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    Neal Stephenson on how Lamina1 is building a metaverse for the people

    The speculative fiction writer has teamed up with crypto pioneer Peter Vessenes to launch Lamina1, a layer-1 blockchain designed to give creators the tools they'll need to launch their own projects in the metaverse.  

    Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. Now, with the metaverse emerging from the realm of science fiction into reality, the author is back as the confounder of Lamina1, a new company which aims to provide the framework for an “open metaverse” - in other words, one that’s more aligned with the core vision of web3, and which prioritizes independent creators over corporations. 

    Many marketers have probably never heard of Stephenson, but almost all by this point will have heard of the metaverse - an as yet poorly defined virtual space that’s commonly described as being the next evolutionary stage of the internet and which is built upon blockchain technology, rendering it (at least in theory) completely free from the top-down control that’s come to dominate the flow of information in the web2 era. 

    Unlike Snow Crash - and the various visions of the metaverse that are being broadcasted by companies like Meta - Lamina1 does not offer any long-term prognosis for the future of the metaverse. Rather, it aims to provide the foundational tools that technical and creative developers will need in order to be able to bring their own, various projects to life. “Despite my 30-plus-year history of being ‘the metaverse guy,’ I feel uneasy about trying to predict or dictate what [the metaverse] is going to be, or what it ought to be, because the way that technologies develop in the real world is that people find uses for them,” Stephenson says. “The best thing one can do at this point is to help contribute infrastructure and provide tools that the people who are going to build the metaverse will find useful … I'm more looking forward to being surprised.”

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    He quotes the author William Gibson, who's often credited with inventing the cyberpunk subgenre: “The street finds its own uses for things.” (It’s worth noting that “The Street” is the name that Stephenson gives to the metaverse's main throughway in Snow Crash.)

    Still, driven by the promise of huge potential profit, many companies have been attempting (some would argue prematurely) to find uses for the street, generating hype about the metaverse as if it’s already arrived. “You can tell when someone says ‘we're building a metaverse,’ or ‘our metaverse’ that they don't quite understand the basic concept,” Stephenson says. “There is only a metaverse — the metaverse.” 

    Lamina1 is by no means alone in their efforts to build an open metaverse. In July, a cohort of leading web3 brands - including The Sandbox, Dapper Labs and Decentraland - united to form the Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3 (OMA3)

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    As its name suggests, Lamina1 has been designed as a layer-1 blockchain, meaning it will be able to establish its own rules and validate its own transactions. (Bitcoin and Ethereum are also both Layer-1 chains.) As Stephenson describes, “the advantage to starting your own [blockchain] is that you can make engineering decisions to suit your own purposes, as opposed to just kind of being along for the ride with somebody else's system.”

    Stephenson founded Lamina1 earlier this year alongside Peter Vessenes, an early and influential crypto pioneer who serves as the company’s chief executive and chief cryptographer. On August 25, the company announced that it had hired creative strategist and product expert Rebecca Barkin as president. Barkin and Stephenson had met during their tenures at Magic Leap, an augmented reality (AR) company that released its first headset in 2018. Barkin - who says she was brought onboard in part “to bring order to chaos and really get everything off the ground” - describes Lamina1 as being “purpose-built to enable experiences in the metaverse, with an emphasis on things that we know matter, [such as] data storage, on-chain interoperability, identity, commerce, and of course quality and ease of use. By really emphasizing those things, we can really help grow a real community.”

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    Barkin also underscores the need, as she sees it, for the Web3 community to reflect on and learn from the past in order to build a better future: “We have the opportunity here to undo some of the decisions that we all made for convenience or lack of knowledge early on in the Web2 era,” she says, “and really return a lot of that power to creators and consumers ... There's a cultural movement towards agency and ownership ... We want to be a part of that. We want to be the leaders of it and say, ‘look, you have a lot to offer the world, and we want to be the place where you come to do it.'”

    For more, sign up for The Drum’s Inside the Metaverse weekly newsletter here.

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