The Secret Mozilla Hubs Master Plan

Update 04/28/2020: Hubs Cloud AWS is now live!

In the spirit of the Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan, this article is about our master plan behind Hubs and Spoke at Mozilla.

We predict that the 3D ‘metaverse’ will grow out of a similar set of pre-conditions as the World Wide Web.

By understanding the pre-conditions that led to the success of the WWW, and noting what was missing from those pre-conditions, we’ve tried to predict what the first global scale 3D metaverse will look like. Hubs and Spoke are our early attempts to get us there in a way we think will best serve humanity. We are designing them to ensure they grow, adapt, and last forever, much like the Internet and the web.

Why did the web win?

The web was the first successful globally distributed, decentralized multimedia networked document platform. The key ingredients were several new technologies atop the Internet stack:

  • URLs, which uniquely identified and allowed retrieval of resources
  • HTML which enabled semi-structured, but forgiving, multimedia document creation with links
  • HTTP which allowed the resolution + retrieval of HTML documents
  • Free-to-distribute, easy-to-run web servers
  • Free web browser clients for displaying and traversing HTML documents
  • Neutral, profit-agnostic governance and actors shepherding its development

What the web wasn’t

The web was opinionated.

It excluded lots of stuff similar projects didn’t, like:

  • Bi-directional linking
  • Unified user identity between sites
  • Transactions and commerce
  • Dynamic, programmable documents

Even three decades later, of the list above, only programmable documents have become part of the web itself. Clearly, none of these features were necessary for the web to succeed. And of course, projects similar to the web that tried to include them all failed, perhaps in part due to the inclusion of what ended up being superfluous features.

So, if you’re trying to make something that will grow as big as the web, it is important to think about what to exclude as much as what to include.

Super-networks, and the metaverse

The web was a small set of protocols and software that led to explosive network growth by being layered on top of the Internet.

Similarly, we think the metaverse will be a small set of protocols and software that will lead to explosive network growth by being layered onto the web.

Nobody today would consider building a metaverse that is not part of the Internet. However, many metaverse projects are being built that are not part of the web. Why?

Will the first global metaverse be part of the web, or not?

The document systems that predated the web which didn’t leverage the Internet all failed. We think that metaverse systems not built on top of the web will fail as well. The reason:

The collective endowment of an exponentially growing, decentralized, global super-network will always vastly exceed anything that can be created without it.

For the web, this super-network was the Internet. For the metaverse, the super-network will be both the web and the Internet.

Both the web and Internet are growing exponentially, similar to the growth of the universe, and each represent a beginning of infinity. They will grow exponentially forever, and are anti-fragile. Each of them bequeath an ever-growing, immense endowment of value to all things that are embedded within them.

The endowment of the Internet is connectivity to all of humanity’s computers. The endowment of the web is its content, culture, and the browser. By being built into the web, the metaverse will inherit all of these exponentially growing resources automatically, forever.

So, metaverses embedded in the web will have much greater endowments, more reach, and will outlast all those that are embedded only within the Internet.

The web’s medium, and why it stuck

The web created a new medium at the right level of sophistication and expression. It was a way to create, view, and link hypermedia documents. It was higher level than the plain text Internet content networks of the time, but lower level than a full interactive, programmable multimedia platform.

The web gave people hyper-leverage, but within tight constraints. Anyone could join the network and quickly create rich content due to the simplicity and forgiveness of HTML. Writing HTML is not like programming: browsers ensure that you can make lots of mistakes, and the page will still work.

If the web at birth was too difficult to create content for, and closer to the web of today, it would have never worked. Imagine if using Javascript was necessary to create the first web pages. Only programmers would have been able to create them. The web would have failed.

Conversely, if the web was limited to plain text files, it would have never had the reach it did. The rich typography and multimedia of HTML was what made the web a new medium with global reach. The richness of pages on the web led to an explosion of knowledge-sharing, creative expression, and innovation.

With the web, a school teacher could independently publish a web site about Roman history, instantly accessible and valuable to all seeking such knowledge. If the web chose a medium that was too simplistic, or was too difficult to create content with, this would have not been possible.

Companies such as Yahoo! and Google created discovery tools connected to the spark of the web. That such tools would emerge and create billion-dollar companies was unpredictable but inevitable. The reach of the web itself was inherent at its birth due to its design. Once a page joined the network, all of humanity, now and in the future, could benefit from it.

The brilliance behind the design of the web was threefold:

  • Leverage the exponentially growing endowment of the super-network, the Internet,
  • By creating minimal protocols and software on top of it,
  • In order to create a hyper-leveraged medium forgiving to newcomers but vastly richer than its predecessors

What the web tells us about the metaverse

If the web’s history guides us, we can predict some things about the first global metaverse:

  • It will be embedded in a super-network and leverage that network’s exponentially growing endowment
  • It will introduce a medium with optimal sophistication, forgiving to newcomers to create in but still richer than prior media with global reach
  • It will be simple for newcomers to join the network and contribute
  • It will not be overloaded with unnecessary features

The minimum-viable metaverse

So, what medium is the right one to spawn a metaverse with global reach? This is another way of asking: what new hyper-leverage will the metaverse’s newcomers get that they can’t get today?

If you can answer this, build the system that provides that hyper-leverage, and embed it in the largest growing super-network (the web + Internet), and you’ve created the metaverse that will inevitably become as big as the web.

