Heated Arguments Over Web3

At least if you follow people in the technology community on Twitter, there is right now an intense debate about Web3. The debate is far-reaching and sometimes hard to follow, in part because there is still a lack of consensus on what is Web3. Some view it as an entirely different internet, or at least a different internet experience for users, others view it as nothing more than the incremental improvements in internet applications. In my view, an essential part of Web3 is decentralization – the idea that web services are not “walled gardens” owned by corporations, but but are entirely open source software services built on decentralized computer networks that rely on blockchain databases to validate user data.

In an ideal version of Web3, users log into all web services with a single account, and easily move their data (and it is their data) from one service to another. So, much of the Web3 debate has centered on the improved user experience. But, current centralized web services actually offer pretty great user experiences, in my opinion. At least good enough so that the heated Web3 debates, which include vitriol on both sides, are hard to understand, if user experience is really the central issue. I don’t think it is. I think the central is around ownership, and the current debate is consistent with the populist movements that are prominent today on both the political left and right. A recent interview (https://www.wired.com/story/web3-gavin-wood-interview/eum) of Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood by Wired Magazine touches on this theme, and is worth reading.

Many people believe a transition to a Web3 that functions along the lines I describe above is inevitable, or at least achievable. My thinking on this topic is nascent, but preliminarily I’m not so sure, because I think the transition requires significant social and political shifts. I believe incentives drive behavior. And I believe free, open societies are better than societies that are autocratic, totalitarian, or some other version of a closed society. At least in modern history, freedom has been coupled with capitalism. A truly open internet is a common good that sounds almost utopian by its proponents. Utopian society has been dreamed by many people in the past, but never achieved in recorded human history.

I’m definitely sharing preliminary thoughts here, and I plan to both think and write more on this topic in early 2022.

Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate!