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Joel Dietz was a founding architect of MetaMask, the company that makes digital wallets for cryptocurrency trading.
And now he has come out of his “crypto retirement” to start a new company aimed at making the metaverse interoperable. He calls the new company MetaMetaverse, and he has raised $2 million for it already.
Dietz plans to build a Layer 1 blockchain protocol — something like other blockchains like Ethereum or Bitcoin, but more like a metadata protocol — for the purpose of connecting the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
His MetaMetaverse is natively cross-chain and includes a programming language for generating and managing metaverses, running games and simulations inside of them, and mapping parallel realities. It sounds ambitious and a bit crazy, but Dietz said in an interview with GamesBeat that this is the kind of task he likes taking on. He happened to be in Dubai while I spoke with him, but I figure it was the real Joel Dietz. He said the company’s headquarters is split between Lisbon and Dubai, and it has about 25 people now.
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Meet Joel Dietz
Dietz is well known in the early crypto industry, which he started exploring as early as 2011. He got into Ethereum, the popular programmable blockchain protocol, on the day the first white paper dropped.
“I basically dropped everything I was doing to work on Ethereum,” he said.
He was known for not only for designing and securing the early funding for Metamask, but also for establishing the academic field of cryptoeconomics, establishing the legal standards for utility tokens at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and for creating the first governance protocols in crypto, including a project called Swarm that became the first regulated DeFi project in Germany. He told me he is in the process of writing a cryptoeconomics textbook for MIT.
“I was super fascinated by the field of cryptoeconomics and the implications for society at large,” he said. “I guess I have an academic bent in general.”
He also veered into virtual reality in its early days, making a 3D fractal simulator for the HTC Vive VR headset and the Oculus Go.
Dietz said that he took a break from crypto after the success of MetaMask. But he didn’t like the scams that have haunted cryptocurrencies and the spinoff technology of nonfungible tokens (NFTs). He considered his legacy, and didn’t want to be about making hustlers rich, scamming clueless people, or otherwise doing financial harm.
A legacy to overcome
“What caused me to go into crypto retirement is I got bored with crypto, and I was interested in these financial applications, many of which seem to be quite scammy,” he said. “I was not super happy to promote that side of crypto. But the metaverse and the stuff that is emerging now, and the bridge between the metaverse and the future of education and of entertainment, the future of gaming, future of interactivity — there are so many different facets to it.”
Instead, he wants to see the metaverse happen in reality, and the way to do that is to enable different worlds to connect to each other.
He added, “If you look over a long enough time arc, building the infrastructure for those type of things is just immensely interesting, intellectually engaging, and I kind of styled myself as a bit of an educator as well. So I love the educational aspect of things that can be built. There were a lot of ways to engage. And so, this leverages some of the previous skills and experience I’ve built up in the web 3 phase.”
I noted that the revolution of crypto and blockchain isn’t yet complete. In gaming, for instance, a lot of hardcore gamers and game developers are resisting it, citing the scams, the failings of the technology behind NFTs, and other flaws in the system. He agreed that those are probems.
“I have a very different opinion than the crypto mainstream opinion,” he said. “I basically I started MetaMask ages ago. And there are mixed feelings because I saw when things blew up. There has never been any movement within the cryptocurrency space to prevent scams and prevent people from just creating their own bullshit things. So much of the NFT space is just wash trading, where people are inflating volume by passing NFTs between each other and making it look like the thing is worth something. And, and I would say almost none of it is really like significant art that will stand the test of time and be worth something in 10 years.”
That’s the thinking behind MetaMetaverse.
“I actually think that in many cases, these things definitely are detrimental to gameplay. And as someone who wants to build games and artistic experience that do stand the test of time, I’m very sensitive to these issues,” Dietz said. “I favor more of a curated approach in the beginning for how to bring things in to guarantee a certain level of quality. It’s a big issue. I don’t want to have that on my resume.”
He felt like there is an interesting community in the web 3 space that agrees and wants more positive energy to come from the blockchain technology and regenerative cryptoeconomics.
“There is a critical mass of people in the web 3 space that do want to do something and have a positive legacy that goes beyond I have a bunch of money in my wallet,” he said. “I want to work with those people. Basically, I’m saying we can build things that are better than what exists today.”
He said that means the protective mechanisms have to be built that prevent people from getting “scammed at scale.” Rather, he wants the tech to be used for things like generating basic income for everybody, including people playing games and generating rewards from it.
How it works
If you think of something in your mind, like a picture of the Eiffel Tower, or complex geometry, or a molecule, and you want to get that into someone else’s mind — then what do you do?
