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What is the difference between metaverse and fediverse?

The universe is an extremely large and extremely complex entity, but new technology concepts metaverse and fediverse are rather complex as well. Metaverse and fediverse are so different concepts that it may not even be reasonable to compare them, but the comparison may help us understand what they are and what they will mean for all of us in the future.

Metaverse is a vision for natural interaction in online world

Let Facebook define what metaverse is because the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced massive investments in creating a new online world. This means the company is probably becoming the lead developer of the technology:

  • The ‘metaverse’ is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create and more. It’s not necessarily about spending more time online — it’s about making the time you do spend online more meaningful.

An example of this are multiplayer games that project an artificial world where players move, fight, buy and sell things during the game. Each game developer has created a unique world for the game. Some games also require a specific device or console to play. Another example is virtual reality headsets that can take people to a world created by a computer.

Every metaverse developer, especially Facebook (or Meta, the company’s new name), wants to create the world where every person on the planet wants to come and hang out. Meta / Facebook has spoken about interoperability and co-operation between metaverse worlds, but let’s see if development really moves to that direction.

The vision for metaverse is to enable people to actually enter a shopping mall, walk around, meet friends, and shop without leaving their homes. Perhaps a friend visits your house without leaving his or her house. Will we get rid of ads, spam or programs that spy our personal data? No, unless the business model of seemingly free online services change.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, sometimes collectively known as Extended Reality are technologies that will be used to build metaverse worlds. An example of Virtual Reality (VR) is the Facebook-owned Oculus. Augmented Reality (AR) has already been used in mobile apps, like maps for a number of years.

Fediverse is so open it can power almost anything

The term fediverse has been made up from the words “federate” and “universe”. It means a social network whose servers can be operated by organizations or individuals, making it a networked, decentralized system run by independent parties. The key thing is that all these servers communicate with one another, exchanging data.

An internet user can sign up to a fediverse service that is running in Australia, but he or she can view and communicate with users who have signed up to any fediverse server, be it in Albania, Iceland, Costa Rica, or Vietnam, to name a few places. For the user, this fediverse service looks like one coherent system, although in the background there is plenty of communication going on that keeps the entire social media network updated.

If someone wants to join a social network like Twitter – known as Mastodon in fediverse, he or she can look up services running on Mastodon software. Other popular Fediverse services are, for instance, Pixelfed that is something like Instagram and Friendica that resembles Facebook (as it was in its early years).

The vision of fediverse software developers and contributors who provide the services is to make available free, open services to all people. The services don’t rely on a central node or central administrator who decides everything. If a fediverse server disappears from the internet, or a server admin doesn’t allow a user to join the service, there are other servers where the user can sign up and join the community.

So, what are the key differences between Metaverse and Fediverse?

Two key differences between fediverse and metaverse are the software licensing model and the business model.

The businesses that are driving the development of metaverse at the moment include game development companies and Meta/Facebook. The software they develop is typically proprietary, and not licensed to anyone. Users have to trust the software does what the companies say and, for instance, doesn’t sell user’s personal data to other businesses.

Software programs running fediverse services are open source solutions that can be adopted and developed further by anyone. If someone writes a new feature, others may adopt it if they want. The protocols that exchange information between fediverse services are open as well. For instance, any WordPress blog can be integrated into fediverse by installing a plugin that implements the fediverse protocol Activitypub.

Typically, the business model of enterprises that are investing in metaverse at the moment is to sell advertisements, subscriptions to the service, or licenses that allow access to the software. At the moment, providing free services and making money with ads is a popular business model, although many game vendors sell licenses and subscriptions as well. These models don’t necessarily encourage interoperability between metaverse services because everyone wants to keep all users in their service.

The business model of fediverse is practically non-existent at the moment. The services largely rely on volunteers and donations to keep services free and ad-free for users. This is not a sustainable long-term solution, but subscriptions can be a fair solution to generate revenue that finances development and operations.

Sooner or later, it will be possible to create a metaverse world using open fediverse technologies. In this vision, multiple independent fediverse services establish a large network that users experience as one coherent metaverse service.

Header image by Mindaugas Vitkus.

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