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Twitter explains Web3 to me
How does one develop a technology that no one can define?
Last week I asked Twitter to explain Web3 to me. Web3 is all about startup culture, and VCs and pitching and so on. So I feel like asking for someone to give me what is fundamentally an elevator pitch for the concept should be pretty straightforward! That’s the baseline requirement to have a product participate in the startup space and as someone who honestly enjoys the pitching process I’ve been responsible for many a summation myself. So the question:
Of course someone asked ‘Hey could you do this with web2?’ and yeah yeah I can. So let’s get that out of the way.
The result of my request? Over 80 Web3 definitions. Not a lot of them were totally compatible. Those of which were legible and even slightly serious I’ve collected here, separated by major category, semi-sorted by time:
Web3 is token-based interactions
Web3 is micropayments
Web3 is creating ownable/tradeable property out of digital media and data (financialization)
Web3 is about “Decentralization”
I’m putting decentralization in quotes here because I think that people do not share a clear definition on that either.
Web3 is specifically about Blockchain decentralization
Web3 is about burning up the planet for various reasons
Web3 is about Cryptocurrency
Web3 is about Decentralized ID / Login
Web3 is a straight up scam
The Taxonomy of Web3 Definitions
Hopefully I haven’t offended anyone by their placement in this loose taxonomy of Web3 definitions! My intent was to try and reduce it down as much as possible to a minimum of useful categories.
Now this is hardly a scientific polling process, but seeing how this is a newsletter I’m going to draw assumptions from it anyway.
It’s interesting to me that the most commonality (outside of calling it a scam) was in identifying Web3 as a project of financialization. A number of supporters and detractors defined Web3 this way and likely would identify Web3’s process of financilizing the internet as the very reason they support or dislike Web3 as a concept.
I was also really interested in a number of people identifying Web3 as a way to log or opt-in, which was something I very much did not expect and would never have suggested as a definition. I know you *can* log in with Web3 tools, but considering the pseudo anonymous nature of cryptocurrency/blockchain I don’t really consider “logging in” to be useful to Web3 projects except as a means to other ends.
The same for microtransactions, Web3 enables microtransactions to happen more easily, but it doesn’t make sense for me as a goal, there are numerous products out there to manage transactions and microtransactions at scale without forcing users to jump through the significantly difficult hoops that creating and filling and connecting a crypto wallet requires.
The case against tokens
I think the most organized and clear support and definition for Web3 was argued with this idea of defining it as “doing stuff with tokens”. It’s an interesting definition that divorces web3 from the requirements of using Blockchain (a notable category of answers) or crypto currency.
This is what I would *like* to have Web3 mean personally. As an engineer who is interested in technology, that’s the space that seems to have a lot of interesting potential use cases that are—as yet—unsatisfied. Tokens for login, tokens to participate in specific types of groups or projects, tokens to represent specific information or membership, etc… I think this is the sort of thing that might have real uses. I’m not the only one and it is very clear that the cryptocurrency community saw that and glommed on to that set of use cases to advertise themselves and establish the idea of Web3.
But I don’t think that the idea that Web3 represents some new token-based web is reality-based. At this point I’ve built my own tiny blockchain, read a bunch of white papers and technical docs from cryptocurrency projects, and read a ton from all perspectives on this. (I will be publishing a collection of readings soon.) More notably than that, I spent a good week of my free time really really trying to set up a way to use the existing ecosystem of crypto wallets to manage arbitrary tokens unattached to any existing cryptocurrency and—as far as I can tell—that is impossible and no one appears to be actively working on it.
The idea that anything token-based in the “Web3” space does or could operate independently from cryptocurrency seems to be, at best, fantasy; at worst, purposeful misdirection. There certainly does not appear to be relevant technology available yet to support those use cases. More importantly: there seems to be almost no one who would define themselves as a Web3 proponent interested in that use case, though it would almost certainly expand adoption of related technologies, increase user base, and open up all new types of projects that could expand the definition of Web3. No, it seems the only thing about tokens that interests Web3 developers is their ability to act as securities for cryptocurrency, or as a thing to spend cryptocurrency on in some way or another.
So, Web3 is?
So I have to go back to how I would define Web3. The conversation that started this specific post:
and I’ve seen no particular definition adequate enough to convince me otherwise. At the end of the day all these other definitions are, to quote one responder, marketing. All of these projects, when they actually manifest in the Web3 space, always connect back to a cryptocurrency blockchain. In fact they are designed specifically on the concepts of trade and value that require backing by financial transactions. It’s an interesting dream that Web3 could be separate from cryptocurrency, but in reality there is no Web3 stuff I can see that isn’t either cryptocurrency, or churning cryptocurrency by design. That’s reality as I see it!
Maybe one day this will change. As others have said, this feels like a solution in search of a problem. Maybe it will find that problem! But I await that reality rather than assuming it will one day arrive.
To come: a really long page with every interesting thing I’ve read about cryptocurrency. But it won’t be an email. I’ll link it.