We’re talking about the Metaverse in the wrong way.

Let’s start at the beginning.

When Neal Stephenson first used “Metaverse” in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash, the Internet as we know it today was very much in its infancy. The concept of the Metaverse was literally Science Fiction.

The term Web1 was not being used; instead, we talked about the Internet as a worldwide network and, later, the World Wide Web. We entered Cyberspace, surfed the Web, and rode the Information Superhighway.

Since the 90’s we’ve gone through multiple iterations of the Internet, defined by the meteoric rise and fall of Netscape, AOL’s dominance as one of the only Internet Providers, and the emergence of social networking sites like Friendster, Myspace and later, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

We’re at the beginning now of a really important shift in how we use technology in business and society. This shift can be defined in a number of ways, but as the term Web3 gets thrown around a lot at the moment, so do other related concepts which feel enormously abstract and complex to the everyday professional.

We are, however, becoming familiar with terms like blockchain, NFTs, airdrops, crypto, decentralization, tokenization, virtual currencies, DAOs and, of course, the Metaverse, which itself is awash with technical terms like VR, XR and AR.

All of these are being used to define how we talk about both the ideological and technological concepts related to the space, but what do they really mean, how are we defining the Metaverse, why do some people believe it’s the new Internet, and is there, in fact, a more helpful way of talking about it?

As we’ve said, the term Metaverse has been around for a couple of decades, but it was not being used in the mainstream until October 2021, when, as we all know, Facebook made the decision to change its company name to Meta and announced that it would be investing all of its R&D efforts to bring the Metaverse to mainstream users.

Suddenly, people were asking the question, what is the Metaverse? Literally. During that month there were about 2.62 million Google searches on the term ‘metaverse’, a massive increase from the previous month.

So what is it? Or at least, how are people defining it today?

Here are three definitions from the people who are probably most qualified to talk about the subject and who are also outspoken in their beliefs that it represents the future of the Internet.

The Metaverse is a convergence of physical and digital. Think of it as the successor of what comes next on the internet. It’s like your digital lifestyle catching up to your physical life. – Cathy Hackl, Chief Metaverse Officer, Futures Group

The metaverse is a parallel virtual plane of existence that spans all digital technologies and will even come to control much of the physical world. This construct helps explain another common description of the metaverse as a 3D internet – Matthew Ball
Author of The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything

The [Metaverse] will be a wild, organic, and amazing outgrowth of what we think of today as the internet and web. When you see images and diagrams of the internet today, it looks like a biologic construct, full of neuron-like connections and the emergence of proto life. – Rony Abovitz, Founder, Magic Leap

So based on what we’ve heard so far, do we think this is the new Internet?

Honestly, it’s really hard to say, and it’s important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves or get too caught up in the hype. If you were to ask Elon Musk or Jack Dorsey, they would say that the Metaverse is nothing more than a marketing buzzword. However, it’s hard to believe that an industry which is predicted to grow to over $600B by 2030 is just a buzzword.

Also, Tech CEOs like Satya Nadella from Microsoft are bullish on the Metaverse, as evidenced by the fact that they just acquired Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion.
My advice to all of us during this time is to listen to all these different perspectives. Hype cycles come and go, but if the Metaverse can provide meaningful value, it will be here to stay.

I believe, however, there is a more helpful way to talk about the Metaverse. A way for us business and marketing people to talk about it without getting caught up in utopian (or dystopian) fantasies and technological jargon.

I believe we need to talk much less about VR and whether we’re headed for a future that plays out like that in Spielberg’s adaptation of the book Ready Player One. Instead, I think we need to zag a little, while the futurists zig.

Let’s listen to the rhythms of the past so we can understand our present and future.

Let’s think back to when Facebook made another huge announcement and shift in their business: the shift to mobile.

It was 2012, the iPhone had been around for six years, and most of us already had a smartphone. Adoption of Facebook’s mobile first user experience was relatively seamless. It also catapulted them from $18 to $75 per share in less than six months.

