#1098: Metaverse Standards Forum Unites Leading Standards Orgs & XR Companies Towards Open Metaverse Interoperability

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The Metaverse Standards Forum was announced today on June 21, 2022 as it “brings together leading standards organizations and companies for industry-wide cooperation on interoperability standards needed to build the open metaverse.” There’s lots of key standards organizations involved including The Khronos Group, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Open Geospatial Consortium, OpenAR Cloud, Spatial Web Foundation, Academy of Software Foundation, and others. There’s also a critical mass of key XR companies including Unity & Unreal Engine at the game engine level, but also major players including Meta, Microsoft, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Sony, Adobe, & Autodesk, as well as many other companies who have been involved in previous XR standards efforts in the past.

I had a chance to speak with President of The Khronos Group Neil Trevett as well as Vice President of the Khronos Group Martin Enthed, who also works as an Innovation Manager at IKEA. We unpack this announcement a bit to talk about at what level of interoperability the Metaverse Standards Forum will be starting at, and whether it’s at the level of 3D assets like glTF or at the level of game engine formats and scene graph representations like USD. Will this be an effort to get assets in a format to be input into either Unreal Engine or Unity to have consistent render outputs? Or exporting projects between them? Or will the focus be on figuring out how to add behaviors to glTF objects? There are many places to start, and this group of companies and standards organizations will be listening to the use cases from companies and coordinating between different major Standards Developing Organizations to see if there’s domain expertise amongst any of their individual standards or if there are higher-level Open Metaverse Interoperability standards that can start to be defined.

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The cooperation between the standards organizations is also really exciting news, and slide #6 from the Metaverse Standards Forum Launch slides shows how there are web standards with the W3C, run-time XR APIs and file formats from the Khronos Group, Geospatial Standards from the Open Geospatial Consortium, IoT and Digital Twin formats from Spatial Web Foundation, VFX & Animation standards from the Animation Software Foundation, and Connecting physical and digital worlds with the Open AR Cloud. So it’s exciting to see how all of these different Standards Developing Organizations will be collaborating and cooperating with each other, especially as more spatial information is being included and where that information will live and in what standardized format.

We cover a lot of latest exciting announcements in this podcast conversation, but also ground it within the real use cases that IKEA is aiming to leverage. IKEA is in the business of selling physical products, and so the virtual representation of these objects are merely a means to an ends for customers to eventually buy the physical product. IKEA has been taking a very pragmatic approach of wanting to find persistent spatial file formats that can have uniformity in how that content is rendered out, and a lot of their involvement in these standardization efforts have been to push forward the XR community with 3D commerce standards within the Khronos Group to push forward consistent rendering of spatial content, but also with the Metaverse Standards Forum to help create persistent spatial formats to make it easy to deliver spatial information to their customers.

Trevett is resistant towards overly ambitious efforts that try to boil the ocean, and emphasizes the utility of iteration around the biggest problems and use cases in a minimum viable product approach. He says that this effort is trying to bake the individual interoperability bricks for the Metaverse rather than trying to imagine and build whatever the Cathedral of the Metaverse may become in 20 years. They’re focused on the near-term interoperability challenges that help to slowly build out the foundations for whatever the metaverse may become as it starts to blend the best aspects of the open web with the new affordances of XR and spatial computing. I’m excited to see where this effort goes, and I expect a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations.

Trevett says that there may be a lot of business-level decisions exploring to what degree it makes sense for companies like Unity or Unreal Engine to open up, but that one measure of success for open standards is that it increases competition within the industry. Many of the founding companies have been on the record supporting different visions of the Metaverse, and this is an opportunity for them to take action towards those areas of interoperability to ensure that the Metaverse is built upon an open foundation and avoiding the temptation to bake in their proprietary software at the core of spatial computing.

Trevett says that figuring out the right level of abstraction at the right time is part of the art of open standards, and so stay tuned into updates from the Metaverse Standards Forum to see how the dreams of an open Metaverse either continue to make viable progress or if it ends up being a “honeypot trap for architectural astronauts” as John Carmack has claimed. Given the critical mass of key players in the industry and Khronos Groups’ past successes with previous standards like OpenXR, then I’m holding out hope that this effort will help ground the hype and ambiguity of the Metaverse into some tangible interoperability standards that makes an open Metaverse a reality.

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Music: Fatality