For the first time, the Bundestag has discussed the topic of the Metaverse – more specifically, the Committee for Digital Affairs dealt with the topics of Web3, Web 3.0, and Metaverse in a public hearing. I was nominated as an expert by the committee.
Now, the terms Web3 and Web 3.0 sound very similar – but they mean something fundamentally different. The term Metaverse naturally always comes up in this context, especially with Web3, since NFTs or cryptocurrencies could certainly find a place in the Metaverse or any other XR worlds. However, mixing these topics in a hearing is not necessarily helpful (better to treat them separately).
On December 14, 2022 in Berlin, there were, to put it simply, two camps: Sebastian Klöß (Bitkom) and I spoke about the opportunities of XR and the Metaverse. There was also a second camp that spoke quite critically about blockchain and the like, and for this they also received a lot of criticism from the Web3/blockchain community. One can now argue about how useful a two-hour hearing is when several topics are covered – this has been criticized multiple times in the LinkedIn community. However, I still see it as a positive step, because it was a good first step to bring the importance of “Metaverse” to the attention of the federal government.
In my opening statement, my primary focus was on explaining the relevance of hybrid and virtual realities. I deliberately left out Web3; it has been discussed often enough, and it is not my core area.
Before the hearing, all experts were asked to answer a questionnaire. Here is my version (GERMAN); here are all other statements (GER and some some in EN). At the beginning of the hearing, each expert was asked to give a five-minute opening statement. Mine can be found here.
Surfing the Internet, Diving in the Metaverse
I used this metaphor to state the differences between today’s Internet (2D) and the Metaverse (3D). From my point of view, this sums it up quite well, since “surfing the Internet” is a term that has been established since Jean A. Polly’s article of the same name in 1992. In “real” surfing, you are “on the water,” not in it. In diving, you are “in” the water – or just – “in the metaverse”. That’s how I explained the differences. I explained the role of AR and VR in an exemplary way. Deliberately striking and exemplary; at this point I also refer again to an older article of mine on the subject of metaverse.
Four Markets for the Metaverse
From my perspective, four markets are relevant for the Metaverse:
These markets are also relatively “stable” in my view, no matter what “the metaverse” – or whatever it will eventually be called – may look like in detail. The question is rather what role we as Germany want to play in these markets.
Hardware-wise, it might be difficult to play along here “Tooz Technologies” or Bosch’s announcements go in a different direction.
With Metaio, Germany had received a lot of attention before the takeover by Apple. Other companies felt similarly. But: I believe that our research landscape offers potential here.
By that I mean, in terms of the metaverse, something comparable to social media platforms. So ultimately environments where people and brands can build presences. Second Life would be one such metaverse-like example. So far, with a few exceptions, we haven’t really been able to establish ourselves internationally with this in Germany. Neither in the metaverse, nor in other consumer areas. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and the like do not come from Europe or even Germany. But what is not yet, can still become.
Creating content for platforms or your own XR applications – I see great potential in this. Germany can build on a large and innovative XR industry.
Of course, there are other markets, e.g., for consulting, training, and so on. These markets already exist, but they are still quite small compared to their potential. I assume that these markets will probably develop somewhat downstream.
Questions to the experts on Metaverse
I was then asked questions from various groups. In the short time available, it is of course impossible to cover every aspect. But I have taken up the questions again and will add to them here in due course.
Who will be the most important players/brands in the metaverse?
I tend to use the term metaverse carefully, if possible. Strictly speaking, “the Metaverse” doesn’t exist yet, so the question of defining brands, is difficult to answer. But if you look at who shaped the classic Internet (“Web 1.0”), it wasn’t Atari, Commodore or IBM, brands that shaped the offline computer era. Web 2.0 was also not shaped by AOL or Compuserve, but by “new” brands such as MySpace, Facebook or YouTube. Incidentally, these brands did not shape the mobile web either. It was WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok and co; many new brands; at least Facebook and YouTube made it. Admittedly, they were then often bought up, so the term brands is also better than companies. Now the question is how it will be in the Metaverse (or any other XR-heavy future). It stands to reason that innovative business models from as yet unknown companies will play a role here. I see that as realistic, especially for platforms and content (I’m not sure about hardware; there are many promising startups from the Asian region, but Apple and co are also making great efforts). In short, it is not guaranteed that Meta will win this market; in my opinion, they have good chances in hardware. They are investing a lot there, especially in the development of AR (!) and VR hardware.
Assessments on regulation and standardization
I am critical of the regulation of the Metaverse at this point in time. On the one hand, we have very “strong” (possibly already “too” strong and partly conditionally effective) regulations through the DSGVO, the DSA or the DMA. The challenge I see with the Metaverse is that at this point in time we know far too little about how these developments (including terms) will evolve. In other words, we would discuss hypothetical use cases and technologies now, knowing full well that they are unclear anyway, at least in detail. This would be comparable to a discussion at the turn of the millennium about what regulations are needed for the mobile Internet. Last but not least, premature regulation sends a signal of skepticism, perhaps even rejection, to the market.
With regard to standardization, a number of initiatives should be mentioned, not least the Metaverse Standards Forum. XR4All and XR4Humans are examples that increase development and promotion across disciplines.
XR and Metaverse in Education
More important than bans and premature over-regulation is a broad understanding about XR and developments (including Metaverse). Questions arose about what content belongs to it. Attached is a more detailed listing of topics that should be covered in relevant courses of study, including modules where appropriate.
Basics (terms, history, etc.)
Hardware (how tracking/depth sensors work, displays, etc.)
Platforms and content (SDKs, engines, 3D modeling, spatial audio, etc.)
Human behavior (information search/processing, effect on people, motives, etc.)
Market environment (relevant players etc.)
With respect to XR, we offer these topics as part of two VHB XR courses (Classic, i.e., for students; and Open, i.e., open to everyone). In general, such aspects should also be part of school curricula, at least superficially. Keyword: media competence.