Interoperability – or lack thereof – is a key issue in the burgeoning metaverse industry. The Khronos Group wants to solve this problem with a new open standards discussion forum called The Metaverse Standards Forum, starting today. The group includes representatives from most of the major players in the 3D web, including Nvidia, Meta, Epic Games, Unity, Microsoft and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Ahead of today’s announcement, I spoke to Neil Trevett, President of Khronos and also VP Developer Ecosystems at Nvidia. Trevett has been President of Khronos since 2001 and previously chaired the Web3D Consortium from 1997-2005.
Solving short-term interoperability problems
Khronos was interested in the metaverse, Trevett told me, because “a lot of the standards that we use — and in a lot of cases [that] We’ve been developing for many years before “metaverse” became a buzzword – directly relevant to the metaverse. The 3D APIs for native apps and web, OpenXR for AR and VR, and the file formats we use are [all] used directly by the Metaverse community.”
The Metaverse will be “a hybrid of web connectivity, sort of an evolution of the web mixed with spatial computing.”
Neil Trevett, President of Khronos
According to Trevett, the new forum will not engage in philosophical debates about what the metaverse will be like in 10-20 years. However, he believes that the metaverse will be “a hybrid of web connectivity, sort of an evolution of the web mixed with spatial computing.” He added that spatial computing is a broad term, but here it refers to “3D modeling of the real world, particularly when interacting through augmented and virtual reality.”
“No one really knows how it’s all going to come together,” Trevett said. “But that’s OK. For the purposes of the forum, we don’t really need to know. What concerns us is that there are clear short-term interoperability issues that need to be resolved.”
Trevett pointed out that there are already several standardization organizations for the Internet, including, of course, the W3C for web standards. MSF tries to coordinate them when it comes to the evolving metaverse. “We bring the standardization organizations together in one place where we can coordinate with each other but also have good, close ties with industry [is] try to use our standards,” he said.
Metaverse as the Evolution of the Web
This brought us to a question that was particularly close to my heart as I researched and reported on the Metaverse technology stack in 2022: what role will the web play in achieving the “interoperability” that so many of the forum’s member companies have achieved to have? claim they want? Companies like Meta and Microsoft have become successful platforms because of the web, but companies like Epic Games and Unity have largely built their businesses on non-web technologies. So does MSF see the web as the foundational platform for the Metaverse?
“Reinventing something completely separate from the internet doesn’t make sense to me,” Trevett replied. “The web is already so widespread and has so many functions. I’m not responsible [of the web]but it just seems reasonable that you should develop what we already have rather than try to create something entirely new.”
So the MSF mindset will be to treat the Metaverse as an evolution of the web. With that in mind, Trevett pointed out that “the spatial web” will require “new protocols and new asset formats.” Just as we have HTML to describe a 2D web page, he continued, “We need the equivalent of 3D graphics and all the ways you can interact with 3D graphics in a connected sense.”
Then I addressed the interoperability of 3D assets and avatars in particular. In a recent column, I wrote about how a group of independent developers and startups are building their own version of the open metaverse, using technologies like glTF and VRM (a 3D avatar standard built on top of glTF) for interoperability. The hope is that one day you’ll be able to use some sort of linking mechanism – or “portal” – to easily jump from one virtual world to another. For example, from Meta’s future platform in Nvidia’s Omniverse. I asked Trevett if he thinks that’s a realistic vision for the metaverse?
“I think it’s a goal worth striving for,” he replied. “Everyone responds to it [with the] Recognizing that there is no trivial problem to solve. But if we don’t start, we’ll never get there.”
Trevett believes that consistency and consistency are two key concepts in creating standards for avatars.
“A big part of the general mindset of the metaverse is […] the concept that despite your individual identity—both from a privacy and data perspective, but possibly also from an avatar and appearance perspective—you can choose to assume a consistent personality across the different realms of the metaverse. That’s a pretty common target you hear. And I think one of the keywords you hear for the Metaverse is persistence. You put something in a virtual world and come back two weeks later, it’s still there.”
However, Trevett again warned that it would “take Darwinian steps to get there”. Metaverse interoperability will evolve over time under guidance from the Metaverse Standards Forum.
Not just another standards organization
Trevett described the new group as “a discussion forum” that “lies above the standards organizations.” The actual standardization work will continue to be carried out by existing groups (eg Khronos). The new forum, he said, is “open to all – any organization is welcome to join – there is no entry fee, there is no non-disclosure agreement and there is no IP framework.”
While not a standards body, MSF aims to help solve the interoperability puzzle for the metaverse industry. To explain, Trevett offered a metaphor that will be familiar to all developers: brick.
“I like to say we’re baking building blocks for interoperability,” he said. “We are not trying to design or build the cathedral yet. We don’t know exactly what the cathedral will be, but we do know we’re going to need some bricks. So we can do that in the short term and accelerate that process with things like hackathons and interoperability projects.”