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When the metaverse meets online democracy and more

— Alicia Combaz, Co-founder, Managing Director make.org

When the metaverse meets online democracy and more — Alicia Combaz, Co-founder, Managing Director make.org

Published:

12.19.2022

Photo:

Nathalie Mohadjer

Alicia has always got some flair to find herself, opening the way, at the beginning of important game changing digital trends: online streaming at the early days, mobile gaming when it was not yet a thing, music streaming before it changed forever the music industry, and now online democracy on its way to become one of the most important topics in the years to come.

Can you describe yourself quickly?

Hello everyone, I am 38 years old, I’m French and come from a small mountain village in Savoie. I currently live in the city of Montreuil with my partner and my daughter. 6 years ago, I founded a company called make.org with a friend of mine.

What are your favorite subjects?

I've always worked on subjects related to digital and innovation: mobile TV (at the beginning of replay streaming services), mobile video games (at the launch of the first App stores), or online music (the streaming boom)... 

6 years ago, I decided to put this knowledge to the benefit of Make.org and the positive transformation of our societies. Very concretely, I asked myself how our democracies could benefit from the power of digital technology, in the massive mobilization of civil society on key issues such as the fight against violence against women, or the fight for the climate.  Today, with Make. org, we mobilize hundreds of thousands of citizens on these subjects; beyond mobilizing them, we transform what they tell us into very concrete actions, with a national impact. This is very powerful, and it is made possible by the platform we have developed, our ability to go and find - especially on social networks - all those who want to express themselves on these subjects, and finally the use of semantic analysis to objectively express citizens' views.

This vision of co-construction, of collective intelligence goes beyond "participative democracy" and we collaborate with many companies that want to reinvent their strategy, or even their products, with multiple stakeholders. Companies (and society) are evolving and so is their governance with digital technology.

What would be an emerging topic that for you will be important in our very near future?

I am quite interested in all the discussions that are taking place today around the metaverse. The metaverse is an immersive virtual world, in which you can do all sorts of activities: play, have fun, chat... many people know the video games "the Sims" or "World of Warcraft" which have set the stage for metavers.  Recently, Mark Zuckerberg renamed his company Meta (formerly Facebook), with the ambition to create a virtual reality world in which you could play, but also attend concerts, shop, work, ... in short, live!

What is at stake?

They are numerous: economic, of course, with revenues that can be staggering linked to the new businesses that are created from this new market, technical issues, of course, with the question of interoperability (how to move from my shopping experience to my online work experience without having to change worlds, meaning without moving from Meta to Microsoft for example…), or even issues of sovereignty... 

Personally, what interests me and which is related to my favorite subjects are the subjects of regulation, governance and ethics. How and by whom are the rules and duties of these community spaces edited? How to create, for instance, secure virtual spaces, with moderation to avoid online harassment or systems to avoid a possible dependence on these universes? What role should states play in these parallel worlds? Or to what extent can we collectively co-construct these worlds, using collective intelligence methods?

What changes, what opportunities can this bring?

I will take the angle of participatory democracy, which is of particular interest to me. It is urgent today to recreate the link between citizens and elected officials. At Make.org, we orchestrate massive consultations, which reach citizens in all their diversity. We put subjects of general interest back at the heart of the public debate, and we make sure that the citizens' word, through the thousands of proposals & votes that are made on our platform, is transformed into a citizen's agenda, a top of priorities that must be the object of a collective action plan. Today we are conducting these consultations online, tomorrow we could imagine being able to reach citizens through the metaverse, as a complement. Imagine a space for permanent discussion on the future of our societies and opening up virtual experiences at the service of our democracies. I insist on the fact that this is complementary to physical or more traditional devices. The basis of these discussions is that they should not exclude anyone, but the opportunity is there. The sheet is so white, that this space of creation could why not inspire the real life positively through experiments of collective intelligence.

What are the brakes, the dangers?

We are at the beginning of 5 to 10 years of big challenges: regulation of the space, its governance, respect of users' rights, their privacy, their personal data, regulation of crypto-currencies, impact on the environment to be controlled...but also a lot of questions about the value of our real and virtual lives, or the place of these virtual lives in our real lives. 

“This vision of co-construction, of collective intelligence goes beyond participative democracy”

Who are the players in this market?

We can mention Meta, Microsoft, Roblox, The Sandbox, Epic Games, ...

How did you come into contact with this issue?

There are quite a few sensational articles that came out several months ago on the subject of bitcoin or NFTs. On the bitcoin side, it was the story, for example, of people who had lost the password they had created several years ago. To whom there was only one password attempt left before they lost access to this money (not so virtual!), as there is no procedure for recovering the password and who lived for months, years trying to remember it. On the NFT side, these virtual certificates linked to the blockchain, we have seen people acquire digital images for millions of euros.

In short, all this seemed to me at the same time funny, insane, scary, interesting. I started to be interested in it, and between NFT, crypto-currencies and metaverse, there is only one step.

Where can we find out more?

Nothing better than the internet to learn about the internet of tomorrow!