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Interoperability: The Key to an Open Future

“A truly successful standard becomes so ubiquitous, you forget that it's actually a standard at all."

Photo by insung yoon / Unsplash

There’s a veritable hubbub around the term “metaverse”. While some startups have leveraged this noise to drive hype and interest in their projects, others are fearful that it might lead to overpromising and under-delivering on a technology with significant potential. Being careful about how we talk about the metaverse is important, and many are pushing that interoperability will be a fundamental necessity of ensuring the metaverse is open to all.

Why Interoperability?

In the present and past, major technology companies have profited by acquiring and selling our personal data to the highest bidders. These same companies have done so by cleverly constructing “walled gardens” where they have unfettered power over a closed system of hardware,software, or even ad space.

They can use this to drive behavior in certain ways. Apple, for example, has refused to adopt the USB standard as a phone charger, instead using their own lightning cable. This can often cause frustration if you’re in a “can I borrow your charger?” situation. But their walled garden is their entire ecosystem—designed to keep you in it and buying Apple products, with the monopolistic App store playing a major part–and taking a sizable cut of developer's hard-earned revenue.

If we want to avoid the control that major tech companies have through walled gardens—driving our behavior and commodifying our private data—we need to break these walls down. To put this in metaverse terms, we ought to be sure these gardens are connected through paths to begin with. We’ll also need interoperability if the metaverse is to allow the seamless connectivity between varyingly different worlds and experiences.

One way to achieve this is through the ideation and creation of multi-domain standards for interoperability: Just as wireless connectivity has standards, the metaverse will need the same.

Achieving Interoperability: Easier Said than Done

While it sounds like an easy solution: Just build interoperability standards–it's easier said than done. There are legions of companies building what could be referred to as metaverse technology. Whether this is mixed reality goggles, haptic gloves or simulation software like Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, each will likely have vastly different underlying infrastructure—and the companies building them use different processes and methods to create these products.

It’s hard enough for everyone to align on the meaning of metaverse; let alone making the underlying systems that constitute it align. To create an ‘open’ metaverse free from predatory walled gardens and invasive data-raking, we’ll need a ubiquitous and widely-accepted infrastructure layer and interface that allows all of the various standards to work together seamlessly.

One such board looking to create this is the Metaverse Standards Forum (MSF). Created by non-profit organization the Khronos Group, this forum is made up of over 150 members working to create the foundations for the open metaverse. According to Khronos president Neil Trevett:

“A truly successful standard becomes so ubiquitous, you forget that it's actually a standard at all.”

The MSF was thus created to collaborate and coordinate across varying fields for the purpose of creating underlying metaverse standards, leading us into an open future free from walled gardens.