place to build complex visuals.  It is slow and expensive, not yet designed to store large data, does not have good search engines or effective ways to “pin” big off-chain data to the distributed network.  Most frustrating, Dapp developers are just beginning to build tools.  But we should not be discouraged.  The Web 2 started small and slow, but now the Web 2 graphics are astonishing.  For great visuals we look to the digital gaming industry.  Web 2 digital games have already developed super fast graphics cards for elaborate visual effects. As an example, the Xbox Series X can perform 12 trillion floating-point calculations each second.  We hope that the Web 3 Virtual Reality rigs of the future will be just as fast.  

Below is a vision seen with a Virtual Reality visor. We are looking at an “Archology”, a data map used to navigate the Metaverse as imagined in the 1970s.  Instead of a table of contents, or a decision tree, data is organized visually as a city.  This vision of the Metaverse looks like the earth, but instead of bricks and mortar, buildings are data vaults and streets are data bridges. 

Everything starts somewhere. Web 3 today hosts very primitive graphics.  The first cyber art generated on the block chain is silly simple. In 2017 Larva Labs generated 10,000 unique “CryptoPunks”.  Each of these 10,000 digital collectibles has their proof of ownership traced on the Ethereum blockchain, guaranteeing that these could not be replicated or duplicated.  This entire concept inspired the ERC721 protocol, the first non-fungible tokens (NFT).  It pays to be first.   These nine Cyberpunk NFTs sold at Christies Auction House 10 May, 2021 for US $16.9 million. 

Digital art NFTs sell!!  Beeple’s “5000 Days” was put up for auction at Christie’s on the 12th of March 2021. The NFT, a collage of 5,000 digital images that took 13 years to make, had a starting bid of just $100, but the high-profile auction drew fevered bidding from over 350 prospective buyers.  Crypto millionaires are high rollers. By the end of the auction, 5000 Days sold for US $69 million dollars.

Who are the new crypto millionaires and what is their taste in art? This detail from Beeple’s “5000 Days” shows the aesthetic: teen age video gamer cyberspace modern.  You oldies, don’t forget, the kids shall inherit the Metaverse.

28 Oct. 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg renamed his company “Meta”.  Zuckerberg says, “Meta brings together our apps and technologies under one new company brand. Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life.  The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. It will let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together — and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world.”

Meta will be a Web 2 company, centralized, designed for large profits, with customer data owned and exploited. Many would prefer a Web 3 metaverse alternative, with decentralized governance, shared profits, ownership of content by content creators, and blockchain transparency.  

The race is on and Web 3 is starting years behind. To understand how far behind, look at Decentraland.   Decentraland is a virtual world build on the Ethereum blockchain. Consumers can buy land within this world with the LAND token, and build anything, including shops that sell NFT: collectables, digital clothes, digital art, games and events, all purchased with the Decentralland MANA token. 

The problem is Decentraland looks like a 1980s video game, with clumsy avatars that pivot and jump but do not interact or dance.  The blockchain may be good for keeping ledgers, but it is no good for building visuals.  Even the most famous shop in Decentraland, Sotherby’s Art Gallery, looks like Legoland. On the other hand, money is flowing in.  At 30 Oct 2021, the Decentraland 24-hour trading volume was $219,886,689 USD. The least expensive plot of virtual land costs US $10,000. But buy fast.  The Decentraland MANA token went up 112% this week. Sotheby’s Gallery, located in the prime Decentraland Art District, sold a work at its inaugural digital art auction in March 2021 for US $11,750,000. 

Some want to monetize Web 3.  I want to visualize it.  Perhaps clumsy tools will provoke designers to create a new look.  Perhaps stiff avatars will remind us that life can be childlike.  Or perhaps the huge inflow of money will fund new visual tool kits and super fast data flows that will turn a clumsy video game into a virtual reality.  The race is on.  Who will control the Metaverse? How will we navigate?  How will it look?  

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