Everyone has an opinion on Web3 right now. But who is right, and why should we care?
If you just got your head around the metaverse then you’ll be exhausted to learn that there’s another hard-to-understand buzzword to bone up on: Web3.
Web3. Not Web 3.0. That’s what your parents would call it.
The next phase of the internet — following Web 2.0, which is still okay to say — was named by Ethereum founder Gavin Wood, who is very excited about it and what it means for a decentralized, egalitarian internet.
But what is it?
Wood’s vision, first articulated in 2014, imagines a new economy built around blockchain where users can supply services directly to each other, and no single entity owns or has control of the entire system (CBS).
So, at least in theory, it eliminates the dominance of Big Tech forces from the internet.
With all data and content registered on blockchains, tokenized or managed and accessed on peer-to-peer distributed networks (Computerworld), Web3 promises to finally and fully democratize the online environment to the benefit of all. Users create content at the same time as controlling the networks and the money.
In other words: Power to the people!
(Albeit the power to navigate complex and intertwined worlds of cryptocurrency, digital assets like NFTs and the newly hyped DAOs, with a possible side order of the blockchain-dependent gaming, metaverse/s and augmented and virtual reality).
Though the idea has a dedicated following — which we’ll get to — the spike in interest has caused tech commentators across the board to raise their jaded eyebrows. Mostly, Web3 has been dismissed as unrealistic bunkum.
“Web3 is a repackaging of some particular technologies. Blockchain went down a kind of tech culture cul-de-sac and consumers got tired of the hype. Traditional crypto never became currency; NFTs became this cultish thing; and VR has been ‘the next big thing’ for decades. Web3 is a brand that knit all these ideas together into a plausible whole.“
“NFTs and digital items could be our clothing, our identities, our status signifiers. And VR could be more than just a side alley of gaming. That would be cool, but it’s not reality. Right now, Web3 tech is still primitive. It’s plausible that blockchain tech along with AR and VR could become the next big thing, but not today.“
But criticism of Web3 is not limited to the scale of its ambitions. At the end of December, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey burst the bubble of those who consider this technology a realizable, equitable utopia.
Others have questioned the safety of a blockchain-based internet. Software engineer Geoffrey Huntley explained to ABC News that the majority of blockchains are permissionless, which means that anything could be sent to your digital wallet — “including abusive content like revenge porn or other digital forms of harassment.”
Moreover, it will stick around forever:
“The blockchain is immutable. When something’s on there, it’s permanently on there. There’s nothing stopping someone for sending abusive content into your wallet, like spam, and then you can’t do anything to delete it.“
But on the flip, NFT vendor and Web3 enthusiast Fity.eth told media: “We’re building a lifestyle and we’re making a movement.” And that’s certainly how it feels for creators — writers, artists, musicians, designers, eager to receive money and recognition for their work without having to negotiate with a greedy middleman.
Indeed, the emergence of Web3 has heralded the arrival of a “Golden Age for Content“, with all the tools to tip the scales of power and control back towards those who create.
Similarly, the boom in NFT art is creating whole new markets and upending the traditional art world with new concepts of value and ownership.
Slower to take serious hold are new types of decentralized social media, typified by DeSo — a network for blockchain-based apps, users are paid for popularity, participation, posts and work. Founder Nader Al-Naji, a former Google engineer, told the NY Times that internet users will want to bypass the likes of ad-based Twitter and TikTok to capture the revenue for themselves.
Vindicating Dorsey’s Twitter jibe, VC funding is certainly one area in which the enthusiasm for Web3 and its associated technologies is most profound. Last year, crypto-related projects attracted more than $27 billion, with the biggest investors ramping their lobbying spend to influence rules around tokenomics.
The end of the internet as we know it?
Some have been quick to point out that the vision of democratized services and information was actually the same for Web 1.0. Back in 1996, John Perry Barlow wrote “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” which spoke of the internet as an independent and equal realm of free thought and ideas.
It’s interesting to read Perry Barlow’s piece with the benefit of hindsight. Of knowing where it all went wrong (on the occasions that it did).
Such reflection might also put us in mind of science fiction writer William Gibson’s now famous quip that “the future is already here — its just not very evenly distributed.”
Will Web3 change all that and catalyze a great leveling when it comes to the uneven terrain of technological power? The jury is most definitely out, but given the ethical kinks to address and it’s current lo-fi image it feels like the mass adoption of Web3 could be a long way off yet.
In the short term, the main use case will be a business one, with Web3 allowing small vendors to make direct transactions.
I’m sure this is only the start of Web3 chatter, but until something more substantive materializes the tech world, its commentators and would-be users will just have to “watch this (cyber) space.”