Skeuomorphic translations in a Web3 world

First of all I would like to apologise for such a difficult title. Or at least starting off with the word Skeuomorphic. It’s a term crypto twitter loves to use and you become what you read right? What it actually means is ‘literally’. Or according to

“Skeuomorphism is a term most often used in graphical user interface design to describe interface objects that mimic their real-world counterparts in how they appear and/or how the user can interact with them.”

When we encounter new technologies we tend to literally copy paste the user experience, mental models, how things work and function… of the world we know to the new, emerging world. It often takes technological innovation to disrupt those ‘habits’ we bring across the border of those two worlds.

Remember the first note taking apps on smartphones. They mimicked the experience of actually note taking on paper.

Ipad Notes App
Ipad Notes App

Another example is the GPS built-in your smartphone. When the iPhone launched in 2007 people expected applications to emerge that made way finding easier. That’s the skeuomorphic thinking again.

What people didn’t expect was the whole myriad of disruptive start-ups that followed on top: ride hailing through Uber, getting your food delivered thanks to Deliveroo, …

Today we are approaching a lot of our thinking about Web3 from the skeuomorphic side. Take metaverse land for example.

The Sandbox
The Sandbox

Location location location, or is it?

The century old adagio in real estate is ‘location location location’. Location is on of the main drivers of value for real estate properties in the physical world. A piece of land in the center of a popular town, where all the cool kids live, will cost a hell of a lot more than that same amount of square meters in a less developed neighbourhood. That makes sense. As in the physical world land is scarce: there are only a few plots of land available (in that nice neighbourhood). And secondly it takes time and effort to move from one place to another. The closer you live to the nice neighbourhood, the less time and effort you need to spend getting there.

Does the real world adagio also apply to the metaverse?

Lots of experts are indeed claiming that location will be key in the metaverse as well. If we look at the valuation of some popular plots of land, we should give them credit and agree with them. In the Sandbox metaverse, a virtual plot of land, next to that of American Rapper SnoopDog sold for $450.000.

The arguments tend to be that people who visit Snoop Dogg’s property, will also pass by the neighbouring properties. And thus they must be worth more as they will attract more visitors.

But is this not yet again another case of skeuomorphic thinking?

First of all you could make a case that selling ‘scarce’ digital land is the extreme outlier of skeuomorphisicm. Why would you limit something in a space that has infinite possibilities and no limitations in terms of resources or surface? Note that there is a countermovement on its way with new metaverses, where land isn’t scarce. Nifty Island for example, a virtual world where everyone gets an island to build experiences on. No need to buy-in.

Assuming that digital land is scarce, does location still matter?

Let’s rephrase the question: does location still matter in a world where we can transport ourselves with a single click? In a digital world, you won’t be walking from one part of the town to the other. You’ll just enter the coordinates of the next location you want to visit in your browser and you’ll be there.

The whole argument saying that ‘plots next to premium locations will attract more traffic’ is invalid as people won’t cross the borders of the premium locations anymore. They don’t need to walk anymore. They can just hop on and hop off. Like a virtual subway, but then instantaneously.

Let’s not forget, we are friction hunters. We optimise for efficiency, speed and quality (of time). What is Netflix’s greatest innovation of the last years? the ‘skip intro’ button ;)

We are friction hunters. We optimise for efficiency, speed and quality (of time)
We are friction hunters. We optimise for efficiency, speed and quality (of time)

The ‘passing by neighbouring plots’ element becomes even less likely when you add a social layer to the metaverse. Let’s say I’m at a concert, rocking my virtual avatar, and I want my friend to join. I pull my virtual contactbook up on my screen and I send him an invite. The notification will pop-up on my friends’ screen and he’ll click on it and will stand next to me in the blink of an eye.

Community trumps location

Location location location as I see it today is another case of skeuomorphic thinking. Or at least for the traffic side of things.

There will probably be some status attached for being a neighbour to Snoop Dogg. And it could be a great place to build experiences for a similar audience. Imagine you build a hip hop temple next to Snoop’s condo. In that case it becomes community first thinking.

Could community, community, community become the adagio of the metaverse then?

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