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Welcome to the Metaverse: A Glimpse into the Web's Possible Future - Nicole McNulty



MEGAN ZEREZ, HOST: As much as the Internet is a part of our daily lives, it’s not static. How we experience the web will probably be totally different five years from now. It might include some kind of virtual worlds. But how that’s going to work, and who’s going to control that space is being explored today. Nicole McNulty takes us on a trip to the metaverse and what it might mean for the future of the way we interact with technology. (:22)


Dance music playing


NICOLE MCNULTY, BYLINE: It’s Saturday night and Sugar Club is happening. There’s lights. And art. And people - or rather avatars that look like people - dancing. We’re in a virtual world called Decentraland.


JEREMY: Everyone's kind of just hanging out, enjoying their Friday night in the metaverse.


MCNULTY: Jeremy is a digital artist who creates kaleidoscopic moving images. Professionally, he goes by the name Trippy Yogi, and is giving me a tour by sharing his screen.


JEREMY: I think the main party space is actually up ahead. Oh, wait. Wrong way. Let's go back in this way.


MCNULTY: There’s a side door off the club that leads to a gallery with an exhibition of digital art. If you click on one of the pieces, you’re taken to a marketplace where you can buy that work.


JEREMY: So let me step outside.


Soft music outside


MCNULTY: Once you leave the club, there are bursts of color everywhere: vibrant yellow and red trees planted in neatly landscaped orange grass. There are other people walking around, playing games, who you can stop and chat with. You can see buildings, a casino, and even a colossal Bart Simpson. And there are elaborate art installations that would be impossible in the analog world. Like giant dancing fish floating high in the air.


JEREMEY: This is kind of like one of the blockchain based art districts.


MCNULTY: Jeremy is setting up his own gallery space in Decentraland. Musicians are holding real concerts here. You can even gamble in a casino - there are slot machines and roulette tables. When you enter you are greeted by an actual person, through their avatar. I approached a female avatar floating in the air and introduced myself.


MCNULTY: Hi, my name is Nicole I’m a reporter with Uptown Radio. Can I ask you a few questions?


AERON: Sure hi nicole. This is Aeron. I’m a host in Decentraland for Decentral games.


MCNULTY: Aeron says she works fulltime as a host in the casino.


AERON: Well, the most exciting part for me is the fact that anybody can actually do anything in here.


JEREMY: this like crazy casino, you can actually play like real games with real money. And you're like in there with your avatar sitting around with everyone in the casino, It's it's mind blowing.


MCNULTY: All these different environments, businesses, galleries, in Decentralized are individually owned and operated. Unlike the web we now know, the space in this world is finite, by design. There are only 90,000 parcels of land here. Most are already sold. And the market is shooting up. Earlier this month, a plot of land sold for over half a million dollars. Russ Moreland, is a longtime painter and tattoo artist who also sells NFT’s of his work on the web. He says he decided to buy some space in Decentraland and set up his own gallery...


RUSS MORELAND : But then I looked at the prices and it's like, it's thousands. Like my wife would probably kill me. She’d be like no we could have bought a down payment on another house or got a rental property or something. Instead of you buying something in cyber space.


MCNULTY: Many users of Decentraland simply enjoy playing in cutting edge reality technology. Others are here to speculate and cash in on the booming land values. Experts say Decentraland is a stepping stone to creating a new kind of internet, and a new way for all of us to interact with the web.


BRIAN ROMERO: this to me feels very much like the internet in the mid nineties.


MCNULTY: That’s Brian Romero, an artist and former website builder


ROMERO: And I was part of that first.com boom.


MCNULTY: There several key features that distinguish Decentraland from the web of today. The interface is virtual, and far more interactive and elaborate. And most importantly, the ownership and operation of that virtual world is decentralized. Nearly every website you visit now is owned by a single entity like Amazon, or the Internal Revenue Service. Peter Kaufman, is a writer who works at MIT Open Learning. He says as users go from site to site, it gives the illusion that they are controlling their own experience online.


PETER KAUFMAN: But in fact, you know, you're, you're not, I mean, if you're on Google or if you're looking at YouTube or if you're, you know, surfing, listen to music, um, chances are you're you're um, on a platform that is controlled by people other than you.


GLEN GOODMAN: So, it’s yeah, it’s basically like a monarchy.


MCNULTY : Glen Goodman, a former BBC journalist and author of the book, the Crypto Trader. He says that Decentraland offers the opportunity for collective decision-making.


GOODMAN: Whereas with a decentralized metaverse, you can create a democracy. So, in a way it’s a kind of libertarian vision getting away from the old monarchy of the virtual worlds, run by corporations, and creating new worlds for the people, run by the people, for themselves.


MCNULTY: Dave Carr, on the marketing team for Decentraland, agrees.


DAVE CARR: Where Decentraland differs is that the people who, uh, exist in the world they not only create the world, but they own the world and they also govern the world.


MCNULTY: People who have a stake in Decentraland, who own the land or hold currency, have decision-making power. // Kaufman says we already have important examples of decentralization on the ‘net:


PETER KAUFMAN: chief among them, I think, uh, is the community of Wikipedians. Wikipedia is just the most awesome institution it's, you know, noncommercial.


MCNULTY: But Decentraland is definitely NOT non-commercial. In fact experts say its pioneering a combination of features: community control, decentralized ownership, a virtual world, and commerce. And this combination is what’s keeping companies up at night. Mark Pesce, is a futurist and author of the book, “Augmented Reality: Unboxing Tech’s Next Big Thing.” He thinks in the next five years or so, companies like Facebook, Google and Apple will draw on this model to develop the next stage of web experiences. He calls them augmented reality products.


MARK PESCE: because augmented reality means you get all of the real world, plus all of this creativity, plus all of this playfulness, plus all of the marketing, right? It all comes together. And then the race is going to be on to see who can really dominate the market for reality. Cause that's what it comes down to. And that's why Facebook wants it because Facebook really wants to be able to manage your reality for you.


MCNULTY: In tech, five years is eternity. And for now, the place where these things are being explored is in this nerdy corner of the Internet. But Brian Romero says we shouldn’t dismiss it, because little things can turn out to be big.


ROMERO: Everyone's like, yeah, it sounds like it's for nerds and it's not really going to be popular. It sounds like a fad. And we know how the internet turned out.


MCNULTY: So, maybe see you soon. In the metaverse. Nicole McNulty, Columbia Radio News.

CREDITS: Cover photo via Bitcoin.com.



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