The missed opportunity of Web3, and what now?

Web3 was a missed opportunity and the focus was on all the wrong things. As we pick through the crypto wreckage, what can we learn and what should we focus on?

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There’s a temptation to say that Web3 had some good ideas and intentions, but at this stage it would feel like trying to offer a kind of false balance. Sorry folks, but there were much more important problems for society to solve and web3 just seemed to compound or ignore them. The world is heating up and choking, and if your core technology is only contributing to that, we have a problem.

As the whole ("hashtag") crypto-crash unfolds, there's definitely a queitening down of web3 noise on Twitter and Linkedin. But then, as if events right now weren't crazy enough, Jack Dorsey has just announced we're going straight to web5, but sticking with most of the web3 principles it would seem. Is it just web3 with an SDK? It only uses bitcoin? The cynical might say that web5 is an attempt to pump and dump bitcoin one last time.

It's especially frustrating as the whole movement has looked so naive and immature from the outside. Ponzi schemes, cult culture, financial fraud and phishing scams are what most will remember. But dare to speak out and you'd find yourself shouted down as a non-believer.

“We’re still building”, has irked the most because all the blunders around fraud and exploits are lessons that have already been learned, time and time again. From the outside at least, it feels like there was a blatant willingness to just ignore everything that went before and call it progress, just because it was simply the opposite direction. Congrats, you solved nothing, while having to relearn everything that's already been learned.

It wasn't needed and it didn't work

Everything as a transaction is just expensive, inefficient and mostly pointless. The reality is that there aren't that many things that we care about that warrant that kind of decentralised security and burden of proof.

Decentralisation seems such an honourable and much needed take – but the reality is, we did the whole looking after your own servers thing for decades and it was rubbish, and a lot of work, or stuff got hacked all the time because you couldn’t keep up with it. We willingly chucked it all on AWS, Google and Microsoft because it was easy and it worked. And if folk can’t even keep their crypto wallet secure, what hope have you got of them running their own infrastructure? Centralisation is a problem, in the sense that Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple are too powerful, but just pure ideological decentralisation for the sake of it isn’t the answer.

That's just the infrastrcuture. What about your data? Well, most folk simply aren't equipped with that kind of responsibility. So we build tools to help them and just like most of web3 to date, it'll be centralised under the hood afterall. We should own our data for sure, but things became centralised for a reason.

What web3 could have been?

The advent of the mobile web arguably did more for what we actually need than anything else. As ultrafast broadband hit our homes, the web got fat and bloated. But suddenly with everyone accessing it from mobile devices and variable connections, we started thinking about speed again, and speed ultimately means less stuff, so less servers, and you know, less energy. That’s good. We should be doing more of this.

Google's AMP was a bad idea and an example of the evil over-centralisation that web3 was against. But it did force us all to think about web performance. Google literally put web performance front and centre in everyone's minds, and lowering the carbon footprint of the web should be a priority.

What about if we used data to prioritise only selling what people actually needed, and what actually works, lasts, performs?

And then there’s using data and analytics. So much around analytics and data on the web right now is essentially exploitation and manipulation in order to sell more stuff – and we call it adding value. What about if we used data to prioritise only selling what people actually needed, and what actually works, lasts, performs? Consumption isn't going to go away, but we surely have the power to try and pivot to consuming only what is needed, and to move as much consumption as possible to consumption that is circular and sustainable?

Web3 should have been at least in part about tech for good, performance and efficiency. It should have been about ethical data for good. It should have been about circularity and sustainability.

There's a lot of other thing it should have been too. Tackling fake news and information authenticity, cyber-bullying and doxxing, privacy and right to onimity. But even if web3 had some good intentions somewhere at its core, they weren't the most pressing or even the right problems to tackle. And don't claim web3 tried to do some of the above either, because all we got in the end was ponzi-fraud, bored apes and meme-coins.

A new focus...

It doesn't need a name, but we absolutely need to start moving the web towards tech and data for good. We need to lower its carbon footprint and use it to drive a more sustainable and circular world. Technology that does this should be a priority.

As an industry we've gotten very good at tracking users and monetising their data. We've used that data to manipulate them, drive consumption, farm them for yet more growth, more new stuff, more value. We're at the thick-end of entropy now. The climate-clock is ticking. We cannot go on like we are.

Can we please focus on a web-for-good now?

© 2022 Gary Lake