The Next Steps for Web3

What was surprising to me about the Web3 experts and practitioners that I spoke with is how allergic they all were to speaking in inflated terms. My surprise is clearly a reflection of the overall skeptical Zeitgeist over the whole Web3 project, absorbed even by someone like me who comes to Web3 with a sympathetic disposition.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series looking into the future of Web3. Part 1, What Will Web3 Really Be About: Part 1, published earlier this month.

Experts Weigh in on Web3 Skepticism

“Folks are turned off by the hype and the noise,” Shannon Wu, co-founder at Identity Review, told me in a Zoom interview. “But when I share a lot of the stories of what it was like years ago when the very earliest Web3 companies were starting,” she added, “I think they see a lot of parallels with when the Internet first started around individual rights, scalability, privacy, thinking about user rights.”

Olivia Baker, Tech Editor and Director of Web3 Innovation Fellowship, also at Identity Review, noted on her part that, “if you peel away the muck and you really give [people] facts… it’s actually quite easy to use that specific evidence to convince them… that there is actually validity in this particular way to look at systems.” This, she noted, works “even within a university environment where a lot of people… are inherently skeptical of things like blockchain, Web3, all these concepts that sound very nebulous at first…”

Related Article: What Will Web3 Really Be About: Part 1

Web3: Separation of Money and State?

Asked what they thought about William Gibson’s famous saying about the future already being here with us now in the context of Web3, several experts that I spoke with agreed and provided some insightful and interesting examples and observations.  

Drew Riester, Blockchain engineer at ARRIVANT, made the wonderfully surprising observation that we are witnessing the emergence of  “a separation of Money and State,” and added that, if successful, such a separation might “be as important as the separation of Church and State that Martin Luther began in 1512.”

Manuel Urrego, head of product at Viker, pointed to The NFL’s Green Bay Packers, the only sports team that is owned by their fans. David Shuttleworth, DeFi economist at ConsenSys, agreed and noted that the Packers example “represents the potential of fractionalized ownership, which could be achieved through an NFT system.”   

Wikipedia: The Ultimate Web3 Example?

But it was Zenobia Godschalk, founder of ZAG Communications and SVP at Swirlds Labs, whose mission is to drive adoption of the Hedera distributed public ledger for decentralized applications, who brought things home to me by pointing to what I have always believed to be nothing short of a miracle in the shining hills of the Web landscape: Wikipedia.  

Here we have a website whose content is created by everyone but owned by no one, where no central overseer runs the show, and where value is delivered for free and for everybody. How such a marvel could have been imagined in the first place, let alone built, sustained, and nurtured for so long to a thriving ecosystem for over two decades (we now have not just Wikipedia but Wikimedia) has always struck me as something almost inexplicable in our deeply capitalistic society and economy, where, if you can’t monetize it, it will die.  

And yet, I must confess that I have not donated once to this marvel that I have admired since the very first time I started using it in early 2001, even when I am asked to donate. Shame on me. Can Web3 help me be more true to my values?  

“Every time you go to Wikipedia there’s the banner across the top where they are begging you for money,” Godschalk said to my vigorous nods of agreement, and added: “If you apply the Web3 elements and you can say, ‘Great, now I can pay a micropayment every time I read an article,’ and that helps support the distributed infrastructure that runs Wikipedia….’”

Related Article: Stop Looking at Web3 With Web2 Eyes

Open Source Model: Getting More Open in Web3?

Brady Gentile, also at Swirlds Labs as director of marketing and Web3 ecosystems strategy, pointed to another miracle of the Web: Open Source. “Open source has always existed,” he noted when we spoke, “and a lot of the open source software is incorporated in the operating systems and the applications that [we] use today.”

But, he added, “historically, it has been incredibly difficult to create a business around open source models. Most of the successful ones have to [use a] services model, and Red Hat was probably one of the very few open source companies. Today, you have open source and it is ubiquitous in Web3 — it’s a layer 1 network, Defi protocol, an exchange, a marketplace…. The difference is now we have the ability to have assets that are associated with those open source projects, so a contributor has the incentive because they are passionate about building and contributing to those open source projects, but additionally, there is an incentive model for them where typically they are token holders of the token associated with that project and as they build and as they create value for it.”

Look No Further Than Google Docs

Ian Brent, Web3 growth manager at UppticWeb3, shared with me a really good example to explain in terms that everyone can understand the otherwise mystifying concept of the “immutable blockchain” and what it means for someone to follow every transaction that, say, an NFT may have undergone: Google Docs! “You collaborate with all of your teammates and can review any and all revisions for a complete historical record of ins and outs of the sheet.”

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