2022-08-30

The 5 people empowerment promises of web3

Johannes Ernst

https://reb00ted.org/tech/20220830-web3-empowerment-promises/

Over at Kaleido Insights, Jessica Groopman, Jaimy Szymanski, and Jeremiah Owyang (the former Forrester “Open Social” analyst) describe Web3 Use Cases: Five Capabilities Enabling People.

I don’t think this post has gotten the attention it deserves. At the least, it’s a good starting framework to understand why so many people are attracted to the otherwise still quite underdefined web3 idea. Hint: it’s not just getting rich quick.

I want to riff on this list a bit, by interpreting some of the categories just a tad differently, but mostly by comparing and contrasting to the state of the art (“web2”) in consumer technology.

Empowerment promise State of the art ("web2") The promise ("web3")
Governance How much say do you, the user, have in what the tech products do that you use? What about none! The developing companies do what they please, and very often the opposite of what their users want. Users are co-owners of the product, and have a vote through mechanisms such as DAOs.
Identity You generally need at least an e-mail address hosted by some big platform to sign up for anything. Should the platform decide to close your account, even mistakenly, your identity effectively vanishes. Users are self-asserting their identity in a self-sovereign manner. We used to call this "user-centric identity", with protocols such as my LID or OpenID before they were eviscerated or co-opted by the big platforms. Glad to see the idea is making a come-back.
Content ownership Practically, you own very little to none of the content you put on-line. While theoretically, you keep copyright of your social media posts, for example, today it is practically impossible to quit social media accounts without losing at least some of your content. Similarly, you are severely limited in your options for privacy, meaning where your data goes and does not go. You, and only you, decide where and how to use your content and all other data. It is not locked into somebody else's system.
Ability to build Ever tried to add a feature to Facebook? It's almost a ridiculous proposition. Of course they won't let you. Other companies are no better. Everything is open, and composable, so everybody can build on each other's work.
Exchange of value Today's mass consumer internet is largely financed through Surveillance Capitalism, in the form of targeted advertising, which has led to countless ills. Other models generally require subscriptions and credit cards and only work in special circumstances. Exchange of value as fungible and non-fungible tokens is a core feature and available to anybody and any app. An entirely new set of business models, in addition to established ones, have suddently become possible or even easy.

As Jeremiah pointed out when we bumped into each other last night, public discussion of “web3” is almost completely focused on this last item: tokens, and the many ill-begotten schemes that they have enabled.

But that is not web3’s lasting attraction. The other four promises – participation in governance, self-sovereign identity, content ownership and the freedom to build – are very appealing. In fact, it is hard to see how anybody (other than an incumbent with a turf to defend) could possible argue against any of them.

If you don’t like the token part? Just don’t use it. 4 out of the 5 web3 empowerment promises for people, ain’t bad. And worth supporting.