A thousand people have a thousand different ideas about the metaverse. But most technologists agree that Metaverse is the next chapter on the Internet. However, such a consensus will stop short, as there are many different ways of thinking about these “chapters”.
One camp focused on the mode of interaction. The first chapter is the Internet to read text and look at pictures. The second chapter is the mobile Internet of video consumption and use of various applications. Chapter Three is the Metaverse, a real-time, three-dimensional, fully immersive Internet experience.
Another camp focuses on the idea of value distribution and relies on blockchain technology. Chapters one and two are both centralized internet informationwhile chapter three, called Web 3.0, is decentralized valuable internet.
The first chapter is about read-only web portals plus personal and therefore semi-centralized websites. The second chapter is about reading and writing (think blogging and social media), and is often centered on major tech platforms. Web 3.0 is read, written and clean, where the data belongs to the users, accelerated by the magic of the blockchain.
For China’s search engine giant Baidu Inc., all these different ideas are well received and accepted. Unlike other technology leaders like Meta and ByteDance, which push for their own metaverse visions, which I mentioned earlier, Baidu is a tech path agnostic.
“We can provide the API (application programming interface) and SDK (software development kit) technology capabilities needed to create a dynamic metaverse, so that everyone can move forward and not have to spend energy to accomplish these basic tasks, “Ma Jie, vice president of Baidu who also leads the company’s metaverse project called XiRang, told me in a recent interview. “Our character is very open.”
Ma clarified a fundamental confusion about Baidu’s XiRang project. In December, the Beijing -based company held an AI developer conference on a futuristic virtual world created by Baidu called Creator City on the XiRang platform.
Many media have compared Creator City to XiRang, which is incorrectly described as a mobile app. In fact, XiRang is an invisible network of technology capabilities developed by Baidu to support metaverse growth. Creator City is just a showcase that Baidu used to build the XiRang platform to show what XiRang can do.
Think of XiRang as a SaaS (Software as a Service) provider, but for the metaverse. Developers and content creators can license or purchase these capabilities to help their metaverse projects, whether it’s a metaverse game company looking to create a new metaverse game or a metaverse social network app hoping to improve his product.
XiRang for metaverse as well as Baidu Brain for artificial intelligence. Baidu Brain, the company’s open AI platform, offers hundreds of basic AI capabilities and hundreds of thousands of models for developers. XiRang, similarly, wants to be the cause of the founders of the metaverse.
How does Baidu plan to make money in this relatively relaxed way? The company basically does hard and perhaps low work. In addition, the SaaS track in the Chinese technology market is particularly difficult for many idiosyncratic reasons.
Ma’s answer was enough of a reasonable gain. After all, many of the technical challenges in the metaverse such as rendering lag, cloud rendering, VR headset issues such as weight and dizziness, limits on the number of avatars hosted in a virtual environment, and many others still take a long time to resolve. .
Being early, comprehensive (in technology capabilities) and patient will help Baidu. Unselfishness is another advantage. But whether Baidu’s metaverse strategy will work in the end is anyone’s prediction. At the very least, the Chinese search engine is unique in its metaverse strategy.
Below is an edited Q&A of our conversation.
Nina Xiang: How did Baidu develop the metaverse strategy?
My Jie: Baidu’s VR team has been working on VR since 2016. At the start of the Covid pandemic, we thought it would be beneficial to use our VR technology to be able to facilitate large virtual events. We started the XiRang project in 2020, and previously it was not called metaverse.
I personally think the metaverse would be a good candidate for Web 3.0. It doesn’t matter what names we use to describe it. We can see the evolution of computing interactions, and there are clearly huge opportunities for the next innovation in user interaction and immersive experiences.
What is XiRang trying to do?
This is the infrastructure of the metaverse. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to build a website, you had to learn how to buy servers, configure things like software stacks, and so on. It can take months to prepare these elements.
But now, there are many ready services, content and templates to help create a website very quickly. XiRang wants to do the same thing: provide these core technological capabilities to help others create the metaverse.
You mean like Roblox does?
Not exactly. We want to be like Amazon Web Services (AWS) for the metaverse. It’s closer to the infrastructure layer of today’s IT ecosystem.
XiRang is an invisible platform. Creator City, a virtual world where we held our Developer Conference last year, is really just a showcase of XiRang’s capabilities.
We want to show developers that they can use XiRang’s tools, software and other features to create their own virtual world. Our capabilities include avatars, gestures and interactions, natural languages, multimedia display and more. We will create other capabilities like cloud rendering to keep the industry going.
So is this the same as what Meta does? Meta also does a lot of things.
Our positioning will be closer to the infrastructure layer. For example, Meta builds suites of Horizon products for a variety of purposes. But for us, a Creator City is enough. We want other partners to come and create their own metaverses to improve this ecosystem. After all, building virtual worlds is not our core skill.
If XiRang wants to be AWS for the metaverse, does that mean partners using XiRang’s capabilities should use Baidu Cloud?
We have an open nature. XiRang is the cause of the metaverse, and we don’t ask people to link to Baidu Cloud. But we will provide all of these other types of infrastructure capabilities and services, from the cloud and including our AI capabilities. We also want to help our partners achieve interoperability and interconnection.
So isn’t it a centralized platform like Facebook?
So how do you plan to make money?
It’s good for us to make a profit somewhere. One business model in the Internet age is to support small and medium developers and then hope to have a piece of the pie when they grow up and start making money. But for large companies with more capabilities, the business model may be more attractive.
We may issue licensing permits, technology cooperation or make joint investments to obtain reasonable returns. We can use different methods and be flexible. But it may be too early to think that this first model now supports small and medium developers.
Like a SaaS business model?
Yes, but it’s not purely Saas business. SaaS is a lightweight business model. But if anyone wants to have a custom setup so they have more control, we’re happy to provide a more comprehensive solution.
It’s been a while since XiRang’s Creator City caught the eye last year. Any updates to the platform recently?
Last December, at our Developer Conference in Creator City, 100,000 people attended the meeting at the same time.
Actually, I want to clarify this point. Most virtual worlds in the United States can only host without 100 avatars in a virtual environment. That’s a huge difference from 100,000 people. What I understand is that many of those 100,000 people sitting in the conference center within Creator City cannot interact with the people around them.
Yes, what we mean is that we can host 100,000 people on a set of servers. You might assume that all 100,000 people are on the same server in the context of games.
Nowadays, when people play, they always have to choose a server. People on different servers do not interact with each other. What we did was put those 100,000 people on the “same server” (even though they still had to be hosted on a set of servers) so they could all interact with each other. We designed our own framework to make it work.
What is the impact of China’s data privacy and security laws, as well as a more stringent regulatory environment, on the metaverse?
Here too we bring value. Eventually we will have an international operation and we will have to do the work of keeping the data in different jurisdictions. Despite the differences in laws and regulations in different countries, there are also communities.
As a technology provider, we can also help you with this compliance task. This type of work can be a burden for many interior designers. But we can learn and improve our expertise in this area as we expand into different countries.
Can you share any aspects of overseas expansion?
We recently co-created a company with Meta Media to build a virtual city called YuanBang using our XiRang platform. Blue Focus, which is building its virtual universe based on XiRang, is also expanding overseas. We also talked with them about this aspect.
We also spoke with tourism bureaus and economic development offices in many countries to see if we could bring some of their sights and culture to Chinese consumers through the metaverse.