For the web, here are examples of what were not part of the hyper-leverage users had at the outset, but which the web eventually grew to include:

  • Interactive applications or games
  • Real time voice and video communication
  • Collaborative content creation
  • New business models and commerce
  • Online community and co-presence

The web was simple: globally addressable hypermedia documents with links. The medium of the web had global reach. The fact it could not do these other things at its birth did not prevent its success. It had the right medium with the right sophistication, and leveraged the super-network of the Internet. Those were the only necessary pre-conditions for its success.

It has evolved to enable much, much, more, but if it had tried too much at its birth it would have been hard for anyone to contribute to it, and would have failed.

So, what things may not be needed for the metaverse to reach global scale? It’s hard to say, but here are some potential examples of what we think the metaverse is likely to grow into, not start out as:

  • Large 3D worlds
  • Collaborative editing, building, sculpting
  • Rich games and 3D applications
  • A global marketplace and economy for virtual goods
  • A home to a universal identity
  • A place to live out your “second life”

So, what do we think would be needed to include in the metaverse to get to global reach?

The lynchpin for the web-emergent metaverse

We are on the cusp of a radical shift in the way society values physical co-presence with others. Recent research has shown VR devices are, today, competitive with face-to-face interaction in delivering social presence. This capability is unprecedented. The telecommunications revolution connected the world in many ways, but despite tools like messaging and video conferencing, it has so far completely failed at delivering remote social presence on par with face-to-face. However, with VR and AR, that final frontier is about to be breached.

Social presence and shared spatial awareness without physical proximity would be as transformative a shift in society as the Internet and web. As such, we think that the fundamental thing the first metaverse with global reach will enable is that those on the network can instantly experience social presence and shared spatial awareness in a mixed media environment with any other humans on the network.

Publishing a page on the web allowed your document to be leveraged by being connected to a web of documents accessible around the world. Similarly, publishing an addressable, mixed-media, networked 3D space will enable social presence and shared spatial awareness with any human on Earth around any conceivable content or context at any time.

It’s this hyper-leverage that could yield something of global reach.

As such, it minimally needs:

  • Real time, avatar based communication (voice + body language)
  • Dynamic mixed media in 3D space
  • Virtual environments
  • Addressable places
  • The ability to join the network independently

Additionally, like the web, it must have:

  • Free, accessible, easy-to-use tools and software
  • Neutral, profit-agnostic governance and actors

We think that those trying to seed the metaverse should not build anything beyond this, since it will not add to reach, and will undermine adoption since it will be more complex than others that avoid adding superfluous features and functionality.

Finally, it should also be embedded in the super-network of the web, not just the Internet, to maximize its long-term endowment.

The web today can support the metaverse

The web provides solid footing for each of the needs above:

  • Real time, avatar based communication: browser platform (WebRTC/WebGL/WebXR)
  • Dynamic mixed media in 3D space: browser platform, web content and standards (glTF, video, etc)
  • Virtual environments: browser platform (WebGL/WebXR)
  • Addressable places: URLs

Beyond that, the following things are needed:

  • A free, easy to use tool for creating 3D content and avatars
  • An easy to use ‘browser’ for participating in mixed media spaces
  • An easy and cheap to run server to join the network independently

This is exactly what we’ve been aiming for with Hubs + Spoke.

It remains to be seen if Hubs and Spoke will have global reach, but the plan outlined next seems like a good one for any project with similar aims to consider.

The Master Plan

For Hubs and Spoke, it seems we are close to being able to see if these assumptions, combined with our execution, will lead us to a system with global reach.

Here’s what our plan has been from the beginning:

  • Create an easy-to-use avatar communication tool for mixed media, globally addressable spaces
  • Create easy-to-use tools for creating 3D environments and avatars
  • Build it to run in the browser, and embrace the culture of the web
  • Open source all the code
  • Make it cheap and easy for anyone to run their own decentralized server

We have deliberately not included:

  • Dynamic scripting and rich applications
  • Large, continuous open world ‘land’
  • Collaborative editing tools or world building
  • Transactions or e-commerce

Though we fully expect these additional things to emerge, they seem unnecessary to deliver remote social presence and shared spatial awareness in mixed media environments. And so, given that those are the only things we see as the key ingredients to get to global reach, we have left everything else out.

The last piece we’ll be sharing soon: Hubs Cloud. Hubs Cloud will allow people to run their own server. And it will be cheap and easy to do so. You can be up and running in a few clicks. In our early pilots, we’ve had teachers, doctors, and 3D artists stand up fully scalable, self-hosted servers on AWS who had no prior experience setting up their own servers. Modern tools have made it possible for us to make it vastly easier to deploy your own server than the early web servers.

The early web would have not worked if not for the creation of cheap, easy to run web servers. By decentralizing the web, it ensured that people could create content based upon their own interests and needs from the bottom-up, and share it with the world.

Similarly, the early metaverse will not work without the creation of cheap, easy to run servers that allow people to privately meet in a contextual mixed media environments. Decentralized servers will ensure this new medium can independently grow and evolve to meet the diverse needs of people around the world.

And enabling that is what Hubs Cloud is all about, and the future we’re trying to create with it. It’s the last part of the master plan, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

Creator of @Jel_App. Formerly: Eng lead @MozillaHubs. Co-founder @AltspaceVR. @Etsy. Tweets are my own.

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