This is what Mark Zuckerberg said at the time…

“Today, our society has reached a tipping point. We live at a moment when the majority of people in the world have access to the internet or mobile phones — the raw tools necessary to start sharing what they’re thinking, feeling and doing with whomever they want. Facebook aspires to build the services that give people the power to share and help them once again transform many of our core institutions and industries.” – Mark Zuckerberg, 2012

Now, let’s go back to last year when he announced Facebook’s re-brand and their commitment to the Metaverse. This is what Mark said then:

“When I started Facebook, we mostly typed text on websites. When we got phones with cameras, the internet became more visual and mobile. As connections got faster, video became a richer way to share experiences. We’ve gone from desktop to web to mobile; from text to photos to video. But this isn’t the end of the line. The next platform will be even more immersive — an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. We call this the metaverse, and it will touch every product we build.
– Mark Zuckerberg, 2021

This feels fairly iterative right? This feels like a natural evolutionary step. However, there’s a big difference in these two moments in time.

When Meta rebranded Facebook and Mark made his very public bet that this was going to be centrally important to their business, almost no one was in the Metaverse, at least not as the term is defined by most people, whereas years earlier when he announced the shift to mobile, almost everyone at that time was already using their smartphones to access the Internet.

This is why talking about the Metaverse as something that we have yet to realize or as something that sounds futuristic is so problematic, because how can we talk about the Metaverse, especially as marketers, if we’re not actually in it yet?

Our entire experience of the Internet to date–how we use it, how it has become centrally important to our lives, and how it has impacted society and technology–has been the result of small incremental steps over an almost 30-year period.

There have been major innovations, to be sure, but adoption has actually been smoother and more gradual than you might think. That was, of course, until 2020 and the global pandemic.

During the first three months of the Pandemic, we saw the single biggest shifts in human behavior since the Internet first went mainstream. Literally billions of people were forced to work from home and use video communication tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams to communicate with their colleagues, friends and family.

We went from spending 6-8 hours a day interacting with people in-person, or via a blend of email and conference calls, to spending almost all of our time communicating through live video.

To me, this shift in behavior was a giant leap towards a future in which we will spend most of our lives communicating in and between both digital and physical spaces, characterized today by the familiar Zoom-like experience.

But if we continue along this path of adoption and technological iteration, it’s not hard to imagine that at some point in the near future, the Zoom experience will be better, richer, and perhaps even 3D.

So, rather than go with Matthew Ball’s or Cathy Hackl’s definition, I would prefer to describe the Metaverse in this way:

“The Metaverse is the seamless movement between the digital and physical spaces where we spend time interacting, engaging, and communicating in synchronous and asynchronous experiences.”

If the Metaverse is the next iteration of how we connect and engage, then guess what? We’re already in it. It’s not predominantly 3D or virtual reality yet, but it is here, and it’s being used by billions of people.

So, if I’m right, then the bet that Mark and others should be making–or at least the way to communicate what the Metaverse is–should be grounded in what we are using today and how it will evolve, not in something that feels dystopian and more like a Sci-Fi movie.

The Shift from Knowledge Work to Direction Work

Toby Daniels
Toby Daniels
Co founder ON_Discourse

The worst piece of advice you could give today to a college freshman hoping to work in tech is to tell them to major in computer science, math, or engineering. Same for coding, which is about to go from being a surefire way into the industry to immaterial. 

Automation has been replacing manual labor for decades, but artificial intelligence is now ready to take over the bulk of knowledge work. We are on the precipice of a great shift that will drastically change which workers will be the most valuable recruits.

I predict that knowledge workers who, at the turn of the century, were described as the most important workers within a modern, thriving organization, will be replaced by what we’re calling direction workers. The evolution in technology isn’t so much going to eliminate high-end human jobs, it’s going to change what high-end human jobs look like and require. 

