If you're new to New Future Field Notes, I should explain why this issue is so different from previous ones.
For years, New Future Field Notes has been a place for me and my contributors to muse about how the future might look. We try hard to stay curious and optimistic, which is a lot easier when you steer clear of controversial issues.
And then I came up with an idea to do a web3 issue, which is extremely controversial. Hm.
This issue acts as an interesting time capsule. People have been talking about web3 for a while, but it's mostly been limited to tech enthusiasts. But then on December 3, 2021 the conversation took a big step into the mainstream when Is web3 bullshit? went very viral. We kicked off this issue eight days later, and now less than two months later web3 hype and hate is everywhere.
For anyone reading this who thinks web3 represents the seeds of how we're going to think about the internet in the future, I agree with you. For anyone who thinks it's a pyramid scheme, I also agree with you.
The fun part is figuring out the nuances between those two extremes, and I can't think of anyone better to discuss these issues than Lukas Mathis and Mark Vitazko. I went in with very little background and these two guys did a great job explaining the hype and the hate.
So here's Near Future Field Notes #9. Enjoy!
Lukas and Mark,
Hello again! This first email is going to act as both a way for us to get on the same page and a description for other people who might read this someday when it's all put together into some sort of digital publication. First let's address the potential audience.
Who will be involved
Mark, Lukas, and I (Jon) are three friends who enjoy talking about things that are happening in the world and with technology. Lukas and Jon have published a book together, plus a series of other publications sort of like this.
How it went last time
Three years ago the three of us used this email roundtable format to talk about AR and VR. The format was pretty simple: one person wrote an email like this, then another person responded, then we did that until a good stopping point. Then we put a bow on it and shared it with others.
How it's going to go this time
Pretty much the same! I'm going to write some things, tap someone on the shoulder, and they're going to write a reply before tapping the third person on the shoulder. Easy!
Framing it up: what is web3?
There are a lot of phrases being thrown around right now. NFT, Bitcoin, crypto, web3, Etherium, and probably a bunch more that I'm not familiar with. I'll kick things off by saying I don't even really know what web3 is. I don't think I'm alone.
I read an article that went viral last week called Is web3 bullshit? It provided a ton of good links to detractors and fans of web3, and I found myself purposely not clicking on any of them. I realised that I have a beginner's mind about web3, so I'd rather learn about it via this roundtable than going and reading those links one by one.
What Jon thinks web3 is
It sounds like it's about being decentralised, much like the HBO show Silicon Valley talked about, and others have discussed for years. I hear people talking about making new protocols and wresting control away from the powers that be, which is cute and inspiring. So that's what I think web3 probably means, before I do any real research.
Where Jon is coming from
On the spectrum between being overly cynical and overly optimistic, I lean pretty hard on the optimistic side. But I also like thinking about the effects on society, so I was a guy who believed in Twitter from day one but also knew its lack of direction was going to cause a bunch of growing pains.
Another example is Mastadon, the decentralised network that's trying to take on Twitter. Cute idea, a smart idea, an exciting idea ... but I worked on Safety/Abuse at Twitter, and I know for a fact that Mastadon will always, always, always have bigger problems with abuse than a company who is centralised and has to answer to a board and shareholders.
Anarchy is super fun right up until someone steals your stuff, shoots your dog, or the grocery store is empty because no one thought to think ahead or be rewarded for their labor as part of an interconnected society. The Wild West is super fun to fantasise about, but it was a tough existence and society is better now. I think that way about all society, whether we're discussing physical space or digital spaces. I like when things develop into mature systems, but I also have a soft spot for wild new ideas that change everything.
Mark, let's hand it over to you because you're probably in a better timezone:
1. What do you think (or know) web3 is?
2. Where are you coming from on this topic?
Hello Jon and Lukas!
What do you think (or know) web3 is?
I believe web3, at its core, is the continuation of that late 90s ideal of "The World Wide Web", albeit without some of the paradigms we've come to accept like big companies hosting online platforms or major institutions commanding financial services.
I agree it's a bit of a Wild West right now, with an exciting (or alarming?) mix of good and bad. On the one hand you have artists and musicians cutting out the middlemen, new approaches to corporate and political activism... and on the other you have brazen scams and schemes, grifters and zealots. And then there's the big unresolved aspects of critical web3 components: Excessive power consumption, transaction fees, etc... to say nothing of the inherent inequality awarded to early adopters and influencers.
That said, the fundamental ideal of the internet still rings true: People see the potential to better themselves, gain wealth or status, and connect with others. Lately it's those last two that I find most fascinating... like popular NFTs collections (Bored Ape Yacht Club meetups, Cryptopunks as a status symbol) and DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations). Web 2.0 made it easy for communities to spontaneously form (subreddits and Facebook groups can amass millions, seemingly overnight) but the promise of web3 is to give those communities autonomy and tangible power (like money) to act on their shared goals. ConstitutionDAO, something of a flash-in-the-pan meme attempt to purchase a copy of the US Constitution, is easy to poke fun at but an arguably compelling preview of what's possible.
Where are you coming from on this topic?
If I could preface any further discussion, I'd say that web3 has been big on my mind lately but I can't claim any confidence in my understanding, so don't hesitate to correct my claims! My incentive to learn about crypto, blockchains, DAOs, etc traces back to a crypto experiment I attempted last winter to see if I could heat my apartment by mining Ethereum – I could! (My ETH balance now slightly exceeds the cost of my PC.) As well as my attempts to support some of my favorite internet artists by purchasing NFTs. (Turns out it will take a few more winters!)
Personally and professionally, I find virtual communities fascinating. You have a group of people with a mutual interest... whether they are typing or talking, interacting within a virtual space, or seeing the same virtual layer on the physical world. Today they need big platforms to form, interact, and influence but perhaps that's something web3 can change?
Curious to hear your web3 perspective, Lukas!
Towards the end of 2019, a friend of mine went to her hairdresser. Wait, don't stop reading, I promise this is going somewhere. Her hairdresser told her that she had taken in a pregnant cat, and was looking for homes for her kittens. My friend asked if I wanted kittens, and I told her that I'd take in the kittens her hairdresser couldn't find a home for. That's how I ended up with three tiny, inquisitive little fur balls.
At the time, my gaming PC was built using an open air case. Obviously, the kittens loved how warm it was, and since it was open, they would try to cram themselves inside the computer, which seemed incredibly unsafe to me. I considered putting the computer inside a different case, but since Christmas was coming up, I instead decided to give it away as a Christmas present, and build a new gaming PC for myself. That's how I ended up without a GPU at the start of 2020.
By March, it was obvious that GPU availability would not improve any time soon. So I bought one on eBay.