Usually, Dietz said, we have ways to do that.
“But the more complicated the thought is, the more difficult it is to communicate,” he said. “The more complex it is, the more difficult that process. To me that the metaverse, speaking broadly of the metaverse as this layer in between you and your brain and my brain, is this layer that allows us to communicate more clearly about more complex objects. If you think of a castle floating in the sky, we would have a way to draw it effectively in a 3D space and both experience it together. You have these things listed in a coordinate system, like giving someone a URL.”
In some ways, this is like reinventing the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS), which is the addressing system for finding things on the internet. But this would be a coordinate system for complex 3D objects that live in a 3D space.
“It’s like a mind map,” he said. “But for complex 3D ideas, websites, or other things. And the other great thing about it is it allows the reuse of different kinds of assets. So basically, you can reuse the things and, and monetize them more directly.”
In looking at this problem. Dietz concluded that “the metaverse needs its own language.” Dietz aims to enhance metaverse interoperability to map human experiences by a coordinate system, known as metametalang. According to Dietz, every type of human experience can be mapped on coordinates and then made accessible to others.
That “language” can be used to generate and map metaverses and boasts crucial features such as dividing space into cubes. Users can place cubes inside of cubes and shrink themselves to experience it, leading to an Alice and Wonderland effect.
The MetaMetaverse project attracted $2 million in December 2021 through a seed funding round from various prominent investors. Participants include DAO Maker, Ghaf Capital, Decasonic, Metaverse Group, The LAO, Neon, Router Protocol, PARSIQ, IQ Protocol, Terrasurge Capital, Polygon Studios, Hilman Capital, 3Commas Capital, Carl the Moon, Electric Feel, DeBrididge, CV Labs, and Bobas Network.
Chris Furlong of Neon said in a statement, “Neon is proud to support MetaMetaverse. This is one of the most innovative teams in the space, creating not only gorgeous worlds within worlds but a new set of underlying protocols and piping that will be used in the open metaverse for years to come.”
MetaMetaverse also provides tools for people who want to build their own metaverse. Each individual or corporate can get their own metaverse. Each metaverse can be subdivided and sold.
MetaMetaverse positions itself as a marketplace for metaverses. That concept goes beyond selling metaverses to individuals and corporations. Owners of metaverses can sell items inside their custom-created world. Moreover, MetaMetaverse sells specialty items, including MetaShips, to enhance the overall user experience.
“Metaverse is ten times bigger than crypto. In 30 years every building in every city will be designed and sold in the metaverse,” Dietz said. “We are building the protocol that will allow the higher-end assets and clear business use cases to be supported. We are happy so many notable investors, cross-chain bridges, and existing Layer 2s are supporting this Layer 1 protocol for metaverse interoperability.”
On the traversing front, MetaMetaverse will drop a free MetaShip to 1,000 winners who complete a few steps across social media. The MetaShips are a way that Dietz believes will be key to traveling around the MetaMetaverse. Every MetaShip has utility and can be upgraded for faster travel, better stats, functionality, and a different style. They will handle the handshakes that needs to happen as we navigate different worlds.
For interoperability, Dietz believes that we have to extend the naming system to deal with the spatial web. The tough task ahead is that Dietz will have to convince people to use the metametalang and accept the MetaMetaverse standards to make interoperability possible. But he hopes everyone will see the benefits of interoperability, especially if the effort is as light as he envisions it to be.”It’s like a metaverse in a box,” he said. “So we provide the back end things from setting it up for people and turning it into a 3D interactive experience, placing it in this kind of map where people can come and visit it. People can upload their 3D assets and we’ll populate them into the metaverse.”
As for the Layer 1 solution, he said, “There is nothing like this that exists right now. Layer 1 is a word people use to refer to blockchains. But this isn’t really a blockchain. It’s more of a metadata protocol. It’s its own language and it is effectively looking to be a universal standard for how to create an addressing space for the metaverse.”
While it may take a standards body or some kind of decentralized autonomous organization to take over at some point, Dietz believes this project needs an architect. He wants it to be open, not closed, and he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for a bunch of monopolies to own the metaverse.
Dietz believes there is plenty of reason to get excited about the effort, and that it is worth coming out of retirement for.
“I’m just very excited because every day someone is bringing some new metaverse concept, like building education or architectural studios. I am completely overwhelmed all the time in a good way. It’s very motivating,” he said.
Is this a crazy plan?
“I don’t know. Maybe just anyone who knows me knows I’m already kind of a crazy guy,” he said.