For the last 60 years, knowledge work has been used to describe a kind of intellectual work that demands a high degree of specialization or training, and the ability to perform non-routine tasks like problem-solving, analysis, decision-making, and the creation of new information. Knowledge workers were the upper crust of all white-collar workers: financial analysts, architects, lawyers, data scientists, and engineers. 

That was before. 

Across many disciplines, knowledge work is already being replaced. In the financial sector, AI systems are able to analyze vast amounts of data and make sophisticated investment decisions. In healthcare, AI systems are able to diagnose medical conditions and recommend treatments with a high degree of accuracy. AI systems don’t take days off; they do not call in sick. They can work 24 hours a day. 

But the shifts in these sectors do not just show AI replacing human skills. They show a need for a new kind of human skill set. This is where the direction worker comes in.

I use “direction” not so much to convey the management work of a director in a company but more to refer to the literal act of directing, as in instructing or conducting. It could just as easily be called “Instruction Work.”

The image of an orchestra conductor comes to mind, expertly guiding musicians and instruments to produce the right sound. The image of a NASCAR driver may even be more appropriate. The engine may be beautiful, but it won’t win the race without the expertise, the direction, of its driver.

In finance just as in healthcare, human workers are needed to provide direction to AI systems even as they are no longer required to crunch the data themselves. On the tail end, human workers also need to evaluate the results, use critical, lateral thinking, and offer follow-up instructions. 

Ferenc Huszár, a machine learning professor at the University of Cambridge, tweeted last year that the current version of OpenAI’s large language model, ChatGPT, would be a good teaching tool in mathematics, precisely because its answers are sometimes wrong. “Give it a problem, it generates convincing-looking but potentially bullsh*t answer, ask the student if they are convinced by the response,” he wrote.

What Huszár is suggesting here to me is not just teaching students to simply produce an accurate answer, but to develop an ability to go past the appearance of a fact and, with a critical eye, evaluate whether it is indeed accurate. If it isn’t, that eye needs to figure out why not, edit the original question, and do it all over again.

Lorem FPO

As systems progress, there may be less need for correction and editing, but the need for direction will not disappear. Ever-improving technologies will only call for more excellent direction. 

Where to find and how to train these direction workers then becomes the question. 

I am not sold on telling young people to just go to business school. Sure, we need a good generation of leaders who understand how to manage this new landscape, but more than managers we need critical thinkers who can ask the right questions, look for blind spots, understand connections, and have the creativity and humility to rethink the problem at its end and its base.

Direction workers are likely going to be people who can juggle different skill sets all at once: dual majors in math and anthropology PhDs who have trained quantitatively and qualitatively, journalism majors who work with Python, law school graduates willing to engage with the practicalities of coding and ethics. In short, we are going to need what David Epstein called “generalists” in his best-selling book, Range

Realizing that to be competitive in the marketplace in the next ten years is going to look totally different than it did in the last ten is not just something young professionals need to do. Those of us in business should also be paying attention: The biggest cost to businesses over the next decade will be hiring the wrong people with the wrong skill sets.

As Max Penk put it in a post on LinkedIn earlier this year:

“Good news: AI will not replace you.
Bad news: a person using AI will”.

People interacting with new technologies must understand them, and cannot be afraid of them, but they have to offer more than what the technologies do. 

Direction work isn’t just necessary to make any sensible use of AI, successful direction work will determine and elevate what we get out of this incredible new age of evolution and progress. That’s what candidates and CEOs with an eye to the future need to be preparing for.


Against AI “Art”

Molly Crabapple
Artist and writer in New York City. 

One might argue that the rise of AI image generators is only a problem for illustrators like me. But what about you, editor, art director, or publisher?


The Open Source
AI Revolution

Dylan Paten
Semiconductor Analyst

The implications of this open-source AI revolution are profound, especially for closed-source organizations like Google and OpenAI.

This post is for members only.

To keep reading this post, apply to join our Member Waitlist. You may view our membership packages to know more.