The place I live has electric central heating, which is a terrible way to heat a house. From a cost point of view, it really doesn't matter whether the central heating is producing the heat in my room, or whether my GPU is. So I've just been using it to mine during the cold months. At the end of this Winter, this card won't just have paid for itself, it will have made me a profit.
That's weird, right? I bought a vastly overpriced GPU on eBay, but effectively, I have been paid money to receive this card. This GPU cost me a negative amount.
At first, this seems like it's great. Who doesn't want to be paid to receive a GPU? But then you think about what this actually means: it means that there is no upper limit to GPU demand. GPUs are money printing machines. The more of them you have, the more money you print. So GPU manufacturers are making as many GPUs as they can, and companies like Intel are entering the market to make even more. Not because they will be used to render a scene in Blender, or to entertain somebody, or to run some AI simulation. They will be used just to burn electricity.
Estimates vary, but even in the best-case estimation, global crypto mining uses as much power as one of the 30 most power-hungry countries, about half of which come from fossil fuels. This only accelerates the global warming timeline.
And for what? For a highly deflationary currency, one which doesn't really work as a currency for most people.
I used to be a techno-optimist. I used to think that platforms like Twitter would bring people together, or that mobile computers with access to sites like Wikipedia would help people make better decisions. At this point, the only thing I think is that the guy in Silicon Valley who found the monkey's paw should stop making wishes.
I think this brings up some important facets to the discussion that are as much a part of our reality as any of the good stuff.
Broadly summarised, there's:
Crypto is bad for the environment
We're in a techno-dystopia; many things backfired
With my facilitation hat on, I see a few different directions to go from here. On one end of the spectrum is the "abort!" approach. That approach would say we're trying to do a roundtable about web3 so this point of view is too negative to lead to any substantive discussion. And then we either revise Lukas' reply to fit in better or abandon the project altogether.
The other end of the spectrum is to wholeheartedly embrace it. Take Mark's exploration of the possibilities, Lukas' "monkey paw" perspective, and see what sorts of agreements and disagreements we can come to. Mark would likely agree with key things like excessive energy usage being problematic, and Lukas could agree that Beat Saber is sort of cool. That's the full "respectful debate" angle.
But I'm not as interested in either of those extreme. The first one crashes the plane and the second one isn't as interesting to me to explore, because we all agree with climate change and Beat Saber being cool. I like a third option, which is taking those items for granted and setting them to the side. I'd like to channel a bit of Near Future Field Notes #6: Regarding An Optimistic Future.
In that issue, we tried to look at a bunch of future trends and figure out the best case scenario for each of them. So if we were talking about synthetic meat, we'd propose that in that optimistic future everyone would still get to eat burgers but the environmental and moral impact would drop to zero. Which I think is a more fun discussion than "it'll never happen because of the meat lobby and the average consumer needing something to die so they can feel alive" or something dark like that.
So that's a bit what I'd propose here. Not that we ignore the downsides, but that we take them for granted. Yes, crypto is relying on massive energy consumption. And yes, that's bad. So I'd rather set that aside because it's hard to imagine a world where crypto just stops tomorrow. And I'd like to talk about all the other stuff that maybe doesn't get as much attention yet. I've got one.
Robin Sloan's Amulet Game
I wrote about Robin Sloan's poetry experiment in February. The idea was that you'd put a poem into an algorithm (for the technically-minded: a SHA-256 hash) and if the resulting numbers had repeating eights, the poem would be considered rare. So if the resulting numbers were 18ee24150, that's not rare. But 188888850 would be rare. That was the whole game.
A cute little community sprung up around the idea, and I spent a few weeks writing code that would help me create poems and then process through them to find rare ones. You can try finding some here. And of course Robin made some NFTs from them. I think he made 10? But the cool thing about this game, to me, is that NFTs weren't necessary. I wrote some cool poems, and I even found one that has nine eights in a row, which is nuts!
So what's the point? Is it web3? Is it NFT? Is it dystopian or utopian? Eh, not really. He just made a game, one that would have been possible 20 years ago. There was nothing about it that was particularly 2021 except for the idea that he spun up 10 NFTs out of the game, as a way to explore the wild west of the emerging trend.
(As a side note, and one that we should explore, I did get a crypto wallet and I got scammed. Then I spent time on Twitter trying to warn others, and successfully helped a few people from falling for the scam. It reminded me of the 90s)
So you could argue that my little story isn't even super relevant. But to me, a 42 year old who was on the internet in the late 80s and met his first (real-world) girlfriend online via a BBS, and has tracked each of these trends every step of the way, it's a perfect encapsulation of what I've seen every time.
Whether it's anti-vaxxers or people who claimed they'd never use Amazon when they patented one-click shopping, it's always the same outrage, from the same small segment of the population, but I'm most interested in what comes next. Things are here. Now what?
There's a great Outkast outro that says:
All the fresh styles always start off as a good little hood thing
Look at blues, rock, jazz, rap
Not even talkin' about music
Everything else too
By the time it reach Hollywood it's over
But it's cool
We just keep it goin' and make new shit
So what's the new shit? Mark, what do you think is the crystallising moment or feature where a mainstream person – not a tech worker, not a crypto enthusiast, not a "very online" person – experiences web3 and likes it? I've been trying to suss out what that feature might be.
Linux people have claimed since the 90s that Linux is "almost there" for widespread desktop acceptance, but it took Android to smuggle the ideas into the mainstream. I wonder if there's a version of that for web3?
I had a litany of criticisms to pile on, in line with Lukas’s points, but I agree the other side of the spectrum might be more fruitful. As such, it’s important to point out…
The year of the Linux desktop truly is here! Very few people enjoy hacking together their own printer drivers but they do enjoy something that is fast, simple, and cheap. Chromebooks (which, like Android, trace back to Linux) have surged in education in recent years and show no sign of stopping. Maybe not what the Slashdot crowd was pining for 20 years ago, but a win nonetheless?
Similarly I’d argue there are few who enjoy setting up an Ethereum wallet or running a mining rig (save for the kittens). So perhaps the crystallizing moment for most people won’t look like web3 at all?
Setting aside the money/coin side for a moment and putting on my wild speculation hat: If the vision is a decentralized internet, then I believe “identity” will be a tangible component that people can grok the value of not being owned by a single company/government. It’s something that is uniquely/provably yours, something you could take with you across the web, and it could connect different aspects of you (avatars, achievements, etc.).
A centralized singular identity can turn dystopian quick (authoritarian governments, social scores, surveillance, etc.) but one where you have full control over disclosure/privacy is arguably compelling… Maybe you’ll take your identity into social networks (as with Twitter, FB today), into professional life (as with LinkedIn, Teams), or into gaming (as with the many fragmented games/platforms available today).
