Dispatch — Dec 08, 2021

Thoughts on Web3

Photo by note thanun.

A couple of months ago this Dispatch might have been called ‘WTF Web3?’ Today, it should be quite a bit more informed. Still, I’m in no way any kind of specialist on the topic, just spending a bit more time exploring, which is what I’d like to share here. Just a list of thoughts and things to read.

  1. I’m getting more curious about crypto and Web3 but I generally fall between quite skeptical and pretty darn negative. On the ‘ambivalent but also scathing’ side, Robin Sloan has an excellent piece, Notes on Web3, and Max Read’s Is web3 bullshit? is similar but more positive.
  2. Descriptions of Web3 vary and I hate / disagree with most of them, in large part because of how they frame Web 2.0 and how they ignore Web 3.0 (which was largely a failure but was nonetheless a thing). Sean Bonner’s Why Web3 is probably the closest thing to a recommended ‘sequence of Webs’ I could agree with. “Web3 is not Web 3.0. It’s not a sequel or an update to Web 2.0, it’s a separate fork. You could maybe argue dit’s a prequel but one informed by the errors of what was yet to come.”
  3. There’s a lot of room for shades of grey between the full-on BLOCKCHAIN ALL THE THINGS view and “I can’t wait until this fad passes.” Lots of things to watch in between.
  4. Maybe Web3 would be more aptly named Platforms2, i.e. not something that will replace the web as a whole, but a new way of building infrastructural things ‘under’ the web, including replacing some of the centralized platforms. There are a few points from the writings of Jay Springett lower down the list, which is probably in large part why that Platforms2 wording popped into my head.
  5. Speaking of which, this thread by @vgr is a great intro to Web3 but also a good example of why I prefer the Springett vision (which seems plausible), to this maximal vision where even storage is on a chain. As intriguing as the technical side is, I don’t see this as something that needs to happen to that degree.
  6. Sticking with Jay, his Verticals of One is my second Haha! moment. Where the vgr thread above made me grok the topic and start to be actively curious, Verticals of One and the TOOLS, SERVICES, PRODUCTS stack makes a lot of sense, to the point that if almost feels inevitable. I finally understand why he’s big on Web3 / Dweb.
  7. Another piece in his excellent Dimensino series, Discord, DAOs and the Dweb builds on the item above, extending to Discord and Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, part of my ‘this is inevitable’ conclusion. It’s also where I circle back to my Platforms2 item where TOOLS run on a blockchain and are accessed and acted upon through ‘classic’ Web interfaces. Web3 as an accelerating movement of new infrastructures that merges with the existing web, nor a replacement, an enhancement.
  8. Which is why I wonder if one part of the argument around this isn’t that some people, even some who understand the technical side perfectly well, have started to obsess so much with Big Tech that they are seeing it as ‘the web,’ thus the replacement framing for Web3. But really, those are just a few (gigantic) platforms, not ‘the web.’ Some activity could be decentralized without moving whole hog to crypto world.
  9. Back in item 2, I mentioned that I think most definitions aren’t correct about Web 2.0, it was initially about an open web, not big platforms. They hijacked the ‘movement’ and bit by bit centralized the web. Is this new version better? Ross Stalker worries that it’s not. Web3 is not Decentralisation — it’s a Ploy to put Crypto Bros in Charge. “In the name of decentralisation, Web3 advocates in fact seek to create a new form of centralisation around the blockchain. The promise of decentralisation is just a veneer — blockchain is in fact the worst kind of vendor lock-in.”
  10. “Scale baby scale” is often the silent (ok, not so silent) mantra of Silicon Valley but one angle from which Web3 could be valuable is that although a lot of the rhetoric is centered on re-inventing the web, there are tools being built which will be super useful for small groups and communities. Even if big platforms stick around, even if it’s just a ploy for different people to grab power, there’s still some cool sh-t being built, which could / will enable great projects. Read Gordon Brander’s Is web3 a Petri dish? for a similar line of thought. And I like: “Evolving systems don’t serve any purpose. They propagate. Maybe cryptocurrency is like this? Maybe markets are like this. Maybe rainforests are like this. Maybe more systems are like this than we care to recognize.”
  11. Inventives are mentioned all the time in these conversations, like Chris Dixon in this interview with Steven Johnson, but are often used as pixie dust. Web3 might be better incentivized for creators, but what in those mechanisms makes anyone think that people will be willing to pay more? With so much stuff being available free or close to it, maybe what people are currently paying is all they’ll ever be willing to pay for music or newsletters, nothing more, regardless of incentives. ‘Fresh money’ has to come from some place, one can’t (or shouldn’t at least) just count on token value rising. Having a better system of tracking does not mean people find more money to pay musicians. I’m aware that mentions of ‘incentives’ often refer to incentives for the people within a system (like developers), to work more on the system and its promotion, but that still doesn’t explain where their revenu would come from.
  12. Kei Kreutler wrote that “The term DAO itself may prove a temporary smoke signal under which co-conspirators can gather before it too must be discarded.” It’s a useful insight, there are super-fans of Web3 and there are people looking and waiting for the next few iterations. By the time things get very good, the term Web3 might be out of favour, but there can still be useful parts or good lessons learned even at this imperfect stage.

Further Reading

Verticals of One

Already mentioned a few places in the list, this vision of how Web3 might work is both a clear explanation, and one of the better outcomes we could work for.