Already a member? Login

One of the major selling points of Web3—at least among its most ardent proponents—is decentralization. Blockchain technology enables us to use smart contracts, build bankless assets, trade without friction, and much more.

Here’s the problem with the way we’re trying to sell Web3 to people who aren’t already interested: who cares? Who really cares about abstract-sounding concepts like identity ownership, bankless assets, and smart contracts?

From the conversations I’ve had with folks on the periphery (or way outside) of Web3 spaces, the answer is: not your average person.

Let’s take decentralized finance as an example. The idea of bankless assets seems incredibly exciting to those of us on the inside of the discussion. Traditional banks fail consumers in many, many ways. Decentralized finance represents the future.

However: The majority of Americans are unable to cover a $1,000 emergency in cash.

You’re not going to get the average person excited about the idea of bankless assets, because the average person has no assets. Decentralized finance sounds meaningless to a person living paycheck-to-paycheck.

This is part of crypto’s current image problem, which I’ve written about previously. The far-reaching benefits of blockchain technology are exciting when you dig into the details, but the average person struggles to see how those benefits apply to their lives now, when it matters to them.

The idealism behind these common selling points is good, and it’s something we need to foster (especially in light of scams, cryptocurrency collapses, and other high-profile scandals).

Instead, we need to start leveraging that idealism into creating and pointing out useful tools—not just using Web3 projects to do Web2 stuff. The more relevant we can make Web3 to the average user, the faster we’ll be able to onboard the next 100 million users.

Part of that onboarding is showcasing how the blockchain can make everyone’s lives easier, using examples that people who aren’t interested in speculative finance can understand and relate to.

Take a simple activity, like trying to sell something.

Under the current model, you might want to list that item on multiple sites to increase the likelihood that someone sees and buys it: eBay, Amazon, Craigslist. In doing so, you face a few risks that most online sellers are all too familiar with.

If two people try to buy it at the same time from different sites, you’re going to have at least one angry shopper on your hands. There’s a risk that the person who says they’re buying it doesn’t have the money for it.

A smart contract eliminates those risks. You can list the item wherever you want and the smart contract ensures it can only be sold once. The smart contract checks the buyer’s wallet to make sure they have the assets to buy it. As soon as you scan the item at the UPS store or post office, the smart contract automatically validates the transaction and releases the funds.

No need to interact with a middleman. No need to monitor all your listings to update information about how much stock you have. No need to worry about scams.

Something this simple is still an enormous benefit of blockchain technology. And you might notice that it includes all the same selling points: decentralization, bankless assets, smart contracts, frictionless trade.

Yet it’s an example that is far more likely to be relevant to the average person’s daily life. It’s more comprehensible than the idea of bankless assets on its own, and showcases the concrete benefits of blockchain technology—not just the theoretical ones.

Crypto has an image problem, but one of the solutions is fairly simple: Meet people where they are. Show them how the blockchain can make their lives easier now and how it is relevant to their actual experiences.

There’s no way this can happen. None. Many of us know this on a fundamental level, and it is disturbing to me that more are not pointing this out. 

If by town square we mean to refer to a mythical place where people can head to share their thoughts unhindered; if by town square, we mean free speech: then Twitter, together with almost all social media platforms as we currently know them, is entirely unequipped to provide anyone with such a space. 

Not only is Twitter unequipped to provide users with such a space, it is unequipped to do so by design. New ownership will not change this. 

Why? Because Twitter works with algorithms. This is not only how the platform works at this point, it’s how it thrives. And free speech is intrinsically incompatible with an algorithmically-driven world.

There’s a complication here of course, which is where a lot of people get tripped up. 

Social media platforms, including Twitter, have done wonders for the expansion of free speech. Twitter alone has close to half a billion users. For most of these users, the opportunities to be heard went from being small to exponential. There’s no denying that.

In recent years, Twitter has become a place for otherwise marginalized voices to bypass traditional gatekeepers, find communities and even make a living. Helping them along the way and keeping people engaged and online? Algorithms. 

