What The F*ck is Web3?
"What is Web3?" you are not alone. Whether you measure venture capital funding, lobbying blitz, or dubious corporate announcements, ideas have moments. But it can be difficult to say what it is about.
For believers, Web3 represents the next step in the Internet and perhaps the organization of society. According to the story, Web 1.0 was the era of decentralized and open protocols, where most of your online activity consisted of going to separate, static web pages. The Web 2.0 we are experiencing now is a centralization where much of communications and commerce takes place on a closed platform owned by a handful of superpowers such as Google, Facebook and Amazon that are nominally controlled by a centralized government regulator. It's an era. Web3 must take the world from this monopoly control.
Web3 refers to a decentralized online ecosystem based on blockchain at the most basic level. Platforms and applications built on Web3 are owned by users rather than by a central gatekeeper, and users take ownership by supporting the development and maintenance of these services.
Gavin Wood coined the term Web3 (originally Web 3.0) in 2014. At the time, he participated in the development of Ethereum, the second most popular cryptocurrency after Bitcoin. He currently runs the Web3 Foundation, which supports distributed technology projects, and Parity Technologies, which specializes in building blockchain infrastructure for Web3. Wood, who lives in Switzerland, told me in a video last week where Web 2.0 went wrong, how he sees the future, and why we should all be less fooled. The following interview is a transcript of our conversation, slightly edited for clarity and length.
Gavin Wood: I think the Web 2.0 model is almost identical to the pre-Internet social model. Dating back 500 years, people basically stayed only in small towns and villages. And they did business with people they knew. And they largely relied on social structures to ensure that expectations were met and could actually be realized. This apple is not rotten or this horseshoe will not break in 3 weeks.
And it works well enough because moving between cities is difficult, time consuming and expensive. This will give you a high enough level of trust that you don't want anyone to stay and be deported.
But as society moves to the bigger ones and cities, countries and international organizations spring up, we've moved to this strange kind of brand reputation. We have created such an institution that is both strong and regulated, and the regulator, in principle, is meeting our expectations. There are certain legal requirements you must meet to work in certain industries.
This is not the best solution for a number of reasons. One is that it is very difficult to regulate new industries. Governments are slow and take time to catch up. Second, the regulatory body is incomplete. Especially when working closely with industry, there is often a kind of “revolving door” relationship between industry and regulators.
Another simple regulator has very limited firepower. This is how much money the government invests in it. Therefore, regulation is bound to be heterogeneous. They will arguably be able to regulate the biggest criminals, but they cannot always maintain a strong influence everywhere. Of course, regulators and laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Wherever you travel within the EU, Activity X will do it for you. If you go somewhere else, it's not normal. And as we become a very cosmopolitan community, this means that virtually your expectations are still not being met.
So we have to go beyond that. Unfortunately, Web 2.0 still exists in this centralized model.
Are you talking about technical failure? Or are we talking about the failure of governance, regulation and competition policies? Yes this is against the rules, but the answer is not the best rule. Regulatory failure is inevitable, requiring a new level of skill. Am I explaining your point of view correctly?
Of course. The model is broken.
So let's see how to replace it. We talked about why Web 2.0 didn't work. What is a convenient definition of Web3?
"Less confidence and more truth."
What does "less trust" mean? I have a special meaning of faith. It is essentially a belief. The belief that something will happen, the belief that the world will behave in a certain way without any real evidence or rational argument as to why it will happen. So we want less and more truth. This is a great reason to believe that our expectations will come true.
You seem to be saying that the less blind faith you have, the more reliable you are.
Yes and No. I think trust itself is really bad. Trust means granting authority to another person or organization and the ability to use that authority at will. When trust becomes trustworthy, it is no longer true trust. There are mechanisms, grounds, arguments, and logical mechanisms. Whatever it is, but in my opinion this is not trust.
You wrote that Web3 would break the monopoly of platforms like Google and Facebook. Can you explain what he will do?
Okay, I think the point is, I don't know. I mean, I think it's a logical improvement. And in bigger plans, I think this is inevitable. This is either inevitable or society is crumbling on the vine. But more specifically, the answer to this question is much more difficult.
But, okay. What do we have in terms of technology? We have encryption. With a basic level of encryption, you can chat with your friends, but you still have good expectations for communication channels to become public or through third parties. It becomes a private conversation. Confidentiality is guaranteed as if you were on site, and you can chat with each other and make sure no one is around.
Let's take, for example, cryptographic communications, which appear to be very compatible with corporate monopolies so far. WhatsApp provides encrypted communication. Opinions differ as to the extent to which this truly satisfies your privacy concerns, but I still think this is an example of encrypted communications with billions of users and controlled by one of the most powerful companies in the world.
This is interesting and, of course, at first glance. However, there are some important differences. One of them: What if WhatsApp injects a key into the service that can decrypt all conversations? How do we know he's not there? You must trust. We can't see the code, we can't see how the service works, we can't see the key structure. So all we have is the blind belief that they are telling the truth. Okay, maybe they're telling the truth because they're afraid they'll seriously damage their reputation if they don't.
