The metaverse continues to be cringeworthy in its overuse. But though it’s been conflated in marketing-speak, it does hold legitimate principles for our connected future. For example, though the common vision is online synchronous worlds, what about a “real-world metaverse?”

So instead of an “embodied internet” (possibly involving VR), the real-world metaverse applies digital content to add meaning and depth to physical places and things (possibly involving AR). This potential metaverse track could be truer to the Greek root meta which means beyond.

Involving real-world digital twins, this concept is woven into innovations and investments from companies ranging from Snap to Niantic to Google. For example, as we examined last week, Niantic’s Lightship VPS is a platform for developers to build Pokémon-Go-like geo-local AR apps.

XR Talks: What is Niantic’s ‘Real-World Metaverse?’

Location, Location, Location

The latest entrant is Living Cities which, in fairness, isn’t parading the m-word. Launched last week with $4 million in seed funding, the company aims to integrate the digital and physical worlds. It’s stealthy but wanted to come out of the woodwork to begin recruiting talent.

That stealth mode means that details are scant, but the company says it wants to be a “social layer” for the physical world that taps into the spirit of cities. It will also incorporate web3 elements such as NFTs – presumably to engender value in the scarcity of geo-anchored content.

In fact, the concept of scarcity has long led co-founder Matt Miesnieks’ work. The thought is that digital content on the web doesn’t possess the same scarcity that drives land value. So anchoring digital content to the real world can confer some of that real-estate-like value.

Meisnieks is a bit of a legend in the AR world. Most recently, he sold his spatial mapping company to Niantic so that it could cultivate some of the geo-spatial moves noted above. He’ll serve as Living Cities’ CEO, giving him the official serial entrepreneur badge.

Speaking of co-founders (and badges), they also include Foursquare founder and former CEO, Dennis Crowley. And aspects of the scarcity concept were likewise present in Foursquare’s early days. Badges were earned and there was only one “mayor” of any given location.

This scarcity caused in-app accomplishments and designations to be quite valuable in some cases. Raise your hand if you were ever in heated battles with friends over the mayorship of your favorite bar. Could NFTs that are tied to real-world locations be the modern-day equivalent?

Rounding out the founding team is John Gaeta who basically created, and won an Oscar for, the Matrix. He’ll be chief imagineer, which is similar to the role he played in his former post at Magic Leap. All in all, this positions Living Cities with an all-star founding team.

Foursquare Enters the Audio AR Game

Ambient Computing Layer

The founding member that jumps out most to us is perhaps Crowley. While building and evolving the vision for Foursquare, he pioneered the web 2.0 version of a real-world metaverse (though he didn’t call it that). The idea was to bring social digital interaction to real-world locations.

In fact, Crowley told me in early analyst briefings back then that the goal was to be a local discovery engine. Rather than actively checking into places for social dynamics and badges, the vision was to offer a utility that proactively alerts users to noteworthy places and things.

At the time, this involved smartphone push notifications but the future format is a proactive ambient computing layer that notifies you of nearby places and things of interest. That could be a whisper in your ear (which Crowley has worked on), or visual notifications via AR glasses.

The latter will eventually unlock a fully-actualized real-world metaverse, though we’re still years from consumer-viable hardware. This means Living Cities joins the list of companies trying to skate to where the puck is going. We’ll see how well they’ve triangulated that puck’s path.

Header image credit: Olivia Bliss on Unsplash

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