Algorithms help voices be heard and people find audiences. They determine what’s seen, what’s promoted, what’s amplified. But if this is the case, the opposite must also be true. Online attention is a zero sum game. Algorithms also diminish and ignore. That is to say, they suppress. 

That’s not what an open town square looks like, is it? What this is, is selective censorship combined with selective amplification. You can argue this type of system is useful, or even necessary, that it amplifies good, but there’s no way you can bend this into being a tool for pure free speech. 

So is the answer to go back to newsfeeds void of manipulation or suggestion, in reverse chronological order only featuring messages from people users already know to follow? 

I am all for advocating for Twitter to give users a genuine option for one versus the other (not a fake genuine option, which it has repeatedly done in the past), but even with this option, pure free speech cannot be attained. Some users may want timelines untouched by algorithms, but clearly a lot of users enjoy the opposite. And so long as there’s a group willing to have their experience altered by algorithms, the grand idea of a town square is impossible. 

To remove algorithms completely would be the opposite of progress. It would also be the opposite of competitive. TikTok has three times the users Twitter does, and its success can be credited in large part to algorithms. I don’t see a world in which Musk goes all the way with his town square analogy at the cost of user engagement and the profitability of a platform that is already on rocky financial terrain. 

It feels obvious that, like it or not, algorithms are here to stay. It is also hard to deny that algorithms and free speech are wholly incompatible. Those of us who work in tech are acutely aware of this fact. It is at best naive and at worst disingenuous to pretend we are not. 

Where we go from here has to be based in honest conversation. 

Our social feeds are fast becoming awash with posts, podcasts, new headshots, and videos that were generated entirely by AI.

We’re in that first, initial phase of hype and excitement. It’s pretty fun to watch and observe and we are just at the beginning. 

But what are the unintended consequences?

Earlier this week I listened to Pack McCormick’s Not Boring podcast, where he makes the argument that the world oscillates between centralization and decentralization. It was great. But, it was not the subject matter that interested me, it was how the podcast was made.

While it sounds like Packy’s voice, the podcast was in fact generated by AI voice, created by the team at play.ht, which used a training model from a bunch of his audio essays. 

In Packy’s words, it’s wildly good, and while there are some minor glitches and issues with intonation and inflection, it’s pretty close to being perfect. 

I listened to the whole thing, and while it was genuinely mind-blowing, it made me feel uneasy. 

Knowing it wasn’t Packy was reassuring, in that he wasn’t trying to pull a fast one, or pass this off as something authentic (I’m not sure it would have passed the sniff test anyway), but it is self-evident that others will not be as honest or transparent in the future.

So what does it mean to use AI to create media and pretend a human generated it?

What are the real-world consequences of this? What should we be talking about to ensure we channel our excitement in the healthiest way possible?

Think about this for a minute.  

If you are a copywriter, a journalist, a filmmaker, a grant writer, a ghostwriter, a graduate student, a poet, a novelist, a musician, a playwright, or even a social media manager who has to create ten different versions of the same social post, why are you not using a tool like Jasper.ai to do the hard work for you?  

I would.  Maybe I am.  Maybe this was written by AI. And guess what, I’m not telling.  That’s for you to decide in the poll. 

Lastly, this moment reminds me of something I was told recently. 

Beyond the first movie, did you know that Eddie Murphy didn’t actually do the voice of Donkey because he was so difficult to work with?* Instead, they used an impressionist for Shrek 2-6!

My view of these movies changed in an instant when I learned this, and I would feel the same way if AI was used to recreate the voice of Mike Myers in an animated recreation of Wayne’s World.

It just doesn’t feel right to me.

What do you think? What are the unintended consequences of Generative AI that we need to be talking about here?

Tokenization is an exciting prospect and tokens are a building block for the future of the internet. The possibilities for Web3-powered businesses seem limitless (even when the crypto space is rocked by scandals and collapses, as we saw with FTX in recent weeks). Tokens enable investment, decentralize decision-making, support the creation and curation of art, allow for value and asset exchange, and so much more.   

