On Web 3.0

I’ve been working to understand “Web 3.0” for some time now, reading various articles and trying to piece together the reality for myself.

There are a LOT of people more well-informed on this topic than I am. If anyone can offer additional insights, and shine light on my blind spots, I am more than willing to listen – and subsequently change my mind, as appropriate.

My one sentence take on Web 3.0 is: “It’s the applications, stupid.”

Web 3.0 is simply a concept. The concept says: let’s decentralize technology, decision-making and control.

The challenge with Web 3.0 discourse today is – it’s just not important enough, and close to daily life enough, for the average person to care. (More on the “average person” later.)

Think about Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Does anyone today – in 2022 – talk about Web 2.0? 

It’s not about Web 2.0. Rather, it’s about what the paradigm enables. It’s about the applications and outcomes that came out of it, such as Facebook, Google, and so forth.

When we talk about social networking, open source software, or all the great things that came out of Web 2.0, the average person doesn’t care about these things. They care that they can buy groceries online, or connect with friends from across the globe, or search for something on the internet. They care that they can access porn and OnlyFans anytime, etc.

The average person doesn’t care about how a car is assembled using the latest Kanban and manufacturing technologies. Nor do they care about the global supply chain. They just care that they can drive a cool motherfucking Tesla.

In other words, Mr. Technology, what can you do for me?

A more recent analogy: saying “the blockchain is important” is meaningless 99% of the time. Same as “I believe in the long-term viability of Bitcoin.”

If you believe in the concept, you have to go deeper and figure out what application or manifestation of it to believe in.

You can say “I believe in the internet” back in the early 2000s and then invest in pets.com – which doesn’t exist today because it failed as an internet business. Or you can invest in google.com, which became a fantastic success.

Believing in the macro vision still means you have to figure out what that means, and what hill to live/die on.

Which brings us back to Web 3.0.

Web 3.0 is about optionality and a glimpse at a future in which the sausages made in the sausage factory are made differently than before. It’s an alternative way of creating and controlling information.

It’s an additional tool in the toolbox. It does not mean we should have an absolute mandate to “build everything using Web 3.0.”

Nor will adoption ever be 100%. Somewhere out there, a company machine is running Windows 95 as the operating system. (And a million voices screamed out in pain.)

Technologists / purists / idealists like to believe that (a) everything can be solved using technology; (b) build it and they will come. It doesn’t quite work out this way in practice.

Web 3.0 is not about the short-term excitement that involves NFTs, or digital ape tokens, or decentralized ownership.

Rather – these things matter as concepts but they don’t truly matter until they become mainstream.

tldr; Web 3.0 is too early as a paradigm, but don’t discount the discourse. Just recognize that the discourse is tech-heavy, jargony and futuristic. It’s amplified by the social media-centric world (and echo chamber) we live in. Not saying Web 3.0 doesn’t matter, but saying “Web 3.0 is the future” in 2022 is equivalent to saying “Web 2.0 is the future” in 2002.

As Bill Gates said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” It feels apt to replace ‘people’ with ‘movements’ here, if you ask me.

Personally, I’m paying attention to Web 3.0 because I like looking out for new trends and I enjoy hearing smart people discuss concepts with a passion.

There is a fair amount of snake oil, but hopefully we can find the google.com – instead of the pets.com – out of all this.

Bonus thought 1:

If you are in the position of being 100% skeptical about cryptocurrency or digital ape tokens or buying the digital version of the American constitution, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do you think makes fiat (traditional) currency more reliable than cryptocurrency?
  2. What gives gold its value?
  3. Have you ever purchased something digital online? Whether it’s MP3s, an in-game accessory skin for World of Warcraft, or anything else?
  4. Do you buy books digitally, or do you have to read the physical versions?
  5. Do you pirate most digital goods, including PDFs of books?

Bonus thought 2:

Why does “average person” or “mainstream adoption” matter? Why can’t we just understand the concept for ourselves and have it still be a valid thing to care or talk about?

Analogy time.

I play a collectible trading card game called Magic: The Gathering. Magic is important to me, it’s got > 40 million players worldwide, and has been a major part of my life.

But Magic is not mainstream enough where when you hear those three words (“Magic the Gathering”), you understand what I am talking about.

The way that I can get you to care about Magic is to say one of three things:

  • The most valuable Magic card can be sold for tens of thousands of cards (“holy crap! You mean physical cardboard can be worth so much money?” -> dollar signs as legitimacy)
  • There is a professional competitive circuit for the game with $X dollar prize pool (“holy crap! You mean you can win legit money from playing?” -> again, dollar signs as legitimacy)
  • It’s one of the most profitable entities for Hasbro Interactive, and a major reason why they’re doing well as a public company is the extreme profitability of Magic. They are basically printing money whenever they release a new Magic product (Do you see where I’m going with this?)

The people advocating for early stage technology understand this – the average person doesn’t give a shit until you start waving dollar signs in front of them. Money is shorthand in this world for “this matters.”

I love Magic for a bunch of things other than how much my cards cost, but I recognize that for someone else to give a proverbial shit, I need to speak their language.

Think about NFTs being sold for $X; Bitcoin being worth $Y. 

It matters only when it’s “valuable.” When the movement creates memes and headlines. That’s how the conversation advances. And it’s necessary, but people get caught up in it.

Dollar signs as legitimacy has obvious blowback potential, because the same reason you care about something ($$$) is the reason you are disgusted by it ($$$$$).

Bonus thought 3:

The human mind decides in advance if something is legitimate and creates reasons, after-the-fact, to support the initial bias. This is unavoidable; we are monkeys. Just be aware of it and ask yourself, “what if I’m wrong?”

If you cannot see two (or more) sides of an argument, then chances are, you are not thinking hard enough.

Thanks to DC, Ethan, Hanson, Ian and Jeremy for reading early drafts of this piece and providing feedback.

Peace,

James

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