Web3: We must be prepared to keep pushing back against such dangerous trends, like creeping centralization, even when doing so is the harder path, says the CEO of Livepeer, Doug Petkanics.
It will take more than words to defend web3’s promise. We must build native Web3 solutions so that people can experience it firsthand – and begin to understand the potential of a new way to think about the internet.
Web3 and anti-crypto sentiment
Anti-crypto rhetoric is nothing new. Indeed, the larger the movement has grown, the more vociferous its critics have become.
What is new is that we are now seeing potshots aimed at the very notion of the decentralized internet. It is a concept even the mainstream media was touting as transformative a few short months ago. It’s as though web2 die-hards believe that if we stop talking about web3, the digital world will stay exactly as it is forever.
Some of the corporate world’s heaviest hitters have joined the fray. Back in December, Elon Musk tweeted that web3 appeared “more marketing buzzword than reality”, while Jack Dorsey expressed public doubt that the new iteration of the Internet could be nearly as free and open as we in the web3 community believe.
Everyone has a right to their opinion, of course. Informed debate has always been a channel for progress and can usefully help shape the trajectory of new technologies. But the anti-web3 rhetoric we are beginning to see emerge this year has taken on a more extreme tone, as detractors draw tenuous connections to wider societal concerns, such as the use of non-custodial wallets to evade asset freezes, or even more spurious comparisons with the subprime scandal.
I don’t believe anyone is claiming web3 protocols are a panacea for all the Internet’s drawbacks. However, those of us working with blockchain technologies were drawn to them because we realized key utilities could be provided in a better way. For everyone.
Web3 and Utility
The concept of “utility” is crucial when addressing false claims that blockchain is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Any proposition whose value is based solely on the ability to get other people interested in it should certainly be approached with caution. But blockchain technologies offer value propositions far more compelling than mere financial speculation. They allow us to buy goods and services that have real use at lower prices and without having to surrender privacy or power over personal data to centralized leviathans.
Writing about the Crypto backlash on March 6th, TechCrunch senior editor Lucas Matney noted that: “The informed middle ground is a space where there’s not much critical discourse happening on a regular basis.” That’s something I’m eager to help move the dial on.
I will take my own industry as an example.
Web3 and video
Video is an increasingly important part of all of our lives. It enables us to communicate across vast distances with workmates, friends and family; helps our children learn new things; entertains us; and allows us to acquire new skills. Video already accounts for more than 80 percent of traffic on the internet, and that number is only expected to grow.
But streaming video has for years been controlled by big technology providers. And creators forced to process their video through AWS and to stream it through YouTube, Twitch or Facebook face both high costs and restrictions on ownership.
Blockchain technology enables an open video streaming architecture that is vastly cheaper. It allows developers, entrepreneurs and product visionaries to create freely and to monetize their time and skills in alignment with their audiences. It seems obvious to me that they should have the freedom to do this, with the base technology open and accessible to all and provided by competing operators, not monopolies.
Great freedom = great responsibility
We’re also well aware that the power and freedom offered by the decentralized Internet carries with it a duty to build responsibly. The idea that most Web3 protocols are governed by a sense of sober responsibility doesn’t capture many headlines, of course. Fear-mongering about reckless speculation and over-ambitious growth are inevitably more newsworthy.
But the truth is that the vast majority of leaders in the Web3 space understand this obligation – as evidenced by the willingness the community has shown to take on board constructive, informed criticism.
Web3 and Moxie
A good example of such informed commentary, and one of the most talked-about, was Moxie Marlinspike’s January 7th essay: “My first impressions of Web3”.
Moxie’s piece distinguished itself from more hyperbolic entries in the debate by its thoughtfulness and by an obvious effort to understand the underlying primitives of Web3. Moxie, creator of Signal and much more, took the time to build multiple decentralized applications before posting a blog on what he called his “first impressions”, highlighting several areas where he felt Web3 reality was falling short of its promises.
The knee-jerk response from some, on both sides, was to deem his words an attack on the very idea of Web3: an all-or-nothing critique that demanded an equally sharp rebuttal. In my view, this siege mentality is counterproductive and actually undersells the Web3 promise.
I am not here to join in the war of words, however.
Not least because to my mind Moxie’s assessment doesn’t read like a Web3 teardown. Quite the reverse. I see his essay as a fair and timely warning to all of us who believe in the potential benefits of decentralization. Let’s be honest with ourselves: were we really expecting happily ever after? We’ve got to put in the work and build the bridge that brings more projects, people and organizations into Web3.
A shared digital space we can trust
Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin and MetaMask’s Dan Finlay are among those who’ve highlighted measures, either planned or in progress, that will help Web3 avoid the missteps that handed Web2 to a cadre of monolithic tech players. Reading these responses, I’ve been impressed by their authors’ ready willingness to engage with the conversation, take the content on board and address the specific questions surfaced without becoming defensive or vitriolic.
