(2021-11-11) Sloan Notes On Web3

Robin Sloan: Notes on Web3. Cards on the table: I am not merely a skeptic, but a fullfledged enemy of Web3.

I don’t intend any great rhetorical effect with the notes below; I just want to offer them as meager counterweight to the growing hype. I think Web3 speaks strongly to people interested in, or worried about, those internet futures … so, in a sense, I’m posting this for other versions of myself.

A large fraction of Web3’s magnetism comes from the value of the underlying cryptocurrencies. Therefore, a good diagnostic question to ask might be: would you still be curious about Web3 if those currencies were worthless, in dollar terms? For some people, the answer is “yes, absolutely”, because they would still find the foundational puzzles compelling. For others, if they’re honest, the answer is “nnnot reallyyy”.

The term Web3 plays on “Web 2.0”, popularized in the 2000s to describe a new generation of websites and web platforms. As a philosophy, Web 2.0’s success was incomplete, to say the least: there was a whole thick strand of ambition around the exchange of data in modular, permissive ways between platforms, which essentially died — or was killed. With that in mind, I think Web3 is a fine term for this new set of ideas, because it will certainly play out the same way: influencing the direction of the internet, but incompletely; unpredictably.

Even at comparable stages in their development, the World Wide Web and Web 2.0 were not quite so … selfreferential? They were about other things — science and coffee pots and links and camera lenses — while Web3 is, to a first approximation, about Web3.

Web3’s governance tools are appropriate for decisionmaking processes approximating those of an LLC, but not for anything truly democratic, which is to say, anything that respects the uniform, unearned — unearned!—value of personhood.

I have a hunch there is some equivalent to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem waiting in the wings for Web3 governance. Remember: The DAO — first of its kind, from which all present DAOs take their name — failed so badly it required a fork of the Ethereum blockchain.

I feel like this simple premise is often lost in the haze: the Ethereum Virtual Machine, humming heart of Web3, is a computer that charges you many dollars to execute a very small program very slowly.

I am a BIG fan of deletion, an operation basically antithetical to Web3.

Here, I’ll end with credit where due: Ethereum should inspire anyone interested in the future(s) of the internet, because it proves, powerfully, that new protocols are still possible. I do not think Web3 is a desirable or even tolerable path forward for this web right here, but I take its lesson well. “Code wins arguments”, and so do clubs, and cults; time remains to build all three.

Edited:    |       |    Search Twitter for discussion