However, rushing into tokenization might not be the right call for your business. At least not yet. 

As you consider the role of tokens in your business, here are some questions to ask before taking action. 

Should We Tokenize the Business? 

The first question, of course, is, “Should the business be tokenized at all?” A simple, straightforward yes/no question—right?

Not so much. 

To answer it, as members of ON_Discourse discovered when we were considering whether to tokenize the business or use an off-the-shelf technology, we had to ask a series of other questions first. 

And as with any strategic business discussion, if you want real, useful answers, you need a team of trustworthy folks around you. People who aren’t afraid to tell each other no. People who aren’t afraid to say things like, “You are not going to like my answer”—and then say the thing anyway.  

What are the Benefits of Tokenization? 

The benefits of tokenization might seem obvious. Tokens enable interoperability, connection, co-creation, data ownership, and much more. 

However, digging into this question might show you that the benefits of tokenization don’t necessarily apply to your business, or that the effort and cost of tokenization outweighs those benefits.

For example, ON_Discourse members saw multiple potential benefits of tokenization for our business model, including: 

  • Acknowledging members and contributors who participate in real discourse
  • Aligning our company’s mission and values with the business structure and technology
  • Allowing us to create gated content and use NFTs to authenticate access
  • Enabling collaboration with other communities
  • Ensuring early adopters and core members feel a sense of ownership

There are real potential benefits of tokenization for Web3-enabled businesses now and in the future. 

Understanding the benefits of tokenization—and how they align with your business strategy, priorities, and future goals—can help you make a decision about how, whether, and when to introduce tokens. 

Is Tokenization the Best Tool for Realizing Those Benefits? 

Web3 is a source of real innovation, and tokens are an essential piece of the puzzle. But are we there yet, technologically speaking?

Will your business be able to take advantage of the promises of tokenization (and Web3-powered business tools more broadly)? Or will implementation be time-consuming, expensive, and inefficient? 

As we’ve talked about elsewhere, consumer experience will be a defining feature of Web3—and Web3’s consumer experience is currently dismal. Will leaping into tokenization help or hurt your brand’s reputation? 

It’s easy to get distracted by the possibility of tokenization and overlook the reality of the current experience. You could be neck-deep in development before you realize you’ve made an expensive, time-consuming mistake.  

ON_Discourse is a new company with big goals. Those of us who discussed the possibility of tokenization are all-in on Web3. But does that mean we need to be a Web3-enabled company from day one? 

No matter how excited we all are, we discovered through our discussion that the available technology doesn’t match our vision. There’s no current approach to tokenization that does what we want and does it better than an existing tool.  

As a result, we had to ask the other important questions, like: 

  • Would introducing tokenization over-complicate things at this stage of our development?
  • Might tokenization make it difficult to scale as fast as we want to?

Do we want to tokenize? That’s a resounding yes from everyone.  

Are we doing it right now? No.  

The conclusion you reach might be different, based on your strategic goals and priorities. However, realistically assessing the technological landscape must be a central part of your decision-making process. 

So: Should You Tokenize Your Business? 

The right answer to this question will depend on a number of factors—your business model and goals, what you hope to accomplish with tokenization, and whether you have the resources to devote to development. 

When it comes to your own business, ask the following questions:

  • Do you need to tokenize? That is—is tokenization the best solution, or is it an exciting new distraction? 
  • Is there a simpler, off-the-shelf tool you could use while token technologies are developed?
  • What are the benefits of tokenization? Do those benefits apply to your company or project?
  • Are you interested in tokenization as a powerful Web3-enabled tool or as a marketing tactic?
  • What properties of tokenization might be applicable to your business now? 
  • How might you add tokenization in the future?

Don’t tokenize just to tokenize. Don’t do it just to say you’re Web3-enabled. Make sure you’re having the right conversation first.