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Meet The App Behind Virtual Burning Man: Topia

Topia is the future of virtual events. The fully customizable spatial-based virtual gathering platform launched in May of last year, and already hosted 25,000 users for the virtual edition of Burning Man in 2020.

Grit Daily caught up with Topia’s founder and CEO, Daniel Liebeskind, via the platform, which felt somewhat like an interactive Marauder’s Map (i.e. Harry Potter.) The name “Topia” comes from the word “utopia,” defined as “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.” Liebeskind decided to drop the “u” for symbolic reasons. The company’s ethos subscribes to the idea of community collaboration over individual identity.

“The idea is not to create a world that’s based on your identity. The idea is to create space and be a space maker…where people are coming together and having human connection,” says Liebeskind. Users can allow others to be administrators in their Topia, and then edit and create new spaces collaboratively, adding links, projecting video on a screen, building campfires around which to gather, etc. The standard world is a pencil drawn outdoor area similar to a forest or campsite – users can pitch tents and gather around campfires.

Liebeskind says that Zoom is a great platform for presenting in the one-to-many environment, but does not work as well when participants want agency. In Topia, each user has his/her own avatar and can move around in the world by clicking their avatar’s footprints somewhere. Users can hear one another and see their video feeds if their avatars are in close proximity. As a user moves away, the sound of the other users in that space decreases, until they are far enough away not to hear anymore, similar to a real life experience.

The Creator Economy

Liebeskind says, “Something that’s really important to us is trying to figure out a way to enable artists and creators – world creators, asset creators, experience creators – to be able to untie themselves from normal industry and be able to actually create things that enhance human connection and get paid to do that. And so we’ve built a few mechanisms into Topia already around this notion of a creator economy.” Topia wants to incentivize people to build amazing worlds that others can subscribe to be a part of, allowing creators to make revenue as an alternative to the gaming industry, and allowing users to immerse themselves in interactive, unique worlds.

The Model

As of now, anyone can create an unlimited number of free worlds that allow up to 25 people to join at a time. There’s also a subscription model where, for $9/month, the subscriber can broadcast to everyone in the world, have an unlimited number of participants and receive a personalized URL, which would make that Topia easier to find.

Liebeskind says, “Thinking about the future of Topia like five years from now, everybody should have an Instagram page, they’ll have a Twitter handle and they have a Topia world, and your Topia world can actually be a mind map of your favorite things.” Not everyone has access to a virtual headset, and Topia’s browser-based platform is an interesting new way to build community safely amid a pandemic and into the future.

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