Welcome to the Catalan metaverse that wants to replace Zoom
The 2022 budget allocates €400,000 to the Catalonia Blockchain Centre, which created the project
BarcelonaThe walls of the building are pristine white. Once you pass through an entrance crowned by a lone tree and a flag of Catalonia you arrive at the main hall, which is quite large and covered with a gray carpet. Through a skylight there is a panoramic view of the mountain of Montserrat, while if you follow the stairs to the second floor you will come across a large fish tank with no fish in it.
But the centre of attention this Monday is a stage with a background image of the Old Quarter of Girona from where some avatars are preparing to start the presentation. They are the alter egos of the vice-president of the Generalitat and minister for Digital Policies, Jordi Puigneró (wearing a yellow T-shirt); the president of the Catalonia Blockchain Centre, Quirze Salomó, and the president of the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, Mònica Roca, to launch CatVers, a metaverse in Catalan with the aim of "defending the language and culture of the nation" from the same digital experience that is now promoted by social media tycoon Mark Zuckerberg.
In the physical version of the ad, the three are wearing virtual reality goggles and are also in a room, but at the Chamber of Commerce's headquarters on Barcelona's Avinguda Diagonal. "Catalonia as a nation has the opportunity to be a pioneer in this new reality and repeat a success story like Wikipedia," says Salomó. Starting this Monday afternoon, these spaces made of bits can be booked to hold meetings of entities of the Catalan associative fabric. Next month, virtual exhibition rooms will be set up and in March they intend to host larger events in the form of festivals of any artistic expression. In the second half of the year a "serious" university campus should open.
For Puigneró, CatVers is "a big step in the construction of the Catalan digital nation" and that is why in 2022 his department has more than doubled the budget of the Catalunya Blockchain Centre to €400,000. Of this amount, "a few thousand" have been earmarked to develop together with the Universitat de Girona this Catalan version of the metaverse. "We are still not very clear about the potential it will have, but Catalonia will have to be there," said the vice president.
This Catalan virtual reality will also have its own government, which will be decided among the entities that participate through a constituent process based –of course– on blockchain technology. Salomó claims that there is a waiting list with "many interested parties", but does not specify any names.
Former president of Nostrum
Before the Chamber of Commerce and the Generalitat commissioned him to lead the Catalonia Blockchain Centre project, this entrepreneur was best known for being the founder of HomeMeal Replacement, the owner of the Nostrum takeaway food stores. At the helm of the group he already tried to push his own cryptocurrency, an idea that never succeeded and was cut short by the liquidation of the company. Now the manager is convinced that the metaverse in Catalan will be "economically viable" and that it will allow to monetise projects by all kinds of creators in the country. For the moment, the first source of income will be the "very affordable" fees in exchange for renting a virtual space for a meeting or the presentation of a new product.
When asked a question that brings him back to the political news, Puigneró still finds another use for it: if this helps to speed up the talks with the Spanish government, the dialogue table could always meet in this gray carpeted room instead of the Moncloa.