Whomever read even a tiny bit about Web3 is aware of boring decade-old story of Web1→Web2 progression and now cancerous Web3 (can it be called “progression” at all?). I am not going to repeat this same old story (no, really, if you didn’t already heard about Web3, consider yourself lucky person and just leave this post immediately!😀). What I will try to do is to give expose of this Web3 story through socio-economical models and where I think Web3 lies in there.
Web1.0 — communism
So, first there was Web1.0 — original internet. In my humble opinion, it mostly resembled purest form of communism (no, not that kind we had in 20th century). If you could call internet a “society”, this was purest form of communism, definition of stateless, classless and moneyless society. You could not get more vanilla than that, could you? Of course, if Web1.0 internet was platform 9¾ from Harry Potter (and world beyond that), getting to it you still needed to go through King’s Cross station. Or in other words — you still had to have some sort of privilege (university account or similar) and/or money (to buy computer, to buy domain…), but once you are there, it was whole new world. I guess, why so many people are nostalgic of this time is that, for the first time in history of our civilization, we were shown first-hand what (virtual) society could be, what we could all achieve if we start doing things that we actually love (and not bullshit jobs, as late David Graeber said it). People wrote about things they do and love, expressed themselves creatively on their own websites however they liked, no censorship of any kind, explored and mixed ideas from others, innocently, tucked nicely away from other non-pure incentives like class and money. They even built a subcultures of their own and grouped together organically (if you remember “web rings” and joy of clicking next website in the ring😀… and forums, oh good old phpBB and fringe communities there). Maybe this website can sell you Web1.0 better than me. Of course, it was not *all* like this, there are numerous counter-examples, but here I am trying to provide gist of it. You can agree or not, but since I already mentioned heavily polarized terms like communism, web3 being cancer, and David Graeber, I hope that those that don’t like this narrative stopped reading long time ago😉 Without them, let’s continue this journey.
Web1.5 — anarcho-capitalism
But hey, we all live in a world where money is a king, bills needed to be payed and some creators opted to make money out of their creations. I would call this period anarcho-capitalism. We were still decentralized, without authority and censorship, but financial incentives started creeping in, and with them status and class. This first took place in form of primitive swap advertisement (“you put ad for my page, I put ad for your”), then later by individual businesses paying other web sites for putting ads, and finally to proper renting of website space. But it was still all regulationless, govertmentless and with no rules — just small businesses competing for ideas — real free market. I think good representative of this age was million dollar homepage where young entrepreneur devised scheme (some cynics would even call it scam😮) to sell individual pixels on his web site. But there were numerous other scams, oh my God how many scams — since there was no authority, it was real chaos out there — web sites wanted to sell you stuff, make you click things, make you install things, infect you, use you as a bot, steal credit card, or simply install new toolbars in your IE to do all of these together:) Don’t get me wrong, internet is fluid, amorphous thing, there was no Web1.0 and we somehow jumped straight to Web1.5, they co-existed (both still do exist), this is just my try to form lineage to simplify things (in a way that you might or might not like, but I hope latter are long gone to listen to VC daddies shilling Web3)
Web2 — techno-feudalism
With money and free market, but without any regulations, what naturally came was centralization and seizing of power to couple of monopolies that we all know and hate — Google, Facebook, Reddit and couple smaller walled gardens. If I don’t know any better, I would call this period capitalism, or as Shoshana Zuboff call it “surveillance capitalism“, but lately I tend to agree more with Yanis Varoufakis that calls it techno-feudalism. Those monopolies came as saviors to existing Wild Wild West state of things and internet became more livable (you know, without having to be afraid to click on random link because some casino will create pop-up window in the background). But, as a tax on usage, those companies took all individual output and creativity as their property and suddenly people started “renting” clean internet experience in exchange to giving their work (yes, even your status on Twitter is your work) to these giants (note that I am here not even mentioning selling of individual privacy and behaviors and habits, your internet searches…). This is Web 2.0 in nutshell — someone else writes content for you in exchange for usability and you profit out of it. People loved it! Nobody cared about interoperability and silly facts that you cannot exchange messages from WhatsApp to Signal, or that you cannot have another Youtube client as you used to do. And it was all better for end users, it was also all cheaper for those giant, simple economies of scale won, network effect drew us all together. As China and every successful company can testify you – clear vision and lack of democracy and regulation can get you very far.