Gaming could very well be that proving ground for many, especially given the vast userbase of casual gamers. Perhaps we see web3 ushered in the same way Farmville played a hand in the adoption of social networks. Digital items attached to you (things you’ve purchased or characters you’ve built up) could transfer between games (which might sound chaotic but think about all the mixed IP in Fortnite or Minecraft or Roblox). Game developers could make it easy to onboard players into new games and offer incentives based on your previous play.
In this future I’d argue that concepts like NFTs and the blockchain will probably be invisible to most end users, who will reap the benefits without knowing or needing to understand how it works. I shouldn’t have to know anything about minting NFTs, gas fees, or blockchain addresses to take an avatar I purchased into a new game.
Of course we’re describing gaming within our existing paradigm, maybe this concept is more compelling when we create new experiences around it (similar to the poetry experiment). Perhaps my identity signals that I beat an incredibly difficult game on hardcore mode, or that I bested a famous Twitch streamer that one time. Maybe in order to unlock a part of my identity you have to offer some creative contribution, or you see one avatar version of me but a community I’m a member of sees another. Maybe you can bet money on my game progress, or invest in items among my team to improve our odds.
At the risk of sliding into Ready Player One (a book and movie I did not particularly enjoy), I will add that there’s a good chance web3 efforts to build this slip back into the web 2.0 way of doing things, at least at the start. Perhaps a mega company builds it and others fall in line, using their scale and existing networks… and perhaps there are certain fundamental things (laws, venture capital, better profit models) that will need to change before someone can build what will become that crystallizing moment…
Is there something here or am I just pining for the return of MySpace?
First, let me just apologize for my cynical take. I do believe that technology can improve the world. But I also think that cryptocurrencies and NFTs mostly can't. Even if these technologies didn't have the ecological impacts they do, their disadvantages would still outweigh their advantages.
Cryptocurrencies: It's bad to live in a society where you don't have a competent, at least somewhat benign entity controlling your currency. You just have to look at Greece or Turkey for recent examples. If cryptocurrencies actually succeed in the way they intend to, this is the kind of situation most people can look forward to.
NFTs: One of the truly great things is that information technology creates post-scarcity systems by default. I can draw a fox, send you the picture of the fox, and now Jon has the fox, Mark has the fox, and I also still have the fox. That's the transformative power of electrons. In fact, let me do that. Here, have this fox:
I drew one fox, but now we all have foxes! Foxes for everybody! If this ever gets published, look under your chair, reader! You get a fox! You get a fox!
So I'm not sure why we invest so much time and energy to break the one thing that truly makes digital technology amazing. Why are we investing effort into creating scarcity in a post-scarcity system?
I also don't think this is one of these situations where technology is inevitable, and it's just a bunch of Luddites whining about it. I mean, I don't think I'm a Luddite. I have both an Alexa and one of these Google pucks that always listen to anything I say, so I'm pretty laissez-faire when it comes to this stuff. But I do think that different technologies deserve different reactions. Not everything is great, just because it's new. Ubisoft recently put an announcement trailer on YouTube, where they talked about putting NFTs into Ghost Recon. It had a 95% dislike ratio. That's tens of thousands of presumably mostly young people who saw that trailer, and thought to themselves, "thanks, but no thanks." Because these aren't democratizing, decentralized systems. They're just a new way for big corporations to scam more money out of their customers.
So let me just apologize for my negative take. I wish I could say nice things about these technologies. I thought cryptocurrencies were pretty neat when they were invented. I've changed my mind. I thought NFTs were clever when I first heard about them. I've changed my mind. I wish I could like them. I wish they were great. I wish they could do all the cool stuff you two think they can. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope so.
I do like the Steamdeck, though. It's not quite Linux on the desktop, but it is Linux in a gaming handheld!
I know we've already gone way off the rails. Sorry again. But now that our train is skating down this mountain, and there's no chance to save the three screaming passengers, let me bring up two other, kinda related topics:
Topic 1: Society's operating system. There's this idea of the law of unintended consequences, where government actions always have unanticipated effects. A common example of this is something like steel tariffs, where the goal is to protect national steel companies, but also increases the cost of steel, which unintentionally hurts national car manufacturers. This kind of thing always happens, which means that governments need to keep track of the actual impact their decisions have, and adjust them constantly. But that's the past, when laws were the primary operating system societies ran on. Today's societies run on technology, much more than laws. Our societies' operating system is Facebook and the Domain Name System and Twitter and Chrome and WhatsApp and Android and SHA-2 and HTML and Zillow and Uber and Spotify and iOS and YouTube and Roblox and Cryptocurrencies and NFTs.
We already had huge problems with unintended consequences when we had a few people enacting new laws. But today, we have huge numbers of essentially random people committing incredible amounts of untested code to the operating systems that run our societies. Most of these changes are well-intentioned, but full of security holes. Others are actually made by malicious actors. And they just keep coming.
Actual laws used to be able to compensate for some of these commits. When Gutenberg committed the printing press to society's operating system, the effects played out relatively slowly, and governments were able to commit laws to the operating system to compensate - for better or for worse. I'm not making a value judgment here, my point is just that today, this no longer happens. By the time governments commit a fix to a bug introduced by technology, technology has moved on.
How can we deal with this?
Topic 2: Piracy is great, actually. One effect of post-scarcity information technology is that on the Internet, when you purchase digital goods, you're not paying for goods, you're paying for convenience. Which is great! It means that people who can't afford things can still have them, it just takes a bit more effort. Yes, I'm talking about piracy. Wealthy people pay for convenience, and by doing so, they subsidize people who can't afford things. When I buy a game on Steam for 100$, that 100$ contributes to the development of a game that somebody else can just get from The Pirate Bay for free. Everybody wins. I get convenience, the developer gets paid, and people who can't afford the game still get to play it. I think this is a feature, not a bug. I think that technologies which prevent this from happening are bad, not good.
Ugh, I think the train gaining speed. I'm so sorry. I've doomed us all.
Don't apologise! A discussion about web3 without strong opinions about how it's all bullshit and bad wouldn't be doing anyone any good!
So we've tossed out a ton of good points, implicitly and explicitly made assumptions, compared things to historical precedents, and generally set things up well to dive in further. I think this is great, and with my facilitation hat on I'm excited by what we come up with next.
To be clear, I've steered clear of this whole topic other than knowing that people are fighting about it. So I'm not coming in with a point of view as much as I'm eager to form one. So that puts me into a frame of mind that reminds me of how Feynman says you don't know a topic until you can teach it to freshmen. I'm the freshman, and I also want to be someone who can teach freshman.
So if someone were to come up to me and ask what web3 is, in simple terms, here's what I've gotten to so far.
