What is the Metaverse and Web3 Social?
My understanding of the metaverse is the category of communities that are being created and born online-first, not offline-first.
Traditional “non-metaverse” communities that we’re all familiar with might include the neighbors we live next to, the people we went to college or high school with, coworkers or our local Sunday soccer league. These are all the traditional ways we met new friends and they are all bound by geography.
“Metaverse” communities are all about making friends on the internet we’ve never met before. The idea of making friends online has existed since dial-up internet, but it just wasn’t called a metaverse back then. If you’re old enough, you’re already highly familiar with the metaverse when we chatted with strangers in AOL chatrooms in the 1990s, or when we meet new people around the world in interest-focused Facebook Groups in the 2000s.
Now, in 2022, the way people are making new friends online is by owning the same cryptocurrencies and NFTs. And now we’ve popularized a brand new terminology for what it means to participate in these online-first communities: the metaverse.
Facebook, now called Meta, has been making decisive steps towards adapting to the concept of a metaverse, so much so that they changed their company name. But Facebook/Meta was the first company to take offline social graphs and place them on the internet, starting with college campuses which seeded their initial network effect. What Facebook/Meta is getting horribly wrong is that in 2022 people are no longer needing more online places to connect with their offline friends: they are making friends and joining communities over the internet first, and this is the foundational core of web3 social.
The metaverse is all about making new friends and joining new communities online, not offline.
Digitally scarce blockchain assets, such Bitcoin, ETH and now NFTs, are a huge catalyst for forming online communities (or rather, almost cults). Why were cryptocurrencies such a huge catalyst for metaverse communities? Based on the way I observe the trend, crypto assets accomplish a few ways to align people really well:
- They require holding a valuable cryptocurrency to be part of a community. This is an act of initiation as well as a way to have skin in the game to prove one’s commitment to this community.
- They stand for values that align a community. For Bitcoin, this is hard money and freedom. For Ethereum believers, this might be a censorship-free and self-custodial financial infrastructure.
- A unique characteristic of crypto cults is they bridge online friendships to offline gatherings, such as meetups and communities.
An important quality of crypto communities is how they all offer in-person gatherings. I believe this is an extremely important reason for why crypto communities do so well, and why purely virtual world games like Second Life never took off and achieved global adoption levels. People don’t want to create an alter ego. They like their real world ego and want to meet people in real life. I think we tend to get the most value out of communities when we are able to meet offline, not exclusively online in Telegram/Discord, Zooms or VR headsets. Every crypto community that’s successful, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, offer tons of ways to meet other like minded people in these communities at local meetups and major conferences. The attendance numbers at crypto conferences is continuing to soar every year, and I expect in-person networking events will continue to be a core part of the crypto industry.
I don’t see any great way Facebook/Meta can adapt to what is becoming web3 social. Web3 social is all about the friends we make online via owning crypto assets. The Metaverse is not about meeting the old friends we know on Facebook and talking to them over a VR headset.
In order for Facebook/Meta or any traditional web2 companies to adapt to web3 social, they need to build features and products that facilitate places of online gatherings for crypto communities. Some ideas might include token-gated tools, easier ways to launch online conferences/webinars, and integration of crypto wallets. Highly successful web2 companies, such as Discord, Telegram, Twitter and Facebook/Meta, should be creating features that align crypto communities, despite any pushback they’re getting from some skeptics.