They say that “Web3 will change everything!”. But I think they also said the same about web2. Perhaps a better thing to say would be Web3 is slowly changing how we use the internet and experience the digital world, in the same way web2 did, but well…different. But how? Well as many of its proponents claim, as Web3 will put control bank in the hands of the people, and we’ll experience new levels of freedom and control over our finances, data, and time! oh boy.
If we can put the evangelism aside for just moment I think we can agree that new technologies will have many outcomes, some may be good and some may, we’re still figuring it out though and can’t say anything for sure. In the meantime, sometimes a trip down memory lane to remember how we got here can help us get some perspective on change, and perhaps even help us understand a bit more about where we’re going, or at least, where we think things are going.
Web 1: Dial me up
The first version of the Internet the broader public is familiar with had its genesis in the 1990s. Back then it was really just a collection of pages with links and text that led to more pages with text and links. Websites weren’t particularly interactive, but HTML and URLs made it possible for us to move around between static pages. Anyone “tech savvy” were the ones who started to publish content but at the time, most people were still just trying to figure out how to get online and create an email account. The most annoying thing back then wasn’t yet ads but trying to time to get online between someone’s phone calls.
Web2: two point oh!
The invention of the smartphone essentially gave anyone the ability to be online from anywhere anytime as well as create their own content anytime. New careers where formed by people just creating their own content, from bloggers to YouTubers to people who just like to take pictures of themselves, which has proved to have some legitimate and sometimes very lucrative benefits.
While Web2 introduced a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for more connectedness it also introduced centralization. And with the amount of new data that was rapidly generated on massive scale, it also became an accelerator for the birth of ‘the cloud’ and myriads of cloud use cases.
The business models were pretty simple, a company would launch an app, do everything possible to try get as many people using it, then sell their data to advertisers. Network effects and economies of scale led to there being a handful of winners who were successful that now dominate by providing services in exchange for personal data of which the implications of this bargain were not clearly understood.
Web2: cracks appear
From social media to banking, dating to deliveries, web2 has made us completely reliant on internet applications that operate off a handful of centralized internet servers. If centralized systems goes down, it’s sol time for anyone using them. And if the people who run the centralized systems decide you just shouldn’t have access access, you’re out of more than just luck.
With so much personal information stored in centralized databases, we’re taking risks every time we sign up for something. If a database gets hacked our information is compromised, if the company goes out of business then what? And what if your livelihood depends on a centralized platform that suddenly changes the rules on how you earn a living, then what? Fake news, coded biases, misinformation, bots, de-platforming…. all of these just from the last 10 years.
Will you own everything? Probably not. The new version is always overhyped so while we should certainly be excited, I think it’s better to be cautiously realistic.
What if you could access all of the services you do now without sharing any of your data, and without handing over the ownership of the content you create? In other words, what if you could own your digital life and manage ‘all the things’ autonomously and independently? No one scraping your inbox, no one selling your email, no one indexing your photos. Sign me up!
Web3 proposes decentralization as the alternative to the centralization status quo of web2. If web1 was read, web2 was read and write, web3 is the read, write and own phase of the Internet. Rather than having to sign-up for the ‘free’ tech platforms in exchange for our data (centralized), we can now become active participants in the governance and operation of the the tools and protocols we use (decentralized). In this sense we can act more like shareholders that have a stake, not just customers (the product), dictated too and monetized.
How exactly? It’s the blockchain thing. In Web3, the decentralized network is the blockchain and the cryptocurrencies (or tokens) are like company shares which you can buy and/or accumulate to represent your “ownership” over the decentralized network. The weight of your say depends on how much you own and because blockchain data public (aka shared with many computers) there’s full transparency over what’s happening.
The promise of web 3 is that at least this time, constraints on power and control are design requirements, not afterthoughts.Josh Stark (source: Making Sense of Web 3)
But let’s be real here
The main criticism of web3 technology is that it falls short of its ideals and I would agree at this point. Is ownership over blockchain networks really equally distributed or is it concentrated in the hands of early adopters and venture capitalists? If don’t have the money to buy cryptocurrencies or tokens how do you get a say? Isn’t this just the same way everything works now?
Research shows that just 0.01% of bitcoin holders controls 27% of the currency in circulation (source: WSJ) so yeah, pretty much.
Also this tweet:
It’s hard to disagree when it’s usually VC’s who the ones investing in early stage projects and have the most incentive to promote their viability. The more compelling the narrative they can create early on the more likely it will be picked up by the mainstream and attract the retail investors they need in order to get their investment back.
And on top of this, for all the talk about decentralization and putting power back into the hands of users, why does it seem like crypto is imploding?
Web 3 is going just great is a project that that’s been tracking events in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space since 2011. It’s most interesting feature is by far the grift counter – almost $10 billion as of this writing. 🙈
What we can say for sure is that the understanding that all of any promises should be taken with a big grain of salt and that if something seems too good to be true it probably is. And while there are certainly more nuanced aspects to web3 than just decentralization, blockchains and cryptocurrencies, these are currently the 3 fundamental aspects that are driving it, theoretically speaking of course.
And while all the talk around decentralization and putting power back in the hands of the people sounds great, there is little if almost no regulation right now so when the people running the “decentralized thing” take-off or get greedy, or just screw up, who steps in to help? It’s clear that the expectation is for some sort of government organization to step in and regulate but how does a body that’s known for moving slow get ahead of a something that’s moving so fast? (let’s not forget about Finsta)
This is probably a big question that’ll start to come up more and more. While still somewhat, ok a lot , skeptical, I’m certainly excited to see how this all plays out. 🧐