"It's a view of a decentralised internet. So instead of connecting directly to Twitter or Facebook, you'd ..." [and then I'd wave my arms and say a bunch of confusing things]
And then they'd say "But I like going to Twitter and Facebook" and ask if Twitter and Facebook exist on web3. And I'd tell them they still exist there but all sorts of new services will exist too.
By now they'd be confused because I haven't actually explained a real human need that they're experiencing in their life. So I may say something like "Imagine beating a high score on some game on your Playstation and then being able to tell your Xbox about it."
And then they might say "I only have a Playstation." Fair enough. So I might ask if they use TikTok and Instagram, and let's say they use both. Great! So maybe I say "With web3, you'd own all of that content, so you can see one place where you can list everything you've ever liked, favorited, and TikTokified in a single list, because it's your content."
And they might shrug. Because I'm not sure anyone's clamouring for that. It's theoretically and conceptually cool, but only nerds who write their own CMS software get hot and bothered when they think about things like that.
Ok, maybe they write a blog and also have a Medium account. So maybe I can tell them how everything they write on their blog, Medium account, LinkedIn page, and Facebook wall would be bound together. And if they're business-minded, they'd ask "why would companies spend engineering time removing their own moats?"
Now I'm going to talk about Apple TV and their TV app.
Mark and I used to work on Windows Phone together. I always admired Mark's mind and the thoughtful way he worked through things. One topic I spent a lot of time on, and still think about, is the concept of a single app that combines data from other apps. For example, imagine a "movies" app on Windows Phone that seamlessly imports YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, BBC, whatever into a single view. We spent a lot of time thinking through this, and under everyone's nose, Apple has actually built this. With one major exception.
When you open Apple's TV app, it has all the standard search/browse stuff you'd expect: recommended things to watch, things you're halfway done with, and a search button. The same experience you're used to seeing in Netflix or Disney+, but aggregated. So you're not just seeing Apple TV content, you're also seeing suggestions from Disney+. But not Netflix.
Damn it Netflix.
If Netflix would play ball, the TV app could be one of the greatest technological feats in all of software UX. That might sound hyperbolic to you, but this has been a dream of mine for ten years: an interface that is oriented around what you should watch, not what properties they want you to watch.
Can you imagine Netflix recommending a Hulu show? YouTube sending you to Apple TV+? The Smithsonian app saying "if you liked this thing about Jefferson, you might like the HBO show?" (While we're at it, can you imagine Marvel recommending anything non-Marvel?) No, that sort of thing seems utterly alien to us, because we're so used to properties only talking about their own properties.
And yet Windows Phone tried to centre things on humans rather than properties, and now Apple TV is actually pulling it off. With the glaring exception of Netflix. Because Netflix has absolutely no incentive to play along with this approach. They think it could only hurt them. The only reason the other video apps integrated is because none of them are #1.
What's the difference between Windows Phone failing to do this and Apple succeeding? Market power. And if Netflix ever does relent and allow Apple TV to make their properties into just one more box on Apple TV's recommended grid, it'll be for the same reason. Market power.
The best experiences require not just a desire to benefit the user over any one company's business plan, they require enough clout in the market to actually make things happen. Something like Apple TV seems to have both. A lot of techno-utopian stuff have neither. Big conceptual ideas, a bad user experience, and no market leverage to realise the vision.
If web3 is basically "let's make the whole internet into something like Mastadon," gosh, good luck guys.
I was traveling abroad last week and was delighted to find I could watch the latest episode of Succession on my Airbnb’s little TV... via the HBO Max app on my iPhone… which used Airplay, an Apple-specific wireless protocol controlled by the Apple TV+ app... that was downloaded onto Samsung’s Smart TV OS (based on Linux!). Phew.
Complex behind the scenes but I saw the button on my phone, typed four numbers to pair it and bam, Logan Roy on the big screen. Very impressive. Apple and Samsung have an incentive here to make this work (arguably they just care that you’ll buy their hardware), HBO wants you to keep paying monthly (and the easier you can watch, the more likely you’ll subscribe)… and Airbnb is just happy you’re there (I was!).
Market power made that possible, Apple and Samsung are among the biggest hardware manufacturers in the world, operating in highly competitive markets where hardware is generally commoditized so smoother experiences push people to buy one TV or phone over another. Could the government have mandated interoperability? Maybe. Would it be better if it were all Apple hardware and services? Maybe. Enough that the average person would pay more for it? Probably not, the integration was good enough.
I think about this ‘good enough’ concept often, especially for popular business models like ad-based services or free-to-play games. Many of the biggest online games are going free-to-play (no piracy needed!) and instead get money from season passes (multi-month access to tournaments and acquire cosmetic items) or in-game purchases. Without paying you can play the game normally, at least in a casual sense, and even get many of the same items but it will take longer, either by acquiring XP more slowly or waiting to randomly get an item vs. buying it directly – In effect, you pay with time/effort instead of cash. Similarly you have services like Hulu that have partial subscriptions where you pay a slightly lower amount each month but see more ads. Pay $7 a month and sit through this 30 second ad every 10 mins or pay $14 a month to avoid them all.
Is there a better model here that web3 can offer? Are we going to pay these market powers $x/mo in perpetuity? Will those who can’t afford the subscriptions be stuck grinding XP in Fortnite?
As an aside, I’ve seen some crypto-led solutions where players can profit from playing the game directly but honestly it feels too early to critique… I don’t think CryptoKitties is the future.
To Jon’s point about the AppleTV app, there’s a great experience to be had from a central service (and the business model can make sense too). I’d add that discoverability is also perhaps one of the biggest strengths of incumbents. Attention is finite as Reed Hasting of Netflix said, “We actually compete with ≥.”, and recommendations are king. Being able to dominate attention creates a strong winner-take-all dynamic among gaming and entertainment. Twitch promised to “give power to the creators” but audiences (and revenue) heavily skew toward the top streamers.
I would love to directly fund my favorite developers, artists, and producers without sending a cut to a centralized platform but the platform is what helped me find them in the first place (and allowed them to scale). Maybe there’s a more nuanced business model to unpack there?
And to Lukas’s point, convenience is worth paying for. If we see more/cheaper subscription services in the near future, it could drive piracy into obsolescence. Cloud gaming has been on the horizon for some time, where you pay monthly for both the game and the ‘hardware’ (as in the game is rendered remotely and beamed to you). The Humble Bundle offers a popular, curated collection of games by indie developers (now a monthly service), who would have otherwise found it difficult to find an audience.
Do I really want to pay a dozen or a hundred different creators every month (and go through the effort to discover more) or do I just pay an Apple or a Microsoft and say ‘good enough’ (and those creators get their checks)? Will we all prefer to just pay a single monthly fee to our favorite mega-corporation for the complete/perfect experience (you can already pay Apple for both hardware and service subscriptions). For the average person, is the internet as a whole naturally moving away from the very thing web3 is promising?
