The digital spaces we inhabit today have evolved considerably since the early days of the Internet. The next major evolutionary transition is unfolding rapidly, with many of the world’s biggest tech companies announcing their intention to pioneer the so-called “metaverse”.
As described by the venture capitalist, Matthew Ball“[The metaverse] is an embodied Internet composed of a large-scale, interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds, which can be synchronously and persistently experienced by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence.
Unlike previous versions of the Internet, the metaverse will be built and owned primarily by its users, not by large centralized entities. As such, user-generated content (UGC) will be at the heart of it.
What is user-generated content (UGC) and why is it important for the metaverse?
UGC is content (such as images, videos, text, and audio) created by users instead of professionally employed content creators.
Image: Examples of UCG for LaCroix, GoPro and Netflix brands
While UCG is not exclusive to the digital realm, understanding how it has influenced the internet, web, and social media is essential to understanding how it is shaping the metaverse.
The metaverse and the latest iteration of the World Wide Web (called Web 3.0) are two sides of the same coin. The Metaverse shows how users will experience the Internet of the future, while Web 3.0 is about who will own, co-create and control the Internet of tomorrow.
A timeline of web iterations and user-generated content
Let’s take a closer look at the role of UGC in the three major iterations of the web to better explain how it will shape the metaverse.
The first web consisted of static, read-only web pages created by a small number of individuals and organizations who possessed advanced technological skills for their time. These web pages provided almost no interactivity. Yet their creators controlled the content because these web pages were hosted either on the creators’ own servers or directly rented servers. Tools such as Microsoft FrontPage and Macromedia’s Dreamweaver were introduced to democratize website building, but required certain web development and coding skills.
Our current iteration, Web 2.0, is characterized by centralized platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Medium. In addition to platforms, this era has been blessed with new mobile tools like iPhones and Android phones, which provide connectivity and media capture capabilities. The rapid adoption of smartphones and mobile apps connected to social platforms has propelled UGC to volumes that were once unimaginable. These tools and platforms make it easy for users to create and interact with content, but many limit content creators in the control they have over it. The middleman (platform) genuinely monetizes and benefits from UGC while offering limited financial participation in loot with the creator.
Thanks to blockchain technology and the different solutions built on it (such as non-fungible tokens [NFTs]), Web 3.0 promises to put content creators back in control of their content without complicating production. It aims to achieve this goal by moving content from centralized platforms to decentralized registries and aggregators of similar content.
“No matter how the metaverse takes shape, UGC will be a central element that gives it its personality, authenticity and scale. Encouraging creativity and enabling freedom of expression through UGC is something that all experiences metaverse should strive to do.Scott ReismanisFounder of ModDB and mod.io
the decentralization and guaranteed ownership of content are essential for the metaverse, as they incentivize its users to spend long hours creating UGC for it. Content creators can have finer control of their products and even receive compensation beyond the initial sale through configurable royalties. In Web 3.0, creators will also benefit from greater interoperability whereby their unique product can be seen and used in various metaverses.
UGC is already shaping the first metaverse projects
Without UGC, the metaverse could never become an embodied version of the Internet because the Internet would not be what it is today without this type of content.
Instead of being the interactive place where people consume content, learn, socialize and share their deepest ideas and feelings, it would be more like a modern version of those text-based television services called teletext or broadcast teletext.
The success of these proto-metaverses can largely be attributed to the content created by their players. This contrasts with the attribution to developers who focus on giving content creators easy-to-use tools and motivating them by allowing them to earn money based on the use of their creations.
And there’s no doubt that the best UGC for Roblox generates a ton of engagement. For example, the pet simulator Adopt methe most popular Roblox game of all time, had over 27.39 billion visits as of February 2022. The independent studio behind the parent company employs around 40 people and earns $50 million per yearmainly from microtransactions.
But high-profile examples of UGC, such as Adopt Me, are just the start. Much of the UGC in the metaverse will be much more mundane and inconsequential, just as much of the UGC on the web today is mindless commentary and endless reposts of memes.
However, this mundane UGC is exactly what the Metaverse needs to feel alive and truly immersive.
The Internet as we know it is evolving and becoming progressively immersive. Soon, we’ll experience it as a network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds, and user-generated content will play a big part in how those worlds look and what can be done in them. The way we approach learning for all ages will fundamentally change over the next decade, and my company, Allen Interactions, is proud to be a part of that change. Allen Interactions has been at the forefront of breakthrough technology in the learning industry for over 40 years and is excited to blaze new trails in the metaverse.
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the Allen Interactions Blog.