Is the Metaverse Gen Y’s Silk Road?

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Image Credit: Toni Verdú Carbó

The term ‘metaverse’ became a household word recently thanks to Facebook, which has re-branded itself as Meta! Now that the re-brand is complete, Mark Zuckerberg and his crew can apparently pursue what they really wanted to do all along by creating a decentralized and unregulated virtual paradise known as a metaverse. Who knew? What exactly is a metaverse, you ask?

Image Credit: Wikipedia

In layman’s terms, a metaverse is a virtual world where you, as the user, engage in a virtual life as an anonymous avatar. It is hardly a new concept. In fact, I was introduced to the term 30 years ago simply because I am an avid reader. Like millions of other Americans in the 90’s I read the “science fiction” novel Snow Crash, author Neil Stephenson’s vision of a decentralized, digital world taking over the physical world. His vision of the future metaverse was downright disturbing.

Then came Second Life. Perhaps you remember the “metaverse” gaming concept/platform that launched in 2003 and was hailed by the tech press as the next big tech thing, but in reality never became much of anything? Today it exists as more of a virtual marketplace for goods, hardly a metaverse. Second Life was too clunky from a UX perspective to attract users en masse, and to be honest, it was extremely boring. It was empty.

Fortunately we are not likely to end up living in lockers coding for our lives anytime soon ala the citizens of Snow Crash as a result of Meta’s future metaverse launch. Nor will the Facebook team bore us to death with a bad UX like Second Life. We are, however, looking at an uncertain digital financial future that will involve a battle between centralization and decentralization of all digital currencies, where emerging metaverse platforms like Meta will play a central role. How?

Imagine a digital platform, call it a metaverse, where your avatar’s anonymity is paramount and your crypto wallet is in play 24 x 7 while you shop, barter and trade for potentially big ticket items. None of your transactions are tracked or taxed and you can move funds at will. Minus currency centralization and therefore regulation and taxation, this metaverse represents a money launderer’s paradise, right?Perhaps paradise already exists?

Let me introduce, Decrentaland, a blockchain-fueled metaverse where you can, among other things, buy and sell NFTs, virtual property and other digital “creations.”

Decentraland bills itself as the first-ever virtual world owned by its users, but it is really all about the unregulated buying and selling of high-value NFTs and virtual properties using Ethereum and other associated blockchain-backed cryptocurrencies, all of which guarantee user anonymity. A better tag for Decentraland might be, just like Second Life, but for laundering large amounts of money, or just like Silk Road, for Gen Y, complete with cool avatars! I am not joking. The opportunity is just that obvious. Yet, cryptocurrency proponents worldwide continue to wonder why governments continue to push for centralization. It is all about the laundering of illicit funds!

Image Credit: Dean Terry

The UX experience in Decentraland currently is just about as clunky as Second Life was in 2003. I know because I signed up and gave it a whirl. Since I was in a coffee shop on my laptop and did not have a mouse to access, my Trackpad served as a terrible joystick. I was unable to advance into any of the platform’s zones that I had wanted to visit, such as Dragon City, Vegas City and Fashion St.

I quit the program after 30 minutes of standing around in what must be the Decentraland lobby looking like the lost and glitchy avatar from Second Life. I am going to get a mouse and try it again later, but that was a painful initial user experience.

If Decentraland really wants to attract buyers and sellers of big dollar purchases it is going to have to evolve the user experience considerably and remove any friction for those who are not computer engineers by trade. It should be a seamless, simple and elegant experience. Those who seek to launder large amounts of illicit funds who can’t get past the lousy UX will just go about it the old fashioned way with purchases of physical real estate assets or art through their shell companies. Perhaps you miss the recent Pandora Papers release?

Minus big deals from big money players taking place in its metaverse, Decentraland is destined for failure. And then, even if it becomes a rousing success along with Facebook’s future Meta, it’s window for happy user days in the United States and other countries is fairly short. Like it or not, centralization and regulation of digital currencies and the platforms that enable them is coming. Maybe not today, but it is coming.

Switzerland and the CryptoValley folks might have a different opinion, but history has proven that regardless of the style of rebellion, governments always centralize and tax currency, and put a priority on convicting those who attempt to circulate and clean ill-gotten funds. At the end of the day you may have committed a whole host of horrible crimes, but the one charge that will always stick is the money laundering. It gets the best of them when all else fails.

Fortunately for us as humans, an unregulated metaverse on the level of Stephenson’s representation will never exist. There is one big flaw in his theory and that is the assumption that the corporations will favor decentralization over centralization, and that is never going to happen. The banks would shut down those companies immediately, and for those that are publicly traded so would Wall Street. It is a great sci-fi read though! And like the concept of a decentralized Meta, pure fantasy!

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Is the Metaverse Gen Y’s Silk Road? was originally published in Coinmonks on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.