After 2021, many people have already "meta-universe PTSD". At this time, some people recall "Alpha City", which was launched at the end of 2010, and realize afterwards that this virtual community from more than a decade ago has such a strong meta-universe color.

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Alpha City community at a glance丨

From the current perspective, Alpha City is very "simple", like a mini version of Google Maps or a map version of Moore's Manor. But it is a "city" that lacks a sense of space visually, in which users take over the streets, hug and unite in societies, make friends, open stores, sell goods, trade with tokens and so on. They do this through the "chat".

This highly experimental community was created by Douban. In the beginning, Alpha City was by invitation, with a few users receiving official invitations from Douban, perhaps to get the "elite users" started. As long-time Douban user A recalls, the "invitation-seeking" scene everywhere on the site was just like the Clubhouse craze in early 2021. "It's only been a short time, and both Alpha City and Clubhouse are already NBCS (nobody cares)."

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After four years of operation, Alpha City "fell" and the community shut down in May 2015. In that year, the community had 78,817 "residents". That year, anthropologists also did a "salvage dig" of the ruins.

This street, all our own people

When it was first launched, the city structure of Alpha City was very simple, with only two levels, named by the letters A~F, with four or five streets under each district. After a subsequent revision, it was changed to three levels: upper level is one, two, three, four; middle level is named by "number + heavenly stem", such as two A place, three B place; lower level is a specific street, such as "three body street".

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There are "Three Body Street" and "Flying Face Divine Church Street" in the F district|

To put it in a better way, the original Alpha City was like Beijing, with Chaoyang District and Haidian District under it, and Chaoyang District with Jianguo Road, Dawang Road and so on; the revamped Alpha City is more like China, with Beijing and Shanghai under it, Chaoyang District and Jing'an District in the middle level, and then Jianguo Road and North Xizang Road under it.

The most interesting thing came when Douban set a rule: the naming of all the streets was determined entirely by residents' votes. Thus, users gathered on their own in a disorderly environment, and fellow users began to seize the streets and name their own turf.

I picked up the

I picked up the

We can see a lot of "harmonic stems": "small hole into the alley" with a physical concept, "Chaowendao" with a literary term, "four not alley" with a mythological term, "don't know", the earliest "lying flat party" gathering place, early Chinese GitHub "hyperlink" (hyperlink street), and even "Rock & Road" with an English harmonic stems.

There are also some street names, taken directly from the network of hot stems, such as "technical school elite Avenue". This stunt should come from the nickname of the famous schools that emerged at that time, Tsinghua is "Wudaokou Vocational and Technical School", Peking University is "Yuanmingyuan Vocational and Technical College", North Normal University is "Jishuitan Teacher College "and so on. At that time, it was also popular to flirt with non-mainstream, so there was a "street of killers", "the village celebrity walking street" such street names.

Of course, in Douban it's always about elegance and vulgarity. Many landmarks from classic literary works are also mapped in the streets of Alpha City: "Diagon Alley" in "Harry Potter", "Charing Cross" in "84 Charing Cross", "Marvelous House" in "Silver Ghost Ichiban Street" in "Silver Ghost", "Great Channel" in "King of Thieves", etc.

You only need to take a look to know if there are any of your own people in the street.

Even the most niche hobby has a gathering place. In Sanfang, which likes Bach and is keen on Hanfu cosplay, there is a street built by a group of Milan fans; in the three streets of Sibifang, which is too lazy to name, Christians and Juventus fans live next to each other; and in Wujia Street, which is long overdue for a name, residents have expressed their willingness to live in "Vote Your Sister Street".

What impressed me the most was the "Prince's pleasant wooden street". This stunt came from the funny manga Niwa and its Chinese version – "Prince Seiji's Happy Wooden Building", which was just starting to become popular in China at the time, and it even brought the word "daddy" to life. Two members of CUCN201, the team of the middle version, have already made a name for themselves. They are later known as Bai Ke and Baomu Zhongyang.

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Funny cartoon day and 丨network

In Alpha City, each name represents a group of people who recognize the same culture. According to statistics, there were 126 streets in Alpha City at the time of its "death". This means that 126 small circles of people lived comfortably here.

The existence of Alpha City gently gathers the scattered and abstract Internet culture together and gives them a small house. What is stored there are people's memories.

