The revolution of the internet brought about by the metaverse might change the way we interact and collaborate
- The revolution of the internet is approaching its next stage – Web 3.0. What is essentially different in this new paradigm is that data is owned by the individual, and stored in blockchains instead of being owned by big corporations.
- The metaverse can be experienced as a 3D virtual world. It can provide an opportunity for testing significant democratic tools.
- Decentraland is the first blockchain-based, fully decentralised virtual world controlled via a decentralised autonomous organisation, or DAO. The DAO enables users to vote and decide how the world works. In Decentraland, users can build houses, buy NFT clothing and even monetise their skills. In the interview below, Marja Konttinen, Decentraland’s Marketing Director, explains what the metaverse and Web 3.0 are all about and what they can offer.
In Web 2.0, the social media and services we currently use are almost invariably owned by big corporations, while Web 3.0 is based on a decentralised model where services are provided independently of digital giants. What does this mean in practice?
In Web 2.0, data ownership and earnings logic were in the hands of tech giants, but in Web 3.0 it is individuals who own their data and decide whether to share it or not. The creator economy is at the core of this concept, allowing users themselves to monetise their data by engaging in activities such as content creation or new games development. Unlike in the current earning model, which is based largely on advertising revenue, in Web 3.0 individuals get to keep the income generated by the use of their data. Data ownership is a major ethical topic in Web 3.0.
Blockchains are another essential element of Web 3.0. Blockchain technology is fully transparent, which means that all transactions – be it data or money transfer – are transparent and instantaneous. Stored data is available to everyone at the same time. Blockchain technology assigns responsibility to multiple parties, which makes it dramatically different from the centralised model used before. Decentralised technology means that no individual company has sole responsibility.
From a more philosophical perspective, Web 3.0 is about building a fairer and more equitable online community based on technologies that foster trust and transparency.
Decentraland is the first fully decentralised, user-owned virtual world where users can create, experience and monetise content and apps. How does it work?
Decentraland is a blockchain-based virtual world that anyone can visit by signing in as a 3D avatar. No previous knowledge or understanding of blockchain technology is required. Decentralisation also applies to the server technology used: servers run on the computers of specific users. Decentraland is made up of building blocks running on open-source code and protocols, which means anyone can access the source code.
Decentraland is not a company. I am employed by Decentraland Foundation, which manages Decentraland brand, websites and marketing channels. Decentraland is owned by a decentralised autonomous organisation, or DAO. It is an autonomous community consisting of everyone who owns any kind of content created for Decentraland, including the Decentraland cryptocurrency MANA, land, NFT clothing, or your own registered name on the platform. An interaction with the Decetraland smart contracts automatically makes the user a co-owner of Decentraland. Owners are entitled to vote on what goes on in the community, and the community is fully in charge. The best way to get involved is to have an open mind, sign in and explore the virtual world to see what you like best and how you can contribute.
Decentraland is one of the first products featured in Web 3.0 that isn’t only based on financial transactions. While blockchain technology and bitcoin are strongly linked to the industry, our decentralised virtual platform was always more about creating experiences and communities than about monetary transactions. Our product went live in February 2020, which makes us a seasoned veteran in this industry.
How many users do you have in Decentraland?
Last year the number of users passing through our platform was 1.5 million; these were possibly first-time Web 3.0 visitors. We have somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 active users each month. It’s a fairly large number considering we are still in the early days of Web 3.0.
When people talk about Web 3.0, they often mention the metaverse. How are these two interconnected?
You could say the metaverse is the portal to Web 3.0. It is an entertaining, enjoyable and non-technical way of experiencing Web 3.0. In Decentraland it means entering the virtual 3D world as a 3D avatar. It’s like a virtual festival that allows personal creativity to shine, and it gives people an opportunity to showcase their skills and ideas. A sense of community is an integral part of the metaverse – it’s something best experienced together. The number of metaverses is growing, and each serves a unique purpose.
Do you have to be tech-savvy to visit Decentraland and tap into the opportunities it provides?
Let me put it this way: Decentraland is one of the easiest virtual worlds but considering these are early days for Web 3.0, that doesn’t mean it’s easy like e.g. mobile games are. The best way to learn is to sign in and explore. To do that, you need a crypto wallet, or you can sign in as a guest. If you have a crypto wallet, you can collect NFT clothing or memorabilia, and you can sell and create items. Gradually, you will discover more things to do, like organising a party, going to an art exhibition or building houses. Many of these require no coding skills or knowledge. It also attracts a large number of developers keen to improve the tools.
