An Interoperability Manifesto
by the Museum of Crypto Art
Interoperability is necessary for an open Metaverse in the web3 age. Interoperability is not anarchy. Interoperability is the freedom to choose between experiences, while anarchy is an inability to choose anything. Interoperability is the power to selectively shape one’s own future.
In March of 1993, the mathematician and programmer Eric Hughes publishes a document, The Cypherpunk Manifesto, calling for the universal implementation of privacy in computing, privacy being the “power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.” Preceding the Patriot Act (a U.S. anti-terrorism law passed after 9/11; allowed the government to legally spy on citizens, etc.) by eight years, and the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal by two-and-a-half decades, Hughes’ manifesto seems like a Nostradamic achievement.
The entire manifesto hinges on the concept of choice. “An anonymous system empowers individuals to reveal their identity when desired and only when desired; this is the essence of privacy,” Hughes wrote. “If the content of my speech is [automatically] available to the world, I have no privacy.” Hughes understood this would take constant work: His “Cypherpunk” movement was, in many ways, the forefather of cryptocurrency, a programming ethos that championed and emphasized encryption. “To encrypt is to indicate the desire for privacy, and to encrypt with weak cryptography is to indicate not too much desire for privacy,” he wrote.
Though it’s been almost 30 years since Hughes’ manifesto was written, choice is still the issue du jour for so much web development. Web2 could accurately be characterized as a period of dwindling choice. Throttling market forces emerged, consumed smaller operators, and formed monopolies. Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon: That isn’t choice, it’s imperialism.
Thus, we in web3 and we who are building an Open Metaverse will fight for decentralization of power, unfettered access to technology, for privacy, and most pressingly, for interoperability.
As an institution that has put its weight behind the Metaverse as a portal for unrestrained possibilities, we believe wholeheartedly in the adoption of this technology as something vital and imminent. Nevertheless, we are wary of replicating the same systems that hampered innovation in web2: the cycle of Invention → Growth → Sale → Monopolization that ultimately crippled web2’s ability to be nimble and to safeguard the rights and interests of its users.
In the Metaverse, choice is not just a matter of privacy, however, but of interoperability. Assets, identities, and interactions must be portable across Metaverse worlds. This naturally creates an environment of collaboration and cooperation. If assets, identities, and interactions are imprisoned within individual Metaverse worlds fighting for market share, the implied result will be the many little deaths — by sale, bankruptcy, or inattention — of many good ideas, followed by massive consolidation. We will simply be doing Meta’s job for them, bringing our collective Metaverse experiences under a single umbrella. But we cannot ever again do what Mark Zuckerberg wants us to.
Interoperability is an ethos as much as it is a physical set of systems. Interoperability means that all tools be designated as open-source. Interoperability means designing, purchasing, and elevating assets that can travel freely between Metaverse worlds. It means emphasizing that users must be the most active participants in crafting the kinds of Metaverse experiences they want. And it means recognizing that preserving the Open Metaverse concept itself is far more important than safeguarding any individual’s/company’s/brand’s comparatively-meager success.
Webaverse founder and M3 Researcher Jin (@dankvr) shared the following tweet in March, r.e. The idea of an Open Metaverse:
All of Jin’s points herein emerge from a need for choice via interoperability. Only when we as users and consumers have complete personal control over our preferred kind of Metaverse experiences can the technology adapt to best enrich our lives in the way many of us believe it can.
The Museum of Crypto Art is not a Metaverse itself, but we are Metaverse-dependent and Metaverse-aligned. We may be agnostic about individual Metaverse preferences, but we are not agnostic about the Metaverse in general. We believe that as early-adopters and as builders, our ability to shape foundational Metaverse norms is immense. That is why our forthcoming flagship product, ROOMs, boasts full interoperability as its premier power and feature. All forthcoming Metaverse products and worlds should enshrine Interoperability as their chief guiding principle. The Open Metaverse will forever be under attack by large entities (Zuckerberg) seeking to amass power. Only strong, standardized interoperability can stave that off, and strong, standardized interoperability requires its immediate and widespread implementation.
Microsoft’s recent shutdown of NFTWorlds proves how dangerous a non-interoperable model is to users and developers. A non-interoperable model allows single entities to alienate and bully their users. It encourages a gatekept and elitist Metaverse. It stifles innovation. And most pressingly, it just won’t be very much fun.
Concluding his manifesto, Hughes wrote: “For privacy to be widespread it must be part of a social contract. People must come and together deploy these systems for the common good. Privacy only extends so far as the cooperation of one’s fellows in society.”
Upholding interoperability and the Open Metaverse standard require all of us intentionally and collectively putting our money, time, and effort where our principles are. Let us proceed together apace.
Museum of Crypto Art <museumofcryptoart.eth>
13 August 2022