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We are constantly fed innumerable articles on how the metaverse, an interconnected collection of immersive, three-dimensional virtual worlds, will fundamentally change how we live our lives and spend our time. It’s up to creators, brands and publishers to gear up for it by quickly purchasing land to build up their presence, in an “if you build it, they will come” ethos.
The truth is that these open worlds still garner very few users, and the closed systems that show user growth (e.g. Roblox, Minecraft) are built around games, which may limit their potential as spaces where people would want to “hang out.” Furthermore, the objectively terrible aesthetics of these worlds will disengage any respectable creators from actively participating.
A common misconception is that Web3’s main innovation lies in these 3D immersive worlds, but this questionable improvement to the internet’s user interface is only a small part of what Web3 promises. Web3 has ushered in a fundamental concept, digital ownership and validation, which has the potential to profoundly impact the way people interact online.
The decline of communities and their emergence online
In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam illustrates the collapse of the American community with bowling as an example. As the number of people who bowled increased in the last 20 years, the number of people who bowled in leagues decreased. When people bowl alone, they do not participate in the social interaction and civic discussions that might occur in a league environment. Putnam surveys the decline of social capital in the United States since 1950. He describes a reduction in all the forms of in-person social intercourse upon which Americans used to found, educate and enrich their social lives.
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Technology has accelerated these changes as people spend more time in front of their screens and less in bowling alleys. Nevertheless, online communities started to form via chat systems such as IRC. The major shift happened with the advent of social media, where groups of people sharing the same interest started to interact with each other and follow their favorite artists, sports teams or fashion brands. Here functionality is limited to what the platform allows you to do within its walled garden, and the unique identifiers associated with the individuals remain the property of the platform. Therefore, any hope of integrating external experiences is dictated by the platform.
Digital ownership and tokenized communities
The basic concept of possessing a digital token whose ownership can be validated publicly has the potential of rethinking the way we interact online by transferring the power from centralized platforms back to the groups and individuals themselves.
Through this technology, communities can be tokenized, which means community members can be issued a digital asset in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT) whose ownership can be validated by virtually anyone—therefore rendering the user database universally accessible.
The 4-step guide to the multiverse
So how can creators, brands and existing communities establish their presence on Web3 and take back control of their destinies? I’ve outlined four ways below.
Collectibles: The starting point, as collectibles serve as the access pass to communities
The NFTs which represent the access tokens to these communities are identifiable by the blockchain through contract address and token ID. Humans identify them via a visual representation, in the form of works in various media — image, text, video, audio — as well as generative PFP projects. The PFP model allows for unique tokens to represent unique individuals and has become the dominant form of tokens representing a community.
Use case: a musician who releases their upcoming album cover art as a limited edition NFT.
Once these tokens have been distributed, the token holders create the community or universe. They can be given token-gated access to any chat platform (i.e. Discord) to engage in chatter, or participate in proposals set forward by the community (i.e. Snapshot). This could be interaction in an immersive 3D world—a “metaverse.” What is crucial here is that they are not tied to any of these platforms in the long term; their tokens allow them to seamlessly navigate to any platform willing to validate their ownership. We expect to see many of these token-enabled platforms emerge as time progresses and these emerging communities look for places to engage.
Use case: Superfans of a sports club who collectively own tokens gain access to Discord and discuss the latest games.
Benefits can be delivered to the community through the same token gating as the community. Access to IRL (in-real-life) experiences, livestreams or gated commerce are examples of what these experiences could look like, experiences that would contribute to raising the value of participating in the community and of the tokens themselves.
Partnerships: Communities interact to form the multiverse
Once these communities are in place, they can begin delivering benefits to members of external communities in “multiplayer mode.” This is done thanks to token ownership validation made possible by the blockchain.
Use case: Nike produces a custom jersey made accessible only to Chicago Bulls token holders.
Enter the multiverse
The multiverse is a space where different universes interact in a fluid way independent of any centralized platform. This fundamental shift in power from the platform to the participants is an exciting new development in how communities on the internet are developed.
Hopefully, this will usher in a new era where people bowl together again.
Joseph Djenandji is CEO and founder of Mint Blockchain.
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