The biggest change compared to previous versions of the internet is that now everyone can participate and make money by doing something they are passionate about. People can pursue their interests and even get paid for it, or build an interesting career. One word to describe Web 3.0 is inclusion – it opens up a new world of opportunities for those who keep an open mind.
Smart contracts, which are coded and stored on blockchains, automatically execute contracts between two parties. How are they relevant to Decentraland? Or to wider society?
I’d like to look at this from a more philosophical perspective. In Decentraland, we believe strongly in providing opportunities for simulating different blockchain technologies. Smart contracts are binding agreements between two parties. They are transparent and require no intermediaries to execute the contract or to build trust.
Our underlying assumption in Decentraland is that if we can work out a smart contract between two parties involving the purchase of land, then this type of contract could hypothetically work in real life. We can then ask ourselves what we could learn about a direct transaction between two individuals that is based entirely on automation. What are the things we need to focus on or change to make this arrangement work in the real world?
The simulation currently underway in Decentraland may have a significant bearing on our society. In fact, I think it provides a real opportunity for participatory democracy. While on the surface Decentraland may simply look like a game with avatars running around, it actually offers a testbed for important democratic tools like new voting models and fractional ownership. It could be used, for instance, to test smart contracts between individuals and to explore their significance more extensively. Going forward, I believe smart contracts will play a major role in all sectors of industry.
Does the metaverse offer other tools that could be significant for things like promoting democracy?
One thing worth considering is whether arrangements such as DAO could be applied to foster advocacy, activism, communities and cooperatives in real life. Although people these days are less and less interested in community participation, DAO with its entirely new approach might be able to change things. In our global Decentraland community, people rally around a shared interest and start to vote, make decisions and build new things together, without the involvement of closed committees, boards of directors or decisions made closed doors. Transparency is the key.
Another important aspect in terms of society is that the metaverse offers a test environment for things we are so far unable to test elsewhere. How will this affect our representative democracy? Should every Member of Parliament have their own DAO?
Significant new opportunities are available that just simply never occurred to us before.
Decentraland recently hosted the Metaverse Fashion Week. What opportunities did this virtual fashion event offer?
Decentraland did indeed host a five-day fashion event in March 2022 that attracted about 60 brands, including upscale brands such as Dolce & Gabbana. What’s more, Tommy Hilfiger attended a panel discussion in person over a video call. The event also featured native – in other words fully digital – Web 3 brands. Being completely free of physical limitations such as the weight of a fabric changes fashion design completely.
During the fashion week Decentraland was bursting with runway shows, shopping, networking events and parties. The week’s absolute high point was a performance by Grimes. And, although it was a virtual event, brands like Tommy Hilfiger sold both NFT and real clothes. Inspired by the metaverse fashion week, Philipp Plein set up a bricks-and-mortar store in London where customers can use cryptocurrency to buy clothes. As we can see, the real world can mimic the metaverse, which I think is fascinating.
Recently, fast fashion has been recognised as a serious problem for the environment. If someone buys a new top just to wear it for an Instagram post, do they really need the top, or could they simply do with a virtual garment? Digital fashion will change the way we portray ourselves in the virtual world and on our social media channels. Perhaps digital fashion will eliminate the need for fast fashion. These are early days, so for many of us it’s about practising and testing to see what will work.
The fashion industry is extremely interested and curious about the metaverse. For this particular line of industry, the metaverse is the perfect arena. People want to express themselves in the virtual world, and what better way to do it than with clothes?
There’s a lot of hype around Web 3.0, but there’s also been some criticism. Some say it is infested with the same problems as Web 2.0: revenues and control are falling into the hands of equity investors and data into the hands of cloud service providers, and so on. What are your thoughts on this?
I think we’ve already seen vast improvements. For instance, some cloud service providers realised that they would gradually turn into Web 2 giants if they did nothing to prevent it. They decided that was not what they wanted, and so they became a DAO. There may be challenges, but new solutions are also actively being sought.
In our case, hundreds of thousands of micro investors with a genuine desire to make a difference have joined in. Investors would be well advised to proactively think of ways of avoiding challenges. To that end, we are currently testing new innovations and models.