In a text published in Future, the publishing arm of venture capital firm a16z, Silicon Valley fund Chris Dixon defined the web3 as a combination of “the decentralized, community-governed ethos of web1 with the advanced, modern functionality of web2.”
The supposed great insight of Web3, big enough to justify the new numbering, is the decentralization of digital properties and the tokenization of the economy, a total extrapolation of the logic of cryptocurrencies (blockchain) to the digital environment.
People like Dixon allege that, by solving the problems of the Web1 and becoming dominant, digital platforms began to have incentives contrary to those of the users and business partners they were supposed to serve or, at the very least, not be hostile.
By distributing the ownership of these platforms, or their equivalents created in the new paradigm, and guaranteeing it with the blockchain, Web3 would neutralize such pernicious incentives, bringing out the best in humanity.
“In Web3, ownership and control are decentralized,” Dixon assures us. “Users and builders can own pieces of internet services by owning tokens, both non-fungible (NFTs) and fungible.”
As Belarusian researcher and writer Evgeny Morozov put it, Web3 is a map of lands that do not yet exist. But, unsurprisingly, these lands are already demarcated and ready to be exploited commercially by the folks promoting Web3 as the eighth wonder of the world — no exceptions, investors, entrepreneurs, and speculators.
“The business model of most Web 3 ventures is self-referential in the extreme, feeding off people’s faith in the inevitable transition from Web 2.0 to Web3,” Evgeny wrote in a great essay.
There’s nothing substantial about Web3, a massive inconvenience that, not coincidentally, is often swept under the rug by its proponents.
Web1 has brought an interconnected global network, accessible and open to all. Web2 — or web 2.0, as Tim O’Reilly described it in the mid-2000s — allowed the expansion of those advantages to most of humanity. Web3 simply exchanges this infrastructure for a more complex, slow, and expensive one (because blockchain) just because… why?
As erratic as companies like Google and Facebook are in their ethical postures and business decisions, it is undeniable that they have solved many problems. By doing this, they have leveraged new technologies and the possible uses of the internet. Web3 is far from that. The entire Web3 differential is useless in practical terms in the vast majority of cases – in fact, it even gets in the way.
In a fascinating (and bombastic) post describing his first impressions of Web3, Moxie Marlinspike, co-founder of the messaging app Signal, was adamant about the delusional argument of decentralization and beyond. For him, even today, such an argument is more a marketing device than a helpful feature.
Anyone wanting to build something on Web3 needs to go through hub platforms, startups like OpenSea, Rarible, MetaMask, and Rainbow, conditioning their applications and tokens to these intermediaries. Without that, everything is complicated, expensive, and slow. If so, better stick to good old Web2.
“When you think about it, OpenSea would actually be much ‘better’ in the immediate sense if all the web3 parts were gone. It would be faster, cheaper for everyone, and easier to use,” summarizes Moxie.
Without the blockchain — that is, outside of Web3 — OpenSea would just be a marketplace selling JPEG files of monkey drawings and other such nonsense whose intrinsic value is negligible or nil. It’s NFT insanity squared, splattered all over. Web3 is the naked king’s invisible clothing.
OpenSea, by the way, is a marketplace for NFTs. It was founded in 2017 and is valued at $13.3 billion. Among its investors is a16z, where our friend Chris Dixon is a partner. No wonder they are so interested in turning the world of cryptos — Web3, cryptocurrencies, NFTs — into a compelling story. A lot of money is staked on this narrative.
a16z has also invested heavily in Coinbase, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world. Marc Andreessen, co-founder and partner of the firm has a seat on Coinbase’s board.
If at this point you’re still having trouble understanding what Web3 is, don’t blame yourself or worry. Abstraction is part of the game, and Web3 is whatever it has to be in order to effectively be something.
In practice, the differences between Web3 and the internet we have today are tangential and irrelevant to most people. But if someone insists and asks you what Web3 is, say it’s the internet as we know it, but with blockchain in between. Ultimately, it’s just that.
Translated by Fabiane Ziolla Menezes