As someone who closely follows the ebbs and flows of the internet, I can’t help but find the sudden, overwhelming hype around “Web3,” essentially the blockchainification of the internet, to be something of a massive bubble.
As anyone who has read a Gartner report can tell you, hype cycles tend to crest before they dissipate, and might bounce back after all that.
But I think the reason why so many have become overexcited about the possibility of Web3 taking over the internet has much less to do with the future of the internet and much more to do with what could be gained from an internet that has a future. Which is to say: There is money to be made in many cases. Web 1.0 didn’t have brand-name venture capital firms lobbying for its success.
To me, as someone who lived through the first two iterations of the internet, the idea of a third generation of the internet trying to evolve around the gatekeepers sounds like an interesting evolution forward, but I feel like the goals are painted by this clearly commercial need. They feel like efforts to put forth a solution that attempts to solve two problems—“How can we make the web better for most people?” and “How can we ensure the longterm viability of this blockchain technology that we aggressively invested in?”—rather than focusing on the one that most regular users care about (the first).
As I tweeted out last week, it’s dangerous to lose sight of the role that noncommercialism played in the birth of the web, or as blockchain enthusiasts call it now, Web1. Some of the most important early software for the internet, including the Eudora email client and Mosaic, was developed in-house at major universities (in the latter case, by one of the high-profile venture capitalists I slagged a couple of paragraphs prior!). Later, software like PHP and MySQL became some of the defining technologies of Web 2.0, technology developed from open-source roots. Web 2.0, while often having purely commercial aims and evolving into the boogeyman of “big tech,” started from a perfectly reasonable place. As much as we hate Facebook, they still open-source React.js, a tool that much of the internet uses.
With that in mind, it’s worth considering that protocols like Project Gemini, a Gopher-inspired protocol, are more in the spirit of the original internet than many Web3 initiatives.
The one tool of that nature I really liked (and which offered no revenue promises) was a contextual-research tool called Apture that was eventually bought by Google and killed off. And I wasn’t pitched by them; I found them. It’s fitting for me the guy who was the CEO of that company, Tristan Harris, eventually became one of Big Tech’s most consistent critics. To me, that’s telling.
My pal Paul Chato recently had a great clip about how commercial influence of the web (specifically YouTube) leads to empty creation, and I sort of wonder if Web3 will offer more of the same—get fed the promise of a great model, but find yourself mired in high-stress, empty-calorie creation in the end.
As a creator I want to be careful about who I associate with, and why. And when I read something like this Inc. story, which claims that Web3 is going to “remake my e-commerce strategy,” I feel like I’m being fed a hill of beans and wonder if the writer has ever heard of the trough of disillusionment.
I don’t want to discount Web3 as a concept entirely. I’m sure there probably is something there in the cloud of NFTs and DAOs. But I think the real problem might be that we’ve let money (whether distributed by a government or blockchain) dominate big-picture discussions of the internet, and that is clouding the results.
Remember where the Web came from. It wasn’t from the people with money.
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