Yes, there is a point where commercial options become so convenient that they essentially outcompete piracy. We used to download MP3s on Napster. Nobody (for reasonable values of "nobody") pirates music anymore. Spotify is so convenient that it has made music piracy obsolete.
Decentralization is fantastic. I also think that the type of decentralization you describe is happening, and it's really cool.
I just bought a TV that runs Google TV. This TV recommends movies and shows to me. When I turn it on, it shows a list of movies it thinks I'd like, and when I select a movie, it tells me which platforms I can watch it on. That's kind of oddly scary, because what? My TV knows who I am? But it's also really neat, because yeah, it actually does know what I like, and make good recommendations, which beats randomly browsing through the Netflix library and then giving up because nothing seems quite interesting enough. And my TV doesn't recommend Netflix movies? Well, that's kind of turning into Netflix's problem at the end of the month, when I haven't watched anything on their service, and it's time to pay the subscription fee.
Second example: on my gaming PC, I have an app called GOG Galaxy. This game launcher integrates with other game stores. It doesn't matter whether I bought a game on Steam, the Epic store, on the PlayStation Store, on the Xbox, whether I received it in a Humble Bundle, or anywhere else. GOG Galaxy shows me all of these games.
Third example: when I log into any online service, I often just log in with my Google, Apple, or Facebook account. So my identity carries over across different websites.
Again, though: what all of these have in common is convenience. That's why generic, fully decentralized OpenID failed, and why "just log in with Google" succeeded. So, I guess, even ignoring all the costs of blockchain-based technologies, what I don't understand is how they make things more convenient than traditional decentralized approaches.
And sure, many of these traditional decentralized systems are specifically designed to commoditize creators. That's bad. Spotify won't pay your bills. But systems for paying creators directly already exist. There's Patreon, OnlyFans, and literally hundreds of other options. How do blockchain-based technologies improve on these options?
Finally, I do want to acknowledge one thing: we're currently living through a time of drastic economic, ecological, and societal change. Just like the birth of Facebook in the 2000s influences presidential elections today, the actions we take today will determine how well we manage to deal with these changes twenty years in the future. While I believe that most blockchain-based technologies are highly problematic, that does not mean that I don't think they will succeed in at least some areas. That makes it important for reasonable, thoughtful people to be involved in these topics. Otherwise, they will end up making a bad situation much, much worse.
A few days passed, and here I am with a response!
Areas of alignment
Sometimes alignment is good, like if we're all trying to figure out where to eat dinner together. But sometimes it's a shame, like if you're wanting to see a range of opinions on a topic to learn about it but there's no range because everyone agrees. So I'd like to call out the places where we're agreeing so we can then look for the stuff where there may be things to discuss.
I think at a high level we agree that:
Until now, super tight and vertically integrated things are often able to provide a better experience than loose ones. Like OpenID versus "Sign in via Google."
Average people are not asking for a way to hunt down payment buttons for 100 different artists to support. And even if they do have that goal, very few people do. And even if they do, is that even sustainable? Who has that kind of money to splash around?
Crypto hasn't been able to prove that it's not bad for the environment.
So what does all this mean, then? And where are places where we may disagree?
Centralisation versus decentralisation
Lukas, you just said "decentralisation is fantastic" and my brain did a little backflip. Because yeah, being able to have a single interface for HBO, Netflix, and Youtube is great. But you can simultaneously call that "decentralised" because there are multiple partners but also "centralised" because it's all brought together into one app.
So I think if I could describe my personal sweet spot as a consumer, it's "break down all the walls so I can consume anything I want" (decentralise it) but also "put it in one place" (centralise it). Think about giving to charity. I'd love to say "I want to give $x to charity every year and I care about these topics in these percentages" and then never have to think about it again. I am both saying "centralise it" (let me pick a dollar amount so I can set and forget) and "decentralise it" (give me every option in the world, not just a single option like the Red Cross.)
I guess if you take my personal sweet spot and scale it up to all of humanity, I think what we're saying is "people want to write a check to the best aggregators and assume they'll pay everyone fairly." Will some people still pay creators directly? Sure, like how some people use a flip phone. But they're not the majority. Not now, not ever.
Everything is horrible
Lukas, you and I had a back-and-forth a while back where we settled on "software has never been better ... but it's still bad." I think both statements are true and don't need to contradict each other. I talked more about the first part, you talked more about the second part, and I think we agreed with the combination of the two.
I will never, in my entire life, be able to survey the world around and say things are good. It's not how we're wired. We don't compare to how things used to be, or how bad it could be, or do a particularly good job at feeling fortunate about reality. We're hardwired to think "is anything wrong?" and then sort through the one zillion things that aren't ok with us. So that's why when you meet people who say things are fine, they seem checked out, stupid, privileged, or perhaps they're just lying or in denial.
And this drive for improvement is actually pretty neat. It's behind every invention and innovation you've ever enjoyed. Someone saw a thing, said "of the one million things wrong in the world, I may have a way to make this one thing better." And then they do. Does their mind think "The number of good things just ticked up by one?" No, they focus on the remaining 999,999 things that are horrible. It's a bottomless pit.
(While also being awesome for the human race, because while we try to fill the bottomless pit of despair, we do truly great things. Take your pick: medicines, libraries, the internet, nuclear fusion, the George Foreman grill...)
The thing is, those are feelings, not facts. For facts, we can survey the world around us and say it's never been better based on such-and-such metric. Some examples: crime is at a near all-time low, the Covid vaccine was developed so fast it broke a record, Twitter has never had better moderation than it does today, and every day Facebook takes down more harmful content. Today it busted a big spy-for-hire ring. Those facts can't say "things are fine" but they can absolutely say "on metric x, things have never been better."
Won't someone think of the side effects
One line of thinking that I read a lot is how a bunch of clueless people built a bunch of stuff without thinking of the consequences. I half agree, but I think people miss a lot of nuance when they try to make it nice and tidy like that.
Yes, there are unforeseen consequences to things. But the idea that people don't think of them isn't really supported by the data. Go look at the internal discussions at any big company and trust me, people brought everything up. Just like right now people are bringing up the downsides of web3 and crypto. And?
The issue isn't that no one is thinking about it. The issue is that "good enough" will always beat utopian thinking. Mark, you mentioned how maybe Apple TV being the single standard may provide a better experience, but that the current experience is good enough. Or maybe the world would be a better place if everyone went vegan, but gosh that's a lot of effort. We are aware of other options, but if they're too hard people don't like them as much. Not weak, horrible, other people. Everyone. Including us. We all make the best decisions we have with the information we have. There's no way to sketch, vote, or plan our way out of that.
