A Web 3.0 perspective without the hype
It’s easy to dismiss Web 3.0 as hype: it has entered mass media with a tidal wave of coverage and is often presented as a wholesale impending revolution of the internet. Instead it is part of the inevitable progression – a continuation of the p2p days which were wasted on file sharing – and giving it a major release version probably isn’t useful. Although it won’t topple existing technology overnight or possibly ever, it’s an exciting development that builds on the original intent of the internet, addresses some of the concerns around “big tech”, and most importantly will introduce new paradigms for technology and business.
The features of Web 3.0 have been developing for a decade. Though payments were the first and are currently the most obvious application of blockchain, it’s easy to imagine almost every type of internet transaction as contractable, that is able to be validated state determined by a decentralized network of nodes. The key is that the nodes of this network have no interest in one specific contract, just that contracts are verifiable via consensus. Just as defi relies on distributed validation of financial transactions on the blockchain, social media posts, user accounts, and game environments could be referenced in a distributed model. These models themselves are exciting enough from a technical perspective.
Investment will follow. Unlike investment in Web 2.0 companies, wherein the financial incentives were IPO, acquisition, and recurring revenue, the financial incentive of Web 3.0 companies is much more complicated. Who shares ad revenue or subscription costs in a decentralized internet? Who buys a company with no employees on payroll or private intellectual property? How do you value a company where ownership on paper might not translate to ownership of product? How will regulatory concerns – and there are many – be folded into valuation? Business models for accounting for these questions will differ radically from their predecessors.
Web 3.0 will require a new blockchain and other distributed models. Current “public” general purpose blockchains will not be sufficient to handle most of the internet’s transactions as they are currently manifest. The storage cost and availability of most current blockchains would make a decentralized endeavor costly, particularly with infinite state applications like social or gaming platforms. Yes, these ventures have already started, but there’s a reason most of them are merely a “vision” instead of reality. Again, separate from business applications, these technologies themselves are thrilling for developers who currently feel stuck working on the same old tasks.
Decrying big tech is a popular pastime and although it won’t disappear, the new internet will enable business models wherein privacy, social advocacy, and algorithms are at least partly a group prerogative. Rules wouldn’t be defined by a central authority (which some will view as a bug, not a feature). Those systems which abide by community-defined vision separate from any single overarching authority could presumably engender more confidence from users.
To be sure, much of the internet will remain exactly the same. It’s hard to imagine marketplaces and streaming services making that leap, and many existing sites won’t see an incentive. Some implementations will be groundbreaking but with low adoption, others will be low stakes with higher adoption. Regardless, new ventures will start considering new Web 3.0 business models and technical paradigms from their start.
For those of us waiting for blockchain to see uses beyond x coin, the renewed interest in a decentralized internet is welcome. It will bring with it many technical, commercial and regulatory challenges, but that won’t stop the developers, founders, and technologists who have been working to decentralize the internet from continuing their work. And those that keep in mind that decentralization for decentralization’s sake is not the goal will see the rewards.
Web 3.0 is a process that started when the internet is founded; it’s not single event, product or thing. Let’s not let it become a moniker for hype or shorthand for pitchdecks.