Who’s Behind Web3?

Who’s Behind Web3? 1

If you haven’t been drawn into the growing hype over Web3, where have you been? I kid. It’s mostly just people arguing about what it is exactly; what it will mean; and — since tech has always been an industry populated by narcissists — who’ll be king of it all.

That last one is also kind of a joke, so relax. But, if like most of us, you’re still scratching your head about Web3, think of it as the next phase of the internet following Web1 (broadly, websites and browsers) and Web2 (encompassing apps, social media and mobile) that’s meant to be a more decentralized internet run on blockchain, the technology that underpins things like cryptocurrency and NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, that are all the rage. If it functions as imagined, Web3 will bring more power into the hands of creators and away from the mega-corporations like Google, Facebook and Amazon that have dominated the current iteration of the internet.

But if you want to dig deeper, I recommend this September Twitter thread from the Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon (note, however, that his firm has gobs of cryptocurrency investments and stands to potentially benefit from Web3’s broad adoption). “Before Web3, users and builders had to choose between the limited functionality of Web1 or the corporate, centralized model of Web2,” wrote Dixon, who some already are calling the King of Web3 — we’ll see.

Except Web3 is supposed to be anathema to kings and other powermongers. But before you start imagining some digital utopia, many (with some justification) think the Web3 movement is also rife with hype, windbags and more than a little grift. It’s also more obstreperous in a way that previous versions of the internet are not, which is why I will surely get pushback on whatever I write because everyone knows better!

Nonetheless, I decided to throw myself onto the pyre, lobbing a tweet yesterday that I knew would blow up. It contains language not suitable for a family newspaper, so visit the link, but the gist is the idea that Web3’s hype machine is being driven by, shall we say, the bro-iest of tech bros.

And, wow, did that set off a lot of responses and even side beefs on Twitter. Of all people, I am fully aware that the moguls running tech now have more than their fair share of problematic personalities and the gentler hippie ethos that kicked off the internet is long gone.

Some of the respondents were, no surprise, quite dubious. For example: “The question is can someone name a tangible benefit that Web3 has produced for consumers? Web1 and 2 had immediate consumer value from the get-go, starting from the very first flower ordered online (yes, that was first consumer use of the internet) to the immediate use of iPhone,” tweeted @safasrnext.

And: “There’s Web3 for grown-ups where people are building serious things. Then there’s Web3 theater which feels like a combo of circus barkers and the dot-com bubble. I’m watching the grown-ups toiling away without fanfare,” wrote @arleenzank.

And from @michaelburk: “Web3 is inherently derivative, so the catfish this time around feel slimier. I can’t get past the get-rich-quick vibe.”

“In my opinion we are on the cusp of another wave of connecting humans to each other and to information in a new, more engaging, efficient way. Cellphones will be replaced with wearable devices and smart glasses, AR/VR/crypto will give rise to many virtual, decentralized economies,” tweeted @ladislevtweet.

And I could not agree more with @rockyblondin: “From the cheap seats, I see Web3 as the next iteration of the promise the internet has always held. It’s not exclusively crypto, or NFTs or any other one thing. It’s what comes after the current online dumpster fire runs out of people to burn.”

More to the point, Web3 could be a place to clean that up. “Hidden beneath the get-rich-quick scams is the potential for a worldwide trust machine,” said @manuelhe. That’s a vision I can get behind.

Well-known Web2 leaders were more measured. “The economic incentives at play make the utility distorted. In contrast, Web1/2 you had lots of ideas that were useful, but making money was hard. Now making money is ‘easy,’ but few ideas are useful (yet),” said the Box co-founder and chief executive Aaron Levie.

Evernote’s founder Phil Libin and Glitch’s C.E.O., Anil Dash both expressed concerned about who is running the show behind Web3’s creation. “It’s already too big to fail, the danger is that all of the cultural norms are being set by the biggest opportunists from the old guard, and their top priority is avoiding the accountability that’s only belatedly coming to the last gen of platforms now,” wrote Dash.