Understanding where wicked problems come from
I used to work at Twitter and lots of my friends work at Meta. We're all used to hearing people explain to us how the world would be better if those companies disappeared in a puff of smoke. We've all heard about how working there is a stain on your job history. But here's the thing I don't think people fully think through: how would them quitting help society at large?
Is the idea that everyone leaves, they're replaced by magical unicorns who are going to suddenly fix all these wicked problems? What a strange theory. Is the idea that everyone just forgot to do a good job? That there's a big button in some room that says "save democracy" and someone forgot to press it? This whole line of thinking is really disconnected from the reality of what it means to actually work on problems that involve lots of people.
Everyone's a great parent until they have kids
Before I had kids I had all these great ideas for being a great parent. I then had kids and realised that it was harder and more complex than I realised as a non-parent. The same thing happened to me at Twitter. I was there, fighting hard, alongside all my coworkers. But our lack of progress wasn't for lack of trying or because leadership was actively keeping our voices down. It's that this stuff is complicated. These are issues you never "solve" but rather "work on." We'll never say racism, sexism, or moderation online is solved. We can only work at it while people say no one's doing anything about it, all evidence to the contrary.
The same is true about being a citizen of any country. You can say that Chinese people should protest their government more, or Americans should stop supporting wars. But no matter how much you fight for democracy in China or a peaceful America, it's more complicated than any one person can understand or influence. Lots of people are pushing for those very things, but wicked problems are more complicated than "let's remember to think about unforeseen consequences, then we'll take a vote and make a decision that can't possibly ever have a downside."
Wait, are we talking about web3 or what?
Bear with me.
China does a lot of things I disagree with, but they sure are great at having one unified answer to Covid compared to, say, the US or UK. Apple does a lot of things I disagree with, but their single app store with standardised hardware/software sure is great at being a more approachable (and less virus/exploit-prone) solution than Android. The giant megacorps do a lot of things I disagree with, but I sure do like spending a few bucks to get what feels like infinite free content via Disney+ and Netflix, rather than trying to torrent everything piecemeal.
In some ways, thinking about UX or capitalism is a lot easier than we sometimes make it out to be. Here's the formula: if people like it, people will want it. If people don't like it, people won't want it. I think the vast majority of the world wants effective Covid response, cheap entertainments, and products that do their damn job. I think the vast majority of the world aren't particularly impressed by a fragmented US approach to Covid (even if it's a great example of "laboratories of democracy"), paying creators piecemeal (even if it's a great example of cutting out the middle man), or their phone being invaded by malware (even if it's a great example of user choice in the Android market).
If web3 does something better, to enough of a degree, it will succeed. Even if there are side effects and problems with it. If web3 does something worse, it will fail. Despite how much some people might want it to succeed.
So I'm not ready to give up on web3. But I need to get through the "ok but how is this better for an average citizen" question, and I'm not sure I'm there yet. But I would argue that the "unforeseen side effects" and "everything is horrible" angles aren't as central. We're not going to pick a thing because we've sketched out the exact right answer, voted on it, and proceeded with alignment. We're going to pick a thing because people like it the most.
Whether that's centralised, decentralised, web3, a mega-corp, or any other factor is less important than that. "Do people like it more?" is the only metric. And then we'll do it, then wonder why we didn't consider the consequences more. But I think that will be the wrong question to ask. It should always come back to "why did people like it more" because that's where we understand why things worked out the way they did.
Mark, you've done a good job so far of trying to point to actual, tangible benefits. Imagine a world where "web3" is succeeding. What's the path from here to there, where the quality bar is high enough that people prefer it? And where do the current incumbents fit into that world?
PS: I remembered one of my favourite insights about the internet of things. A famous essay that referred to the "basket of remotes" problem.
No matter how great your home entertainment system is, there's this annoying issue where you end up with a basket of remotes. I think about this a lot when I think of Chinese companies making super apps, or how Apple can provide a better integration. I think "basket of remotes" is relevant in this conversation too.
Then I just saw this: Why It's Too Early to Get Excited by web3
And a big part of the summary is "look to things that are actually providing value," which is a lot like where I seek to be landing on this topic too.
Jon, I want to answer your very last point about the current incumbents fitting into a world where web3 is succeeding, because I’m bullish that incumbents will have a big role to play in web3, for better or worse.
First, thinking about success and quality, a few points come to mind: We can consider web3 a success when it is adopted by enough people over a web2 solution, whether that is providing new convenience or capability… Ultimately it will solve a need or problem better than solutions that exist today.
Problems are always more complex than you predict. Data often contradicts your assumptions. Rarely is there a clear solution or a clear outcome. There are a lot of very passionate and talented people quietly spending a lot of time/energy resolving wicked problems. Incumbents are extremely well resourced to work on these problems. They have a massive amount of capital and talent to navigate challenges/failures. They also have enormous scale to establish a foothold quickly and experiment, gather data, and iterate.
Side effects are inevitable. Problems expand in complexity, requiring not only great individuals but a great team, with great process/leadership (and resources!), to iterate effectively and respond to challenges over time. Side effects also do not often become existential threats for big incumbents.
The article you linked from Tim O’Reilly mentions that “the personal computer decentralized computing by providing a commodity PC architecture that anyone could build and that no one controlled. But Microsoft figured out how to recentralize it…” – I’m beginning to think this is inevitable with web3, and the argument will be whether that outcome is ‘actually web3’ or not.
Incumbents marching into crypto and the metaverse will inevitably face scrutiny (as they already do) from governments and critics. Laws and regulations will (hopefully) be drafted to ensure consumer safety and encourage competition (as the SEC has done for decades in financial markets). Perhaps new standards for high-quality experiences emerge and non-tech incumbents (like big banks and the financial industry) have to work to keep up.
So if incumbents have the resources to strong-arm the web3 landscape, is this a bad outcome? Is this a new landscape to extract $$$ or can this benefit consumers and the industry at large?
I’ve been mentoring new designers for the past few years (both inside and outside work) and I often chat with designers who lament the fact that design is often not about designing the best possible UX but rather designing what makes the company money. This can be a devastating revelation! And I think there are a lot of companies and feature teams that unfortunately embrace this: Rush to build an MVP, aim for big $$$ metrics, avoid fundamental issues, and promise the team you’ll fix things once you find ‘product market fit’.
On the flip side, if you have a mature product team, building a high-quality, sustainable product requires a careful understanding of the problem. This in turn requires product iteration (which often takes time and a pile of cash) and a well-organized product development team with freedom to experiment (as well as trust and advocacy from leadership, etc.). Many large incumbents today don’t strictly track daily active usage of their products, they track things like ‘meaningful’ DAU, which can be a very complex metric, often continuously iterated and expanded upon by teams of data scientists.
