Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Unlocking the full potential of the Metaverse with Decentralized Identity

The Metaverse, a concept from science fiction and now becoming a reality, is the next level of digital representation. It’s an immersive, persistent virtual world where we can do everything through avatars. As we’re at the precipice of this digital revolution, Decentralized Identities in the Metaverse are the key to unlocking it all. Let’s explore how these new forms of Self-Sovereign Identity can expand the spectrum of representation online and make the digital world truly diverse, inclusive, and user-owned.
Decentralized Identities
Decentralized Identities built on blockchain give us a secure and user controlled way to manage our virtual identities. Unlike traditional centralized systems, Decentralized Identities allow us to control our own data and how it’s shared across different platforms. This user centric approach means more privacy and security and trust in the virtual world.
Mark Zuckerberg once said “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly…Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” This is the problem with traditional identity systems where we have to juggle multiple personas across different contexts. With decentralized identities we have a seamless and consistent representation across all virtual environments, authenticity and integrity.
Expanding the Spectrum of Representation
In the Metaverse, identity takes on new forms. I recently had a meeting with a dog in a crown. I’ve had meetings with food items, animals and many other hybrids that feel like the old MSN names or BuzzFeed quizzes that would give you a rapper name based on your star sign and favourite colour. This level of pseudonymity is becoming more and more comfortable for many of us. In web3 I find myself less aware of appearance, gender, background or ethnicity of the people I’m interacting with. These differentiators aren’t as relevant when someone can show up to a meeting as a penguin.
That’s where the magic of web3 identity happens. Personally I’m not interested in the name value or the avatar. For me the real value is in web3 identities removing the conscious and unconscious biases we inflict on ourselves and others every day. By allowing us to be whoever we want to be, the Metaverse can be a more inclusive digital world.
The Importance of Data Ownership and Self-Sovereign Control
One of the most critical aspects of decentralized identities in the Metaverse is the concept of data ownership and self-sovereign control. In traditional digital ecosystems, our personal data is often stored and controlled by centralized entities, leading to privacy concerns and potential misuse of information. The Metaverse, powered by decentralized identities, offers a paradigm shift where individuals have full ownership and control over their data.
Self-sovereign identity (SSI) allows users to manage their digital identities without relying on a central authority. This means that individuals can decide what information to share, with whom, and under what conditions. This level of control is crucial in the Metaverse, where personal data can include not just basic information but also digital assets, virtual property, and even behavioural data.
By ensuring that users have ownership of their data, the Metaverse can create a more secure and trustworthy environment. This not only protects individuals’ privacy but also empowers them to participate in the digital economy on their terms. The ability to control one’s identity and data is fundamental to fostering a sense of agency and autonomy in the virtual world.
Complexity Collapse
Elif Shafak says “We are being denied the right to be complex”. In our always online world the complexity and multiplicity of our selves have collapsed. Our experiences, opinions and history have been forced together by the ‘real-name web’ for the sake of single sign on and access to social tools. There are advantages to this convenience and ease but there are also contexts where we need to require real names. But aggregating all of our lives into one digital profile is limiting our sense of self and self expression. It’s driving the trend towards a binary world.
The Metaverse allows us to change how we are seen. In a world where everything we can imagine is real there is no excuse to exclude anyone. Web2 collapses our identity but Web3 allows for identity dispersion. This term from Peter Burke’s Identity Theory has been extended in a web3 context by Sarah Guo to mean the ability to control the creation, separation and combination of our multiple online selves. Web3 identities can remove the biases and blockers to expression we face when we engage from a single all-exposing identity.
Real Diversity of Thought
Nagel and Frith say “Identity is not a single thing; identity is a role people play that shifts as audience and other contextual factors shift”. This ability to disperse and be pseudonymous matters not just for privacy and reducing cancel culture but because it enables real diversity of thought. The difference is web3 makes it easier to exist in the economy under a pseudonymous identity.
The tools and infrastructure we build today should allow people to contribute to the new internet in the way that’s best for them. Our platforms should allow ‘grey areas’ and the full spectrum of opinions so the fear of contributing a new idea or opinion is lessened. That could be the real purpose of the Metaverse.

The Metaverse powered by decentralized identities is a world of true diversity and inclusion. By allowing individuals to control their avatars and personal data we can overcome the limitations of traditional identity systems. This new paradigm is more private and secure but also more inclusive and diverse. As we build and iterate on these technologies we must keep our eye on building a Metaverse where users can connect, collaborate and create in ways we never thought possible.