I worry there’s a land grab already underway by already powerful people, pulling attention away from the artists and creators who are supposed to be central to Web3.

Twitter user @laurashin expressed surprise at the notion of a bunch of tech bros commanding the future internet. “I cover crypto/Web3 and have for years and I have no idea who this person is referring to,” she wrote. “The sources I interact with are generally wonderful folks.”

Which is why I liked @mishmosh’s take: “One big difference is that Web1 got to grow up under the radar. Web3 sought the spotlight and is having to grow up in public like an awkward child actor.”

While that almost never ends well, it feels like the comparison is a good one and in need of a different narrative. As Winnie co-founder Sara Mauskopf correctly noted: “Whoever rebranded crypto as Web3 is a marketing genius.”

We’ll have to hope that Web3 doesn’t follow the pattern of Web1 and Web2. That is, grotesque hype, real utility and then the abuses by Big Tech companies that trade our privacy for free maps, email, dating apps and other goodies. Yeah, we’ve all become cheap dates for the current crop of internet kingpins.

So, when it comes to Web3, I have to hope that it pans out differently and am maintaining a hope as I did at the start of internet age in the 1990s, when the possibilities seemed endless.

Not everyone thinks that gives me much credibility. “How about you write this: Me Kara, pretend to be smart but I’m clueless about technology because I have never in my life programmed anything more than my oven to cook a frozen meal,” wrote one commenter who I’ll keep anonymous.

The allegation is obviously ridiculous. I don’t eat frozen meals and I could not hope to program an oven, even if I wanted to. But me and Web3, well that’s another story altogether.

Talk about bad timing. In the immediate wake of Time magazine anointing Elon Musk as Person of the Year, ostensibly for his impact on the world, a spate of new lawsuits emerged alleging sexual harassment was “rampant” at Musk’s Fremont, Calif. Tesla factory. Six women sued Tesla saying the “factory floor more resembles a crude, archaic construction site or frat house than a cutting-edge company in the heart of the progressive San Francisco Bay Area.” That follows a similar lawsuit last month. (The company hasn’t issued any formal statements about the latest allegations.)

David Lowe, a lawyer whose firm is representing the women, linked the behavior to Musk’s tweets, which too often contain puerile and sophomoric jokes about women and sexuality. “Musk tweeting a lewd comment about women’s bodies or a taunt toward employees who report misconduct reflects an attitude at the top that enables the pattern of pervasive sexual harassment and retaliation at the heart of these cases,” Lowe wrote in a press release. “Tesla has failed to take sexual harassment seriously.” Tesla lost another case earlier this year when a federal jury award $137 million to a worker who had claimed the company was lax in preventing racial abuse at the same factory. And this week, a former employee at SpaceX penned a disturbing post alleging frequent sexual harassment at the aerospace firm. Sources tell me more similar cases are likely to emerge at both Musk companies — so, yeah, Musk is definitely making an impact on the world!

It seems like everyone is getting in on the news that Melania Trump will jump onto the NFT train, prompting widespread derision of her online. That’s certainly not the first time!

Tech is always coining new, often awkward, phrases and words (“social graph,” anyone?). This week the prize goes to the former AOL C.E.O. Tim Armstrong in an interview with The Information: Earthverse. Armstrong was trying mark a contrast with the virtual world encompassed by the metaverse to describe what most of us call, well, Earth. “People don’t go on vacation on their phones. They don’t swim on their phones. They don’t marry on their phones. They don’t marry their 3-D goggles,” he said. “Maybe someday and again in the future, the metaverse story will eclipse the human story, but I think that’s a long time away.” (For the record, given I held on to my BlackBerry when I was giving birth to my son and my deep affection for my AirPods, I might actually marry my 3-D goggles someday.)

And, lastly, they’ve finally found a solution to the excessive humming caused by crosswinds on the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s been driving San Franciscans crazy. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, a solution has been reached to attach “U-shaped aluminum clips containing a thin rubber sleeve to all 12,000 vertical slats on the railings.” The newspaper said the rubber will absorb vibrations to damp the whistling sound. That’s a relief.