They look for meaningful engagement within the product over time, not just opening the app but which actions happen downstream, which changes to the UX or algorithm lead to meaningful actions, the impact of quality/polish, etc. Ultimately they track whether people find the product valuable enough to come back day after day, year after year.
This is all to say, I believe incumbents have a business incentive (and the structure/position/resources) to build web3 experiences that are both profitable and sustainable. And these experiences will bring everyday people into ‘web3’, in whatever form that takes.
The O'Reilly article also cites Carlota Perez from her book Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital, noting that "technological revolution must be accompanied by the development of substantial new infrastructure", which is often funded during a financial bubble. If incumbents strong-arm their way into web3, and are effectively the builders/owners of the infrastructure for web3... is that still web3? Or is this just a watered-down version of the web3 vision? Is that bad for the consumer if they're still getting a high-quality experience? Maybe it's necessary for incumbents to bring elements of web3 into the mainstream, establishing a quality bar for everyday consumers, and build enough trust to allow new, innovative startups to thrive?
Okay, there's lots of stuff in this thread, so I'm trying to keep every topic as short as I possibly can.
Centralization vs decentralization: these are matters of perspective. "Log in via Google" is both decentralization (I can use my own preferred login provider instead of being stuck with the one the service I'm using offers) and centralization (now I log into every site with the same provider). As long as I have a reasonable degree of ownership and portability over the centralized part, I think that's what we need to aim for.
Everything is horrible: There are two things here. First, I don't think that everything is horrible. When Covid-19 hit, we had a vaccine within 12 months, because smart people have invested their lives into preparing for this, made a global, coordinated effort, put a ton of late nights into this problem, and solved it. That's great. We're clearly living in a world that is, in many ways, the best it has ever been. At the same time, other people put a lot of work into creating social networks with recommendation algorithms that, as an unintended side effect, ended up helping create the biggest anti-vaccine movement in humanity's history. So in that way, this is the worst this world has ever been. I don't think there is one linear scale where everything is either great, or terrible.
Second, I don't think that blockchain technologies are quite the same as other technological advances. It's not an accident that the Financial Stability Oversight Council has added stablecoins to its list of potential systemic risks, next to global warming. The invention of cryptocurrencies and NFTs clearly isn't quite the same thing as, say, the invention of the touch screen. The FSOC never put touch screens on its list of potential systemic risks.
Won’t someone think of the side effects: I can't speak for anyone else, but my point isn't that nobody worried about the side effects. My point is that the law of unintended consequences means that there is no way to predict the side effects. When Zuckerberg founded Facebook, there was absolutely no way for him to foresee that it would destabilize Western democracies, and make it easier for totalitarian governments to compete with free societies. Worse, the technologies we create are so powerful that there is no way to mitigate the side effects in time once they become apparent. Scientists a first predicted global warming in the 19th century. We've now had almost 200 years to mitigate global warming, and we haven't been able to do it effectively. With Facebook, we didn't have 200 years, we had barely twenty. The timeline with blockchain technology is going to be even shorter.
Understanding where wicked problems come from: I don't think these are problems that are any individual person's responsibilities. In the 1950, when concerns about environmental pollution started to increase, at first, industries were held accountable. They responded by creating organizations like Keep America Beautiful, which produced ads that blamed consumers instead. They successfully shifted the discussion from "maybe corporations shouldn't destroy the environment" to "people who litter are the real problem." That's an issue. Nothing any individual person can do is going to solve global warming, or the destruction of democratic institutions, or a possible financial collapse caused by cryptocurrencies. We need to stop focusing on individual behavior, and focus on systemic issues instead.
The more time we spend yelling at people who work at Facebook, the less time we spend actually solving the problem.
The role of incumbents: the issue incumbents have, and the reason they were always replaced by new challengers in the past, is that you can't predict which thing is going to succeed. You need to run hundreds of thousands of experiments to find the one experiment that works. A single company can't do that, but the free market can. As an incumbent, you're not competing with a small handful of similar companies, you are competing with hundreds of thousands of challengers, one of whom will win against you, because their experiment turns out to be much more successful than yours.
The way incumbents work around that is to wait to see which experiments are successful, and then buy that company at the exact right moment: the moment when it becomes clear that they are going to succeed, but when they aren't yet so large that buying them isn't feasible anymore. It's possible that this might not work as well with blockchain-based, decentralized technologies, because there might not be something to buy. But I'm not sure if the blockchain technologies that will actually succeed are going to be entirely decentralized, so there will probably still be something for large corporations to buy. Also, even if there isn't, there are other ways to gain control over decentralized blockchain-based systems, if you have sufficient resources.
And finally, while the "hundreds of thousands of experiments" thing used to be true in the past, modern technologies make it less and less true, because we have more and more data, and better ways of analyzing that data, and more direct influence over which ideas will succeed. This makes it easier and easier to predict which experiments are going to succeed - if you have access to data, the compute power to analyze it, and the ability to influence social networks. Guess who has all of that.
First, thank you both. I just copy/pasted everything together into one big thread and we've written 10,043 words. That's a lot! I feel like the discussion had enough friction to have some interesting ideas emerge but not so much friction that we're all mad at each other. Maybe I'm just speaking for me!
Second, I'd like to draw our attention to the lack of specificity we've arrived at. That's ok! There's nothing wrong with that! A scientist saying "the results are inconclusive" or a futurist saying "we can't quite know" aren't examples of people doing a bad job. They're examples of people thinking logically and clearly and doing their best.
If I sent this thread to someone like my mom, I think she'd probably come away with something like this:
We're not really sure what's going to happen
But big companies are going to monetise it
And there will be unintended consequences
Blockchain has environmental impacts that are bad
There are lots of words and ideas but lack of specifics
Third, I'd like to put on my prediction hat, in a flagrant contradiction with the points I made about good scientists and futurists. (Or maybe I'm just admitting that I'm neither.) I'm going to try to envision some tangible things that might happen in our near future. Here I go.
Apple is going to go big on AR. They already have a bunch of components working in their favour, from the App Store to Lidar sensors to ultra-wideband technology (meaning they know where things are within a few millimetres) to ARKit to an ecosystem that is so strong that they can will things into being by saying "Ok we have decided this a big deal" and watching developers leap into action to be one of the first innovators in a space.
Apple, like us, isn't a fan of technology in the search of a problem. They were against NFC and Bluetooth for years, until they saw an actual product they could make. I suspect they'll do a similar thing with AR. The initial pitch will be for something very tangible: "use your same glasses but now when you're searching for your car, or following directions, or trying to find a can of soup in the supermarket, these glasses will overlay the most subtle little indicator."
It won't be about scrolling Instagram with your glasses. It'll be a way of making certain scenarios a little better. Then they'll iterate.