Web3 — anarcho-capitalism? (again)
So, where Web3 stands and does it bring anything new to the world table? I would argue — no. I think that Web3 is step back to the same old Web1.5 model, but this time with crypto as an underlying vehicle which puts us all in far worse situation. Yes, there are some nice technological things that blockchain will enable (truly permisonless and distributed ledger), but they are so minuscule and marginal, and their utility is so limited to really small set of scenarios (“money” is one of those scenarios, but … nothing more). Other than that, it is same old story where techbros from Silicon Valley pump their new money — making hype while pretending to “change the world” (or, “disrupt” is probably more cool these days😀) and in the process making them a little bit more wealthier and us a little bit more miserable. I discussed why VCs are shilling Web3 in more details here. People that will jump this bandwagon are either naive tech persons that drink this kool aid, or people that read through the thin veil of deceit, agree with it and want to get rich easily — scammers, shills and speculators. And if previous 10 years of crypto is any indication (scams, illegal uses, money laundering, ransomwares, no real utility, ponzi schemes, fights between coins, pump and dumps, busted exchanges, oracle problem…), Web3 will be same as Web1.5 — minefield of scams. What you see today is just a sign of things that will come. Only difference is, because of true anonymity, it will be far ruthless. You ain’t seen nothing yet. And because of crypto involvement and smart contracts, this time around we will unfortunately slap price to everything. Everyone and everything will have its price — every post, every comment, every action, every opinion, every IoT device, your every jogging session. Not even human dignity will escape it. Only people that ignored previous 20 years can with honesty tell you, and believe that this time “it will be different” and that “technology will fix human nature”. And no, irony is not lost on me that those same people that created Web2.0 are now largest VCs out there for Web3😀. Frankly, I don’t think crypto and/or Web3 will “fix” things — those who think technology is solution to everything need some lectures in social studies, on human nature and how things gets awfully fuzzy awfully soon as you move from bits and bytes. You might not be able to convince, bribe, buy vote or extort ledger itself, but you will surely be able to the everything above to the human that holds private key. In other words — nothing fundamentally changes.
Web 3.5 — ???
And we come to final point, new Web that might get called Web4.0 or Web3.5, depending on how our dear VC gods deem better. As always with history repeating itself, once various non-promising DAOs die out and hype for bad NFT get out of news, there will be a need to consolidate all these markets (same as with Web2.0). You know what naturally happens without any regulation in free market, we already discussed it?😀 Consolidations and centralizations. After all, blockchain is very slow, inefficient, there are lot of scams, there are no money-back guarantees, there is a need for a better privacy… wouldn’t it be convenient if some nice company steps in and centralize things to provide better experience for users? And since it is all decentralized, there is no any specific pesky government that those companies should answer to, ain’t it neat. Of course, contracts are still on the blockchain, they will just create new layer that will “benefit us all” (remember when companies tell you that they “care about your privacy” in their newspeak language😀). Pinky promise, wink, wink. Now… we all know what Embrace-Extend-Extinguish tactics of Microsoft meant, we know what happened to XMPP protocol and RSS once Google decided to adopt it, we all remember how corporation slowly suffocated GPL and FOSS by creating and funding OSI… and it will happen here. It is not question of “if”, but “when” big startups in this world, one by one, start pulling their own 15. August 1971. (cancelling Bretton-Woods, e.g. cancelling pegging of dollar to gold will be the same as removing dependency to underlying chain).
So, my take is that this is all déjà vu and that crypto, slow and inefficient as it is, is a ripe to be replaced by centralized solution (as it always happen). Only remaining question is which vultures do take most pieces of the cake. Decentralization and individualism is just a thin veil of big capital to sell you “idea” (idea, as in ideology), but technology will never (and should not!) replace idiosyncrasies of real world. Otherwise, if things are so simple, our laws could be made more mathematical, don’t you think?😀
And what do I offer as solution instead, you are probably wondering, dear reader? Well, first, this is problem looking for a solution, so I don’t think any solution is necessary. Secondly, you are just reading it😀. Welcome to my little blog, where I can express myself, where I don’t track people, I don’t sell ads, I don’t even have analytics and… you are free to use… wait for it… RSS feed. Radical, I know, I know:) I can write whatever I want — no need to worry if anyone is going to throw Satoshis in my face. If this gets boring to me and I don’t want to create and write anything, but I just want to consume instead, I am having my own fediverse instances where I have multiple profiles (or private keys in Web3 jargon) and we all hang nicely together there. Crypto need not apply😉. But I here you say — what about DAOs? Ain’t DAOs nice? Well, there are various legal things, one for example in USA is called operational agreement and it gets tested in, you know, courts? Courts are, maybe you also remember, those antiquated things that actually don’t operate in binary terms, but try to understand problem at hand and if “spirit of the law” is honored…
I am perfectly aware that this thing is soooo polarizing and that I will not change your opinion. You either painfully read to the end and were finding counterpoints in text along the way, or you cheerfully nodded your head and were smiling while reading. In both cases, you should be aware that I wrote this for myself, as a way to better organize my thoughts, but anyway — thanks for experiencing Web1.0 together with me😀. If you liked this text and want to throw some sweet Satoshis at me, you are free to donate to any organization of your choice in any currency.