Some Thoughts on 'web3'

A friend posted The Truth About web3 and I wanted to take a moment to respond.

And I specifically wanted to comment on this image he used and the setup of the problem:

barbed wire web 2.0

And the argument is something like:

Version Core Feature
WWW Read
Web 2.0 Read & Write
web3 Read, Write & Own

But I feel like that's somewhat ahistorical, or at least not true to my memory.

I would extend the table thus:

Branding Core Tech Everyone gets a ... Killer Apps But we ended up with ...
WWW HTTP, HTML Personal homepage Hotmail, Yahoo Yahoo, Amazon
Web 2.0 CMSs, XHR, RSS, JSON Personal blog Google Maps Google Ads, Facebook
web3 Blockchain? NFT? Personal "Wallet" ? ??? ???

Web 2.0 was a Branding Exercise

I think before we try to decipher what's included and excluded from web 2.0 / web3, it's worth revisiting some context for why there was a web 2.0 at all.

In the year 2000, there was a stock market crash that destroyed most tech companies (remember pets.com?).

But according to the aphorism "In a gold rush, sell shovels", the shovel sellers were the ecosystem companies, which were able to survive the crash even as their customers were wiped out. They needed a new generation of customers.

Tim OReilly, a computer manual publisher, coined the phrase Web 2.0 as a way to market to the post-crash internet industry and cultivate a second crop of start ups.

To use an analogy, "Web 2.0" has about as much to do with specific companies as "GenX" or "Millenial" does with people. Yes, people with closer birthdays tend to have some common traits given that they grew up around the same time. But not everyone born in 1988 is eating avocado toast all the time. Probably most of them aren't.

The technologies Web 2.0 was initially associated with (such as XHR or JSON) pre-existed the moniker, and continue to exist.

And the platforms that grew in that time period were initially open and interoperable (without any blockchain).

Facebook used to offer RSS feeds. Twitter used to offer RSS feeds. Google used to read RSS feeds.

Now they don't. And we draw barbed wire around their logos.

What we ended up with was not the same as what the technology promised.

That didn't happen by accident. Market forces were a factor. So was greed. So was time. Open architecture was quickly discard in the pursuit of monetization.

Web 3 is a branding exercise also

Indeed, this isn't the first web 3.

FWIW, there were sarcastic predictions of web 3 even back in the early-mid-web-2.0 era:

https://alistapart.com/article/web3point0/

Web 2.0 was initially kind of a "we're not dead" rebranding exercise for the valley after the dot com crash, and it took a couple of years between the web 2.0 hype cycle starting (RSS?), an actual killer app shipping (Google Maps), and what it ended up as (highly monetized user-generated-content farms).

So tbh I was surprised the web 3.0 rebranding push after the great recession never took off - it was supposed to be iphone apps or AI or something; just like 2.0 it was branding exercise to market to the internet industry and sell shovels.

But COVID was certainly big enough to trigger another rebranding attempt, but because the 2010s web 3.0 never stuck and/or because time is a flat circle we get to do it all over again.

In another (better?) universe we're already on web 4.0

Still Waiting for a killer app

Killer apps seem to appear midway through a cycle, and while maybe they use some core technologies, they generally aren't the core technology itself.

Hotmail was a WWW gateway to email, another killer app. Yahoo was a consolidated index of other homepages. Google Maps was an ajax client for maps. The value in using those products came from the data is exposed, email, www, or maps, outside of the product itself.

This is different from other types of killer apps, like DOOM, which have more /intrinsic/ value from it's IP, or Lotus, which drove productivity.

But it seems to me that it is very hard to predict the killer app just based on a technology or component it happens to use.

Anyone who is starting from the NFT square of my table will have a tough time predicting the killer app of 2023.

A digression on avatars

The current discourse is that using image NFTs could allow you to use a custom avatar, for something.

In Web 2.0, there was a company that did that, called Gravatar. It was founded by Tom Preston Warner, who later made GitHub, which was a commercial product built on top of the free software (by linus torvalds), git.

Crypto currencies are already exhibiting a high amount of lock-in, due to the high transaction costs, the lack of vendors that will accept it, and the difficulties in converting back to hard currency bc anti-money-laundering regs and tax implications. So you may as well "invest" in a bored ape if it's stuck there anway. But it seems like very few people actually realize any tangible gains at all.

How it might end up

Imagine the killer app comes along, and everyone starts using their killer app crypto thing for single sign on or micropayments or whatever.

Now, a search engine would observe not only your search terms, but also your entire transaction history on the blockchain. They could leverage that data to charge advertisers higher CPM.

And repeat that scenario for every other thing you use your wallet with. Social media. Online shopping. Online dating. College. Ride sharing.

That seems not only plausible, but probable, to me. Ad networks don't like to leave money on the table, and have very straightforward methods of monetizing that data.

But the companies that control that data, because someone actually owns the hard drives at the bottom of the stack, will be incentived to exert that control. Once they have enough users, they can cut off open access and interoperability. Maybe the feature they really want just doesn't work quite right with open protocols, or maybe the openness is too expensive. Gchat dropped XMPP, twitter dropped RSS, etc. Embrace-extend-extinguish.

Final thoughts

Maybe the killer app thats coming in the next couple years starts out compatible with ethereum. But there's nothing requiring it to stay that way forever. And after that, another crash, and the survivors will put up their barbed wire, and after that, we can look forward to wEb4.