Meanwhile, there will continue to be a huge amount of excitement and hype amongst the web3 fans. Lots of people will get rich. Lots of people won't get rich, but you won't hear as much about them. They'll build Mastadon-type things that most people don't really care about or hear about. It'll be fun, but won't "move the needle" as people like to say in tech.
This is where I want to say "and then something will stick." It will have that certain feeling about it that Twitter and TikTok did, where most people think it's stupid but some people say "just wait, there's something magical here."
But instead of being vague, I'm going to try to come up with a tangible thing. Not because I think I'm going to get it right, but because it's easier to consider something concrete than something abstract. So let's go with a website that tracks every journalist's articles, including every edit, permanently, with no way to erase it. A wikipedia-esque resource for tracking media bias.
Apple will steer clear from it. I suspect Facebook and Twitter will as well. But it will end up as a sort of graffiti wall for writing about the press. And even if incorrect information makes it into the record, it won't be removed. Which will undermine its credibility. It will continue to exist as sort of a Wikileaks-esque resource but without a centralised control structure or army of volunteers like Wikipedia, it will struggle to gain a strong reputation.
The ideas will inspire similar products, but they'll all struggle with the same credibility hurdle. People want to know who's running a company, and what point of view a product is attempting to demonstrate.
For a long time, people thought Bittorrent's time had come. There was a leak that said Apple was going to use Bittorrent to deliver software updates. They never did. It's just easier and better to have updates on centralised servers that they can control. Why? Not for control's sake, but because it's a better user experience overall. And companies are in the business of making things people like. People don't like a download to struggle because of some pie-in-the-sky technology demo. They just want to download their dang file.
I suspect the money will stick around, and a bunch of demos and experiments will stick around. But by the time you're using web3 technologies as part of a product, you won't even know it's web3. It'll be baked into a broader product experience and marketed for the things it can tangibly do for you. Not the ideals or the novelty behind it.
Let's each do one more message each. If you can attempt to predict where you think things are going, that'd be cool. And the more specific you are, the more interesting it'll be to look back on. Good luck, and thanks again!
Thanks for all this Jon and Lukas! I think the complexity of this conversation has been a great encapsulation of all the web3 discourse so far. A friend of mine sent me this YouTube explainer on crypto and the parallels to our chat are a bit uncanny -- Things are exciting! And frustrating! It still feels like I'm sloshing around on the spectrum between the two but I agree it's a fun place to be.
Alright... a 'tangible' outcome over the next couple years:
I think big tech will position themselves as a kind of safe-haven from the Wild West of crypto and blockchain scams. We'll get mostly watered-down versions of web3 concepts, "Your data lives on the blockchain!" that people will buy into but not really notice/care that it is not truly decentralized. The infrastructure necessary for web3 will be experimented and explored by big companies, which has the benefit of both hedging their bets and for retaining/recruiting talent. Potentially interesting pursuits will not be limited to big tech but also big entertainment, big gaming. All of these big companies will see returns on these efforts coming mostly as marketing, selling people on a big vision but ultimately directing people toward their traditional revenue streams.
VC enthusiasm will continue building up a new cohort of 'web3' unicorns, some will be novel but most will be brute-forced into existence by big investments (similar to Uber or WeWork), that build up a novel type of infrastructure or business model that would fail under normal circumstances. Big tech will probably invest heavily in these unicorns (similar to Google investing in Uber) but avoid buying them outright. I expect they'll find ways to connect their products/services ("Connect your Google account!"), effectively hedging their bets while avoiding a costly/risky acquisition.
What would break out from the incumbents and exist as a truly web3 success story? My hunch is something that doesn't follow any of the typical revenue models. Something that won't 'make sense' to big companies in terms of someone's ability to convince leadership to spin up an effort against it.
Earlier in our thread I mentioned DAOs as an interesting area of web3 and I think the reason is that there's a certain collective idealism that is an easy narrative for people to latch onto. Individuals banding together, unhappy with the status quo, with a collective desire to affect change. I don't think it has to be as impactful as a political movement but maybe more like r/WallStreetBets collectively tipping the scales against GME short sellers. And similar to Wikipedia or Jon's example of a journalism tracker, the platform for those collective efforts has an inherent layer of trust that seemed fundamentally impossible when it began.
Perhaps the outcome there is something akin to crowdfunding but without a central company behind it (like Kickstarter, which coincidentally announced a blockchain effort recently). Say you want to invest in a collective effort: Maybe it's a new startup, maybe it's a movie, maybe it's an individual creator... Maybe it's something in your neighborhood that could pay dividends (a local museum getting a touring art exhibit). What if there was a super convenient and predictable way to do this? And you didn't have to be an ultra-rich donor or professional investor?
Rework the traditional model where a platform needs to take a big cut, avoid the inherently fragmented coin offerings that scams use today, and offer a way to both find these collective opportunities and confidently invest in them. There would be a lot to work out: Maybe there are strict requirements that discourage gambling, maybe there's a novel concept of social trust/confidence that is missing... Whatever it is, it feels like investing together (and seeing collective returns) is something that a lot of people have an appetite for beyond today's cryptomania but breaks down (or devolves into scams) within our current investing/funding/trust mechanisms.
I could probably refute each sentence I wrote in that last paragraph (and maybe this whole conversation), but I think there's something exciting there and hopefully we see a web3 effort land in a meaningful way!
It's funny that you're asking us to make predictions. In Greek mythology, Cassandra was cursed to see the future, and make true prophecies that nobody would believe. I feel like we're worse off: even if people believe our predictions, there's nothing anyone can do about them. You can't benefit from optimistic predictions, because they're so vague, and you can't prevent any of the negative outcomes, because they're outside our control.
Maybe somebody needs to insert a Debbie Downer GIF here.
Prediction 1: things will move quickly. They already are. Remember the Ubisoft NFT thing I mentioned earlier in this conversation? The one where everybody disliked the YouTube announcement video? It's already released, and so far, it's a failure. People aren't interested in Ubisoft's Ghost Recon NFTs. But this brings me to...
Prediction 2: Companies will come out with outrageous ideas for how to use NFTs to monetize their products. They will receive a lot of backlash, but will succeed in moving the Overton window of what is acceptable. That's how we went from "I don't want to pay for horse armor" back in the olden tymes of 2006 to literal online casinos aimed at addicting children to gambling with real money in Apple's "curated" App Store today. Within a decade, blockchain-based technologies we now deem immoral and harmful will be normalized.
Prediction 3: Some of this will be good. Blockchain technologies have enormous power to do immensely harmful things. But by that same token, they can be used for good, as well. If we want this to happen, we can't just let the cryptobros run rampant. We need thoughtful people to solve the hard problem of turning this dirty bomb into clean fusion power. It's going to be difficult, but it's not impossible. So maybe we're not Cassandra after all.