Chain Reaction: web3 and the metaverse

Web3 and the metaverse represents a new frontier for designers. But with every undiscovered country there may well be dragons ahead. Consider this your Waldseemüller map to the evolving internet.

If you’ve become comfortable with an internet populated by social media, video or image sharing sites and similar apps, resign yourself to the fact that those days of Web 2.0 are coming to an end. Web3 and the metaverse are already here and looking to shake things up.

In fairness, it’s early days still and there are probably as many definitions of what web3 and the metaverse are as there are technologies underpinning them. That said, an attempt at summarizing the coming paradigm shift may look like this: on one side is a collection of technologies and software aimed at clawing back privacy and control over personal data that has been given away to big tech in the development and proliferation of Web 2.0. On the other side is the metaverse: a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection in an effort to amplify how we move through and interact with the world around us through the widespread adoption of virtual or augmented reality.

“If you think of Web1 as the days of dial-up, usernames and passwords; Web 2.0 is the age of social media and login gatekeepers like Google and Facebook; and web3 will likely be the age of, hopefully, user self-sovereignty where we do away with usernames and passwords and we have a one-click connection to any and every website that will recognize us and we have control over that one user profile. Ideally,” says Jaime Derringer, an NFT artist and currently Head of Community at, a new fine art NFT platform for creators.

At this point, web3 is little more than a big grab bag of everything that vaguely promises to revolutionize the internet and how we interact with it, and the fog won’t lift until clear use-cases of these new technologies emerge and see widespread adoption. Some of these technologies are already inching towards mainstream, but we’re still far away from widespread adoption of these new technologies and services working together to enact the promise of a decentralized, privacy and user-focused iteration on the internet.

Words of Caution

We may very well be experiencing a major technological and cultural revolution, potentially impacting the way humans live, interact, entertain themselves, shop and do business. Exciting times, no doubt, and our instincts when interpreting the whirlwind caused by technological change is to look for tangible, specific applications. But before doing that, a word of caution: web3 can sometimes take on aspects of a speculative bubble. As with any new technological frontier comes the expected cohort of snake-oil peddlers, promising riches when all they’re selling is reheated ideas skillfully presented with fancy-looking marketing material. Case in point: despite the promises of crypto evangelists, many were snake-bitten by the collapse of FTX, pointing to what some pundits are calling a golden age for scammers.

Conversely, many of today’s most ubiquitous and useful technologies came to widespread adoption by displacing older, less desirable technologies and slowly but surely transformed societies over time. It then comes down to discerning which applications have the potential to provide valuable and practical results and which are pure opportunistic drivel. In this context, a healthy dose of skepticism is always the best protection, and with basic common-sense principles in mind one can cast a critical eye at these technologies and start to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Some Promising Applications

With that in mind, here are some potential applications, technologies and services that look very promising especially for the architecture and design industries.

The metaverse: Some companies are creating virtual showrooms to make it easy to see a variety of products in a virtual space. One such company is Toronto-based custom wallpaper maker Rollout, which has created a virtual showroom in the style of a cliff-hanging lair for a villain from the James Bond franchise. Despite how cool it looks, it’s not the setting itself that matters. The real advantage lies in its ability to help their clients to instantly visualize all kinds of wallpaper in a virtual space, allowing for cycling through many iterations in a very short time.

While it doesn’t replace product samples and test applications, it has the potential to greatly enhance Rollout’s customer experience. “We see a need for online, immersive showrooms that help interior designers and architects use our catalogue of designs to showcase their ideas in integrated spaces to their clients, in real time,” says Jonathan Nodrick, founder of Rollout. “These technologies allow us to continually innovate and think bigger.”

The blockchain: Identity theft, privacy concerns and data mining by big tech are making the news every day. The blockchain has the potential to put users in charge of their data, with blockchain-based digital identities that would give individuals the power to decide with whom, when and for how long they choose to share personal information.

“People will have the ability to really seamlessly choose which pieces of their identity they pass along in order to transact with a brand, and they’re going to be incentivized to provide those pieces of information, rather than in the current state [of affairs] where Facebook knows every movie that you’ve ever watched and you’re really not profiting from it other than the fact that you can log into websites a little bit more easily,” says Andrew Lane, co-founder of digby, a Toronto-based digital design innovation company.

NFTs: One potentially transformative application for NFTs is the ability for creators to get compensated fairly for their creations and set the rules of what can and cannot be done with their work. “A loose definition of web3 is power to the creator,” says Tessa Bain, co-founder of digby. “It’s creating revenue opportunities for the original creator to see those in perpetuity, over the course of a product or service offering changing hands.”

NFTs give product manufacturers the ability to create certificates of authenticity to determine provenance and fight knockoffs, giving them an edge over counterfeiters. While that won’t stop people who don’t want to pay full price from buying reproductions, it will make it easier for customers to determine the provenance of an object and therefore ensure they don’t get ripped off buying fakes at full price or help them ensure resale value down the road, especially if they own a piece of furniture that is a genuine collectible.

NFT and digital fashion were the primary sources of inspiration for the 2 5 2 6 project by Ying Gao, a Montreal-based fashion designer and professor at University of Quebec, as they hold the unique status of not being constrained by the physical reality of materials. However, the two polymorphic outfits are very real: woven, hand-screened, and consolidated materials have been specially designed to create these clothes that simulate the effects of virtual clothing.

Augmented reality (AR): while virtual reality (VR) is what most people focus on, AR holds more promise as another layer of information added to the real world. Imagine wearing glasses that can display information on the lenses. You could walk around while looking at information directly overlaid onto your surrounding environment.

A still from the short film titled Hyper-Reality by London-based designer Keiichi Matsuda, which explores (somewhat cheekily) how “technologies such as VR, augmented reality, wearables, and the internet of things are pointing to a world where technology will envelop every aspect of our lives,” according to the logline. (© 2016 Keichii Matsuda)
What to Take Away and Leave Behind

A grand unified theory of web3 and the metaverse has yet to be formulated, but the key lesson is this: if the technology being considered solves a real-world problem for which no other solution exists, or what it offers is at least an order of magnitude better than what already exists, then it’s probably worth paying attention to.

If it has the potential to solve a real problem but is not mature enough to be implemented in the present, then it will need to be further developed, incurring costs and risks that should be carefully considered before getting involved. In all other cases, be wary of miracle solutions that haven’t been hardened in the forge of the marketplace, especially if they are only a proof-of-concept yet to be tested.

“The metaverse as I envision it is not here yet, but I see the internet as becoming the metaverse, or every website as its own mini-metaverse where all metaverse experiences are connected in some way,” says Derringer. “In a sense, I think it could simultaneously be a medium and a destination.”

The beauty of such an as-yet undefined new sector is that there is a little bit for everyone, so if any of these call to you, there is no harm in exploring, learning and if warranted, get involved in their development. An axiom that was true for Web 2.0 was “if you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold.” All eyes will be on if web3 emancipates users from those shackles or just slides back to old habits.