The Metaverse: the importance of interop

Avatar created in ReadyPlayerMe and imported into Somnium Space

Without interoperability, there is no #metaverse. Without open standards and open source and the resulting interoperability – there would be no Web or Internet as we know them today. It is no accident that the characters comprising this post are readable in any browser on any device and have been transported across the global network through various switches, routers, and proxies manufactured by different vendors. The reader doesn’t have to care or know which tool I used to create this post, nor which character encoding or font I prefer – that is all transparent to the user because of open standards like HTML, CSS, HTTP, and TCP/IP.

As the web evolves – standardization and interoperability will play an increasingly important role. The Metaverse is more ambitious than the current web regarding the sheer amount of technology involved. The Metaverse is an amalgamation of technologies from gaming, film, AR/VR, AI/ML, commerce, etc. Some of these areas have established standards; others are still nascent.

One of the critical areas of interop (according to a poll at the Metaverse Standards Forum) is the exchange of assets. This is required for seamless commerce, moving digital goods between assets, and choosing different tools at the design stage. Designers also need the ability to import assets into a virtual world from a film or game studio or real world without losing fidelity. 

There are already two major standards in this area – USD (Universal Scene Description) – first developed by Pixar and open-sourced in 2016. Today it enjoys strong support from AutodeskAppleNVIDIA, and the open source blender 3D graphics application. NVIDIA goes as far as claiming that USD is the HTML of the Metaverse – more here.

If USD is the HTML for the Metaverse, then maybe the other standard – glTF (GL Transmission Format) is what JPEG is for the Web and Mobile today. glTF is a lightweight file format for describing 3D scenes and models and is widely supported by @Microsoft, Meta/Occulus, and Unreal Engine.

Each standard has its benefits and supporting ecosystem, and it may not be possible or necessary to arrive at a single standard to meet all needs. Queue joke about the need for a  3rd standard to rule them all!

What this illustrates is that for something as central as being able to describe a 3D scene or object – the Metaverse will likely have to support (at least) two significant standards along with the overhead and complexity of versioning, converters, extensions, importers, and translators to ensure assets can be moved between ecosystems without exposing the problem to end users.

The efficient and seamless interchange of 3D assets is just the tip of the iceberg, and interoperability in many other areas (security, identity, money, reputation) will have to be addressed before the Metaverse becomes a reality.