Metadata and the metaverse, what is the metaverse?
The metaverse is perhaps the latest and greatest gamble between technology and social media. For those who are still wondering what it is, we could define it as a vast expanse of digital space in which users can interact with each other in real-time and obtain experiences similar to those they experience in the real world and beyond. This definition of the metaverse highlights a crucial point: the fact that it is a vast extension of a digital realm that can be said to offer a continuation of the ‘real world’, even if the distinction between the two levels will never be clear-cut.
The paternity of the term is attributed to the writer Neal Stephenson who used it to refer to the virtual environment in which the digital avatar of the protagonist of the novel Snow Crash, published in 1992, lived. Since then, it has been mainly science-fiction films that have staged the metaverse – albeit, very often, in its dystopian and alienating sense – primarily Ready Player One, where people spent most of their time in a gilded virtual world in search of prizes.
Metadata and metaverse, what is meant by ‘meta’?
The explosion of media attention on Zuckerberg’s Metaverse and its various ‘siblings’, Decentraland, The Sandbox and Blacktopia to name but a few, has now led to the introduction of the term ‘meta’ into common parlance.
Without calling into question concepts typical of literature such as the metatext, in computer science metadata is a piece of information that describes a set of data, for instance, an information superstructure that indicates how a certain piece of software should behave. This sounds very complicated, but an example may help to clarify the concept. When we create a text document with any editor and perhaps set some words in bold, align the title in the middle, or change the font of some words, once we save the document and close the application, if we reopen the file, even from another device, the text retains the same formatting.
Metadata and metaverse, concrete examples
This aspect, which seems obvious to us, is made possible by the creation, at the time of saving, of a text file that contains, in addition to the words, a series of information that serves to describe how the document should appear. This information is called metadata.
To have a simple demonstration of the existence and weight of this metadata, it is possible to open software such as “Notepad”, write a text and save it. The size of the file created will be a certain number of bytes, which corresponds exactly to the number of characters of the text entered. For example, “hello mum” will take up 10 bytes (yes, even the space is a character). If you try to write the same text in a more advanced editor and save it, you will notice that the file size is larger. Even without boldface or anything else, the most compressed applications still save basic superstructures.
Metadata and metaverse, the ‘magic’ of computing
The metaverse echoes these concepts on a grand scale. Each entity present in the virtual reality described by the metaverse will have some peculiar characteristics that will be present in any interaction in the new universe. For example, if an avatar in the metaverse is blond, it will be blond everywhere. This is because metadata is recorded to indicate these specific characteristics. If the virtual character has a balance of 1,000,000 virtual dollars, he will have them with him wherever he goes.
Almost all software saves and reads metadata structures to function properly. One ‘magic’ of computing is that many software packages from different companies have made arrangements to open files of the same extension (those 3-4 letters after the dot in the file name). Now, those who are familiar with these aspects know that often the magic is not complete, in the sense that it may happen that some text does not appear properly centred and therefore it is necessary to intervene (those who prepare presentations with different software have certainly come up against these limits) but the basic concept is exactly that.
Metadata and metaverse, the standardization
The creation of standards shared by an increasing number of actors, such as file extensions or charger plugs, just to give some examples, allows moving towards an increasingly integrated world, simpler for all. The disadvantages? As always, there are. One of them is the fact that we get stuck on one technology and continue to extend it, ignoring the fact that devising a new one could be much more functional. For example, the HTTP protocol on which the Internet, and the modern world in general, is based, dates back to the 1970s. When structural and technological limits emerge, pieces are added (such as cookies, without which there will be no more e-commerce shopping carts or user sessions on social networks), but then at a certain point the limits become too many and something new has to be invented. Changing HTTP today would be a titanic task and not without consequences, it would be like replacing the carpet on which the world rests. But perhaps, in the future, it will have to be done. In general, innovation without becoming fossilised is always the best way forward. On the contrary, it’s good to know in advance when to evolve to avoid having to do it all at once.
Going back to the Metaverse, it is clear that this will be a new market for companies to compete in, where the ability to analyse data in real-time will be crucial, as will the ability to derive insights to guide business decisions, also with the support of technologies such as Premoneo.