But, as we've seen in some of Snowden's revelations, sometimes companies don't get a chance to tell the truth. Sometimes the security service simply installs a box in the back office and says, "You don't need to look at this box. You can't say or do with this box. You just have to sit still."
It looks like open source software does what you're talking about, but you're not just describing open source software. When we talk about Web3, we're talking about a completely different way of building the internet: blockchain. So, how can you technically achieve unreliability?
I think we need the truth. It means openness, transparency. Blockchain technology uses both cryptography and the specific economics of game theory to deliver its services. You need to understand the node infrastructure of your network. Are they really peers, or is it that the company that makes and sells hardware started out in a single data center and needs to negotiate before new nodes can connect to the network? Whether this is Web 2.0 in disguise or really legally open, transparent and decentralized peer-to-peer, the details matter.
Let's learn about the concept of "decentralization". I mean, isn't the internet already decentralized? Internet Protocol is not owned by the company. On a practical level, people tend to communicate their actions through gatekeeper platforms, but they don't have to. No need to post to Facebook. It's just convenient. What does this mean when we talk about centralization and decentralization?
Basically this means that I can personally be the provider or maintainer of this generic service.
But how real is that? From my point of view, it's hard to imagine that anyone other than a handful of highly tech literate people would actually exercise the right to participate in the provision of services. And in this scenario, it looks like you'll have a different kind of centralization. There could be more than a few almighty CEOs, but there are still a handful of people who can enjoy meaningful freedom.
There is a big difference between the right or freedom to exercise with sufficient training and the inability to do anything at the most basic and basic level because you are not included in the exceptional group. If I'm fairly familiar with the free material available and that's all I need to become a co-author of the service, then this is a free service. I went to law school, anyone can study law. Anyone can study, go to law school, and then go to a lawyer. But in reality, at least in the US, the barriers to entry, mainly guilds, are very expensive.
Just because the barriers to entry into the legal world are higher than programming, does not necessarily mean that the barriers to entry into the world of origin are not high. I understand the distinction you're making, but I wonder if it's naive to read the social convention that everyone thinks they have the option to become a seasoned Web3 programmer.
Literally everyone in the world won't convince you that you can do this. But the fact is, the more people can do this, the lower the barrier the better.
This is still a bit abstract. Someone reading this may be thinking, "What am I doing in the Web3 world?" Can you sketch what this looks like? A specific activity, application interface, or transaction? Most early generations of
Web3 applications will be small iterations of Web 2.0 applications. However, one thing that Web3 brings, Web 2.0 cannot easily provide is its financial promise or economically powerful applications. This is where P2P people can provide economic services to each other.
This isn't sending money, it's sending something truly rare or really difficult or really expensive. For example, imagine a dating app that can send you virtual flowers. So, you can imagine that sending a bouquet of flowers to the same person every day is a very strong sign that they like you. And this is a sign that you do not know how to play. This is the point. You can't pay to send more flowers.
It doesn't sound bad, but it looks like Tinder could add this feature to Tinder. You can. They do that. There are amazing things you can only do once a day. but you know what It is a profit-seeking company. So, if you pay enough on Tinder, you can send as many stars as you want.
But wouldn't Web3 companies have the same market incentives as Web 2.0 companies? I may be missing something obvious, but it's hard to imagine a historical development that wouldn't allow for a greater concentration of political or economic power. So, why should we expect this blockchain-based decentralized Web3 to break stereotypes?
Ever since I was little, I have always had a passion for technology. I started programming when I was about 8 years old. I've never seen a technique that limits someone's power. Like you said, every technology I can think of has made the user more powerful. They can do more. They can be wealthier, serve faster and better, or serve more people. Blockchain doesn't do that. This is fundamentally different. In fact, it is a social construct.
This is a set of rules. And the only thing this rule has is that no one has arbitrary privileges on the system. You can be confident enough, especially if you are a programmer. Then you can look at the code and know you are doing the right thing. However, the mere fact that many people have joined the network based on these expectations is enough to convince you. And if these expectations are not realized, they will simply leave the network.
Many people are attracted to cryptocurrencies because they see them as a way to subvert the established political order or the power of central banks. But you suggested that Web3 would help maintain the liberal postwar order. How do you see it? We believe our services and expectations have been compromised by the centralization of power that
Technology allows. It's just true. Prior to Facebook and Google, few had ever allowed such a small number of people to have this level of privilege. I'm not saying Facebook, Google and everyone else don't think they deserve a replacement, but that's not the point of Web3. For me, Web3 is actually a larger socio-political movement moving from tyrannical power to a more rational liberal model. And this is the only way to protect the life we have enjoyed for the past 70 years, the liberal world. Only then can it continue for 70 years. And I think we're luring in a completely different direction right now.