A Vertical of One is an individual with access to a complete ensemble of discrete, modular plug and play technologies. Such as: financial plumbing, dynamic IP ownership, content delivery, walled gardens, community gates, governance tools, and smart contracts operating at different levels of abstraction. Interoperable, yet vertically integrated to produce one (nominally seamless) user experience. […]

Once met – individuals operating as Verticals of One will be able to seamlessly enter and exit new forms of Alegal organisations built around a “nexus of contracts”. Associate with, create, own, and retain collective value. Whilst cooperating inside an ecosystem of new monetary fabrics. […]

Web2 platforms (or Dweb upstarts) will ultimately become SERVICES that stitch various TOOLS on behalf of the user together. These SERVICES will operate more like brands. They will have monad and venn like qualities. […]

… requires SERVICE layers. Individuals entering or forming a DAO may all be using different SERVICES to cluster their TOOLs to enter the autonomous organisation.

Discord, DAOs and the Dweb

Lots and lots of nodding as I was reading this second one by Jay Springett. Smart and an intersection I’ll be watching.

I would also like to suggest that Discord could be a key ‘terminal/portal/place’ that can begin to merge content and commerce and financial plumbing. Discord has the potential to become an important SERVICE to provide the TOOLS and mechanisms for the creation of PERMISSIVE IPS. […]

A strong social fabric and the right tech stack will unleash a new wave of bottom-up economic experiments: interest-free P2P borrowing, anonymous lending pools, collective insurance, socialized ETFs, DAO-based freelancer unions, rotating savings schemes, revshare guilds, meme venture syndicates, crypto ponzis, exit scams, in-browser miners, upstate yield farms, boy bands, cults, and sovereign vacation funds. […]

Consider Web3 logins. Token ownership or ‘Proof of community’ should become a common login default ASAP. […]

Discord (I belive) is a space that could rapidly prototype the habits, manners and mores and UX that will eventually become commonplace for users in alegal metaverse environments. Discord’s background as ‘3rd space’ enabling effective communication between users, across virtual environments means a lot of cultural logic required to operate in this emerging space is already extant. […]

DAOs can be viewed as software tools that encourage coordination through voting on proposals and allocating funding. As peer-to-peer institutions, DAOs have the potential to significantly decrease the barriers to and costs of starting an organization.

Eight Qualities of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations

The Kei Kreutler piece mentioned above. A bit of history and an excellent list of qualities of a DAO, to better understand what that are / could be.

Later iterations of DAOs can be viewed as software tools that encourage coordination through voting on proposals and allocating funding. As peer-to-peer institutions, DAOs have the potential to significantly decrease the barriers to and costs of starting an organization. […]

The idea of functional equivalence from ecology can be applied. While decentralized autonomous organizations are not precedent legal forms, their basic characteristics can be mapped from traditional associations when required. […]

The executable quality indicates the organization can run its operations through minimal protocols such as software applications. […]

The task of preserving formal and tacit knowledge has been historically assumed by stories and by institutions, such as archival libraries and monasteries. Through automating the production of institutional memory, decentralized autonomous organizations can promise accountability, as well as intergenerational knowledge transfer. […]

In summary, eight imagined qualities of decentralized autonomous organizations are autopoietic, alegal, hyperscalable, executable, permissionless, aligned, co-owned, and mnemonic.

Hicetnunc and the Merits of Web3

A look back on Hicetnunc and how it operated. Especially useful as an example of how an organization / website can be an interface to a blockchain, disappear, and yet the things (art in this case) that it helped put on the chain are still there and can still be accessed through other organizations / websites. It’s a bit as if when Geocities was closed down all the files were still available somewhere and someone just needed to create a new interface to see them. Powerful.

The records of ownership and provenance continue to be upheld by the distributed public ledger of the Tezos blockchain, and each token still sits comfortably in their respective owner’s wallets. Owners can continue to trade their tokens just as before: through smart contract interactions triggered by a web interface (such as a HEN fork, an alternative online marketplace, or via localhost), or simply peer-to-peer, sending them from one wallet to another. […]

this is how, despite the Hicetnunc.xyz website shutting down, its users and their content are able to transition seamlessly to alternative platforms and online spaces, because the website was merely acting as a thin interface atop the decentralized blockchain contracts and peer-to-peer file hosting. My OBJKT #466 can still be displayed, listed, and traded via community forks such as Hicathon and Teztools, or alternative marketplaces such as Objkt dot com. […]

One of the novel aspects of the web3 paradigm is that the source of truth is maintained by the public and decentralized blockchain, and various centralized web platforms will often then compete on the same user data. Even over the last several months, alternative marketplaces have emerged on Tezos with sometimes different goals and ideals that support OBJKT displaying and trading outside of hicetnunc.xyz.

Web3 is not Decentralisation

Referred above, a few more quotes about how Stalker sees this as just another centralization.

In its most basic implementation, Web3 entails replacing the database portion of a web server stack with storing data on a blockchain instead. More ambitious Web3 advocates want to see everything, even the DNS routing, move onto blockchain, with no more web servers and all data instead processed via cryptocurrency transactions. […]

The idea of the Decentralised Autonomous Organisation that runs itself by consensus, where nobody is really in charge, is illusory. Some individuals will always find a way to be more influential, whether that’s through money, connections or rhetoric. […]

Requests being handled by a network of blockchain nodes instead of by web servers doesn’t mean that nobody is in charge of the system — it’s just makes whoever ends up in charge virtually unaccountable.

It’s a Web3 World Now — How the Hype Compares to Web 2.0

Richard MacManus with a comparison of Web 2.0 and Web3, shared for context and for the great quip that Dixon is the new O’Reilly.

Through an influential essay and a constant stream of Twitter threads, Dixon has turned himself into the new Tim O’Reilly — the tech publisher who co-invented and then popularized the term “Web 2.0” back in the 2000s. […]

I was along for the ride, both chronicling the rise of Web 2.0 as a tech blogger and — I’ll be frank here — believing that Web 2.0 really would bring us to the promised land of an open, web standards compliant, AJAX-powered web application paradise.