Denoting every detail of the worlds and experiences making up the internet and the metaverse, we have the information itself. We’ve already seen in this blog series how the interaction with this data is changing. Now we must delve one step deeper on our web3 architecture (see below) and look into how decentralised and distributed architectures are quickly changing the nature of how we store and share data across the web.
Web 3.0 Technology Stack
(Source: Hadean, adapted from Deloitte, “The Spatial Web and Web 3.0”)
The Situation Today
To begin, let’s examine our current paradigm in web 2.0 so we can gain a sense of how it will be different.
Consider the process of someone writing a post on their blog and publishing it to their hosting website. At the core of this process, we have a database that stores all the key data like the previous posts, the comments/likes and the users etc. This database is influenced by the actions of the backend code of the website, which determines the various bits of logic making up the website, e.g what happens when someone comments on the blog, so that the database can be updated. And finally, we have the front end code that determines the aesthetic and how the users’ interactions are collected.
Currently, the ‘database’ part of this web function is almost always hosted by a centralised cloud provider owned by one of the tech giants. With that, comes the restrictions and gates that they may impose, made only possible by their effective ownership of the data on the web. But the problems of centralisation goes beyond just the ones associated with owning the backend infrastructure, as we often find most of our portals to the information on the web are also controlled by another industry giant.
Furthermore, as we’re seeing data become increasingly spatial with the rise of virtual worlds and digital twins, single computational architectures are struggling to provide the scalable computation and networking that will be required. Distributed architectures are on the rise, but challenges remain in accessing them. Likewise, as our decentralised information and systems improve ownership, it will be vital that platforms match this and achieve interoperability between the various different worlds and assets that will make up the metaverse.
The Issues with a Centralised Web
One of the most pressing concerns with this format is in data and identity privacy. Over the last few years, we’ve seen countless examples of massive data breaches, one need only go to this wiki article to remind themselves of the scale of this problem. A common theme between them? Huge amounts of sensitive information being stored in a single, insecure architecture.
Secondly, we have the risks of crashing posed to centralised infrastructure. Facebook, Amazon and a number of others have all experienced complete outages in service recently, often due to an issue relating to a single point failure (SPOF). Centralised architectures are significantly more likely to have more SPOFs, leading to higher performance risks.
But perhaps most significantly, we have the issues around how centralisation stifles creativity and communication. With only a handful of companies controlling what is really shown on content sharing platforms, we are losing the incentive to create our own content. They are the doorkeepers, therefore determining the type of content people should create.
How web 2.0 restricts content
But as we know, one of the central themes of web3, blockchain, is changing what’s possible.
The Role of Blockchain
While most people know blockchain mainly for its role in crypto and NFTs, it actually represents an entirely different way of structuring information. In our previous example, we can think of a future web3 application working like so.
At the backend, rather than a database stored on a server, we would have a blockchain that is made up of a peer-to-peer network of nodes, with changes governed by the ‘consensus’. While anyone can write to it, this ‘machine’ by definition cannot be ‘owned’ by anyone. You would then have smart contracts that determine the logic of the application running, which in turn communicate with a virtual machine which executes the smart contracts actions on to the blockchain.
But what is it exactly about this setup that is so beneficial? In a sentence, it can be summed up as the movement from read-write to read-write-own. Let’s go back to the 3 key issues I stated around web 2.0 and examine how a decentralised format can alleviate them.
The Benefits of Decentralisation
In regard to data privacy and security, decentralised applications present a host of benefits. Blockchain’s unalterable and encrypted record keeping offers greater protection against fraud and other unauthorised activities. Personal data can be anonymised and permissions used to prevent access. However, perhaps most beneficially, the peer-to-peer network used for storage rather than a single server is much more difficult for hackers to penetrate and view.
The lack of centralised ownership also means assets created and bought are protected, rather than being at the mercy of the centralised place where they are stored. As we will see, this feature will be key to building the metaverse. This shared network is the same reason why crashes in systems are less likely to happen, with there being far less single points of failure.
Decentralisation and the Metaverse
But perhaps one of the most exciting uses of decentralised information and assets is the role it can play in the metaverse. In fact, without blockchain, it’s hard to imagine how digital ownership would really work in the metaverse.
With the metaverse spanning across borders and jurisdictions, there raised a question of how exactly transactions and verification of ownership would work in this digital landscape. But blockchain has cleverly filled in the gaps.
Rather than requiring a 3rd party like a bank to verify transactions, and avoiding the complexities that this entails, blockchain enables simple transfers of assets. Likewise, if people can’t truly own digital items in the metaverse, or they’re easily copied, then you lose the incentive to ever purchase or earn them in the first place. However the arrival of NFTs has provided a nifty solution.
‘Play 2 Earn’ platforms have exploded in popularity, and no doubt this will provide future work in the metaverse. This is even morphing into what’s becoming known as ‘play 2 own’, where engagement in the metaverse is being incentivised by rewarding players with things digital assets like property. If you’d like to read more about the role of blockchain in gaming and the metaverse, go to this blog.
Axie Infinity enabled people to earn real money and gain true economic ownership over their in-game assets
The Challenges in Building One, Open Metaverse
Our transition to decentralised information and ownership across the web has no doubt been central to the building of the metaverse. However, fulfilling the true vision of ‘one’ metaverse entails further challenges where web3 technology will need to be further leveraged.
Continued use of web 2.0 infrastructure means that metaverse worlds are being built in silos, with little chance for transferability across them. On top of this, the worlds themselves remain in low-fidelity and can only support a small number of connected clients. The amount of spatial information being sent when experiencing online worlds is becoming bigger than we have ever seen. While blockchain solved a number of issues for the metaverse, we essentially have two key challenges ahead of us:
- Enabling access to the massive computational power needed to support these worlds
- Sufficient networking solutions to create a seamless and hugely connected experience that goes past previous limitations
In our final two blogs in this series, we will explore the final layer of web 3.0, and how distributed infrastructure is primed to provide the last piece of the puzzle for the metaverse.