Vitalik makes the point that, as things stand, it’s still easier to build things “the lazy centralized way” but reminds us of all the progress we have made on the road to full decentralization. Once this heavy lifting is complete, things will get easier, and faster, for development teams seeking to build on blockchain and make use of the opportunities opened by it and associated technology. In the end, Vitalik is as convinced as he ever was that the “decentralized blockchain world is coming and is much closer to being here than many people think.”
A nuanced view
Dan offers a similarly nuanced view. While he also concedes that some of Moxie’s comments hit the mark, he singles out a number that he feels did not reflect the full picture, particularly with regard to MetaMask, which is looking to a future where its wallet will be able to connect to user-chosen alternatives for all of its services.
In his response, Dan poses a great rhetorical question that both addresses Moxie’s challenges and looks beyond them: why would a business like MetaMask choose to make it easier for users to access competitive offerings?
His answer bears repeating here: “It may not be a feature that every user demands upfront, but it’s a feature that if we can adhere to, we can try to force ourselves to increasingly make the decisions that keep ourselves honest and keep delivering the thing that our users wanted as faithfully as possible, which is basically just a shared digital space they can trust.”
A shared digital space users can trust: to me, this is a perfect encapsulation of the goal of every true Web3 proponent. So how do we get there?
Do the work: Bridging into Web3
That future is one we’re prepared to work for. And, believe me, there’s certainly a lot of work left to do. It’s hard work – and will continue to be so. Despite the challenges of mainstreaming web3, I’ve been enormously encouraged to see how the ecosystem can unite to address these challenges.
In that spirit, I’m proposing four key principles that should help keep us moving forward in alignment with our shared vision:
1. Respond to criticisms with clarity and objectivity
The best part of Moxie’s landmark post was the attention it got from different demographics. From the media to founders and industry watchers, everyone was talking about the potential and pitfalls of Web3. Productive conversations, conducted outside the inside circle, are always the first step towards mainstreaming a Big Idea.
But it doesn’t make sense for us to get defensive and write off broad swaths of people who “just don’t get it.” Change takes time – doubly so when it’s a change that proposes a fundamentally new way to build value in digital economies.
2. Build projects that don’t compromise web3 values
While this may be obvious, it’s actually quite difficult to do. Two things generally happen when the entire world seemingly turns on a new technology: it fades away into obscurity, or it gets watered down to be more palatable to the masses.
Web3 builders can’t do either. We must continue forward and build projects true to Web3 values of openness, governance, transparency, ownership and aligned incentives. Only then can we show the true transformative potential of Web3 across different sectors. Otherwise, we risk losing the thread and never really showing the value of Web3. It will become a “told you so” blame game that inevitably proves the haters right.
3. Understand the limitations of any orthodoxy
That being said, we must also not be so blinded by Web3 that we don’t overlook challenges. There are always areas for improvement in any new technology, process or mindset. That’s the beauty of where we’re at: learning as we build, evolving, and iterating. We can’t be so rigid as to think that we have solved all problems, that we’re always right or that there’s nothing to learn.
Rather, builders need a growth mindset that encourages creativity and welcomes new people and ideas. To maintain relevance and deliver on Web3’s full promise, we have to be willing to grow, adapt and evolve into an ever-changing dynamic environment.
4. Build with full transparency and alongside the community
Web3 openness, where we build alongside our community of users and contributors, is key. That level of engagement ensures that we are building tools, solutions, and services that solve actual needs to real users.
The value of transparency extends to trust, as it prevents misaligned incentives from warping projects into capturing the majority of value within a closed system. The community needs to see what’s going on so they can have full faith and trust in the product – a key element of Web3.
5. Support innovations through in-person and virtual hackathons
Blockchain is geographically-agnostic. Transformative ideas can come from anywhere, which is why the final pillar of the Web3 action plan is to support innovation worldwide. As Web3 builders and evangelists, we have a duty to engage globally to on-board as many developers, product managers, and other roles into the Web3 community. By supporting hackathons that both welcome new developers and further incentivize projects to build in Web3, we expand the ecosystem and establish the foundation for longevity in a variety of sectors.
Building for what’s ahead
I’m optimistic as ever about Web3’s game-changing future, as long as we guard against potential pitfalls such as creeping centralization. We must be prepared to keep pushing back against such dangerous trends, even when doing so is the harder path.
Whatever the intemperate language used by outsiders, the tone within the community in response to the recent Web3 skepticism has only served to highlight the truly collaborative, rising-tide-lifts-all-boats mentality that exists in Web3 right now: the very factor that makes me proud to be part of this space. Each project is building its own piece of the emerging stack, inspired by the future we all want to see exist.
For now, I believe we’re on the right track. To misquote Winston Churchill a little – We’re building the tools. We’ll finish the job.
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