I think it's hard to give people a sense of belonging like Alpha City, like Tianya, Catpou, and Iifu. The blogs and Difu accounts belong to individuals, and there is no circle culture; the posts and stems of Tianya and Catpou will be topped off, and will be increasingly difficult to retrieve. But even after all these years, when I think of Alpha City, I associate it with the "Prince's pleasant Muzo Street", along with those days when I was watching and giggling at comics.

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According to informed Douban users, in order to name the street, there is a lot of "tear" 丨screenshot

A small store selling anything

In addition to well-defined zoning and neighborhoods, Alpha City has also constructed an economic system.

Alpha City uses Douban's virtual currency "small beans" in the early stage. There are two channels to obtain small beans, one is based on activity, posting and other implicit data, which is distributed by the official from time to time and in variable amounts, and the other is to shop in Alpha City and pick up small beans randomly.

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Street naming war in the shocking small bean balance丨Network

In terms of transactions, residents can pay small beans to open a "small store", unlike Taobao, Jingdong and other shopping sites, Alpha City small stores are diverse, such as a variety of dating stores, "late night eateries" to record recipes, Alpha City University for people to improve; small stores can also "sell" anything, for example, daring residents can even buy late at night "urban unexplained events archive" in the horror stories.

Later on, the beans were replaced with "Awan", and the way to get Awan was changed to only through picking up (maximum 2 per day) and participating in transactions such as working, buying and selling goods and securities.

If the streets are some labels, then the small stores can be said to represent the vitality of Alpha City, where not only "carry" the real-life wedding and funeral, but also from the soul to the body of the fancy entertainment, and even gaming are available.

Early Alpha City already has a similar gaming organization, may not be in line with the taste of most users of Douban, and even a smaller audience, did not form an organization, only in the "mouth high" stage.

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The purpose is to gather people to gamble, and the slogan is to gamble for fun, but the essence is to squeeze some oil and water from other players to relieve the sorrow of picking up only 2 yuan a day. The actual fact is that the actual person has to be able to get a lot more than just a few of these. The so-called bets, that is, voting, such as to see how many medals China can win the Olympic Games.

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It must be said that Alpha City Casino is one of the few "self-employed" casinos that offers a full range of services and makes logical sense. It is divided into large and small casinos, and also has a bulletin board, a drink room and a trend chart. The clear divisions, rules and service make you wonder if the casino owner would have renovated it even more if the small stores hadn't standardized their room sizes.

In addition to entertainment, there are even "hospitals" and "memorial" services in the city.

At 6 San Geng Street, there is a hospital that "serves doumin". Its ideal is to gather doctors from various departments on the platform to solve physical and mental problems online, but there are few replies and questions. Now it seems that the residents of Alpha City are very decentralized and have a wide range of interests, and only the Internet still holds the great ideal of a group of doctors in the corner.

This decentralization is almost a characteristic of Douban (except for groups). One user, who has almost no social circle on Douban, once unilaterally announced the opening of "Alpha City Cemetery": "Even for someone like me, who follows and is followed by less than three digits, I often see the word 'logged out' and a blank face in my avatar on the right. ' and a blank face. Sometimes I try to find a way to search for traces of these people, but what they once left behind has often disappeared completely with a single click of the left mouse button."

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For this sentimental reason, he set up a small cemetery store, where he left some traces of people who had crossed paths in remembrance.

Of course, the vast majority of small stores "business", are more on the lively, simple, romantic. Some small stores can use small beans to adopt a star in the sky, "South crazy family wish small store" is to provide a platform for bean friends to realize each other's wishes, some small stores are simply a group of people who want to escape from the Earth to embrace each other in the air ……

It is worth mentioning that Douban initially had the idea of bringing small stores to cash, and Vancl, which took the country by storm that year, opened its first branded store in Alpha City. Similar to today's advertising, the so-called Vancl's small stores, that is, Vancl has placed advertising space in the city.

It's been seven years since Alpha City shut down, and we were able to get a glimpse of what life was really like in the community by observing the behavioral traces of the residents. In the fragments we have collected, we can still see the thriving community ecology of Alpha City in its heyday. Interestingly, the "goods" sold in the store also largely represent the attributes of Douban's core users.

Using only the concepts of "city" and "economy", Alpha City successfully built an interesting and cohesive community in a virtual environment by relying on user UGC. On this level, the experiment was a success.

Was it born at the wrong time?

The reason why Alpha City came back into people's view is that the topic related to the meta-universe became popular, and the old Douban with good memory started to "recruit" people, saying that Alpha City is the first generation of Chinese Internet meta-universe. Because of the topic's popularity and the many interesting UGC contents that survived, people now feel: Alpha City seems to be a bit interesting.

But according to the early users, Alpha City just looked interesting. They were not optimistic about the development of this experimental project because, first, they thought that Alpha City was set to be highly overlapping with groups and small stations (Douban's other interest circle products) and did not differentiate itself; second, from 2010 to 2015, the center of gravity of the Chinese Internet shifted from PC to mobile, and every mobile application included social and interest circles. At this time, Douban not only failed to catch up with the fast train of mobile, but also Alpha City's social networking could only be chatted on the web, which was neither fast enough nor deep enough compared with other applications. Even the road of e-commerce, Douban also did not go on for unknown reasons.

Some people lament that the city of Afar "born at the wrong time", the so-called born at the wrong time, that is, if it is placed in the present, and meta-universe together, there may be a play.

What is the metaverse? The mainstream explanation is that the metaverse is the next generation of the Internet. Simply put, we are now participating in Internet life by browsing various flat screens, but in the future we will "enter" the virtual world with our virtual bodies. We can "touch" various Internet products that we could not touch originally in the virtual world – with our virtual bodies.

I picked up the

Top Gun" presents a perfect virtual world where what you think is what you see丨GIPHY

The core of the metaverse, and one of the reasons why industries are so excited about it now, is that it will be a fusion of today's developing technologies, ultimately building the "tangible" virtual world described above. Alpha City as a community in map form, even if it contains some meta-universe ideas, is still ultimately flat.

From this perspective, even if Alpha City is born in the present, it will not be the "first meta-universe" product.

It has been suggested that the metaverse concept that is so popular today did not originate 30 years ago in the science fiction novel Avalanche, but rather in a prospectus filed by Roblox last March. In other words, it was the need of the capitalists who invested in Roblox to support the "metaverse" concept in order to get positive feedback. At the same time, the Internet has reached a plateau and fans of new technologies such as VR/AR and blockchain need new forms as entry points to "lobby". Therefore, they need to fan the fire of "meta-universe".

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Last March, Roblox went public on the New York Stock Exchange. The company, which is not well known in China, had a market cap of nearly $40 billion that day, up 10 times from a year ago. Before the IPO, it was described as "a platform for elementary school kids to make games" and "4399 full of Lego minifigures" 丨GIPHY

In any case, it is a bit far-fetched to link Alpha City with the metaverse.

In my opinion, Alpha City exists for the same reason as Douban, to provide a "spiritual corner" for many niche culture lovers and residents who are willing to spend their time in the virtual world.

In 2008, two years before the launch of Alpha City, Douban founder Bei translated an article from Paul Graham, author of Hackers and Painters, entitled "Cities and Aspirations" on the site.

"It's not a coincidence that you see people like that in Cambridge. You have to sacrifice to live there. It's expensive, it's dirty, and the weather is bad. So the kind of people you meet in Cambridge are the kind of people who would rather live in an expensive, dirty place with bad weather than live with smart people. Maybe one day the Internet will allow us to go further. Maybe one day the community you really belong to will be virtual and it won't matter where you live. But I don't see that necessarily. The real world has a lot of bandwidth, and some of the ways cities deliver information are very subtle."

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Ah Bei wrote: "A good article can see people's hearts and hands dancing …… also slightly thatched." A reader left this sentence at the bottom, "Virtual communities help high-bandwidth communities like cities share some of the bandwidth, and this value is quite big."


[1] The Vanishing Virtual City: The First Archaeological Excavation Report of "Alpha City" in Douban, by Zhang Jingwei

[2] Map of Alpha City, by Hometown Food _dtcc=1&_i=3047168mpvNwBq

[3] "Talking about the small beans of Alpha City" by Ensign Xiao Manchu [4] "Talking about Alpha City after ten years – a vanishing virtual city 》, Author: Murray

Author: Raifu Raihuku

Editor: biu