I’ve been digging in deeper to the web3 world lately, and it’s been a fascinating rabbit hole. It’s interesting to me that the web3 space and the tools for thoughts space both share so much in terms of the underlying principles of how technology should be (interoperable, malleable, composable, and more)1, yet there is almost no overlap in the Venn diagram between the two worlds in terms of the people involved. From my Twitter feed, which encapsulates both worlds, the limited discourse I’ve seen involve prominent figures in the thoughts space highlighting their skepticism and decrying web3 for its environmental impacts and speculative tulip craze.
On the web3 side, there are budding forays into the tools space through the creation of “web3-native” tools like anytype, gordon’s tool, and clarity.2 This development is certainly encouraging to see, but it always pains me that so many solved problems must be repeated for new contexts and with new protocols. What if we could leverage all the power that’s already been built on existing tools (coda/notion/etc.) but in a way that’s compatible with the new protocols?
With so much overlap in principles, why do we see so little cross-pollination and what might collaboration look like between the two fields?
I think the reason there’s still little cross-pollination is that there’s a lot of room between the principles you pledge to and the end result that is produced, and many in the tools space still want to see if web3 can really make the dream happen. There’s certainly also a lot of distrust around the fact that much of the discourse around web3 centralizes around people who are in it for the money rather than the lofty ideals around how technology should be. The crypto community is split between the speculators who are following the money from the web2, capitalist world (due to the financialization of everything by crypto) and those who have been in it for the principles.
If we imagine a world where all apps are dapps (decentralized apps which are built on-chain) and the promise of many of these protocols holds, we would live in a world where all the software we use has publicly available data, and we own the data that we produce on them. Apps can easily build off of each because they all can access the same underlying data, and we have full data portability.3 In this world, you’d be able to bring your own client for social media or messaging or any other daily software operation that you’d normally have to entrust to a single conglomerate that everyone uses. Every app could essentially operate on the same set of data. Data moats would no longer be a competitive advantage for a company—they can’t stop innovating or supporting their user base just because they have a critical mass of people using it. We would see market effects kick in on the basis of how much a product actually resonates with people, and the best part is that you don’t have to agree with others in order to communicate. The promise of web 3 is open source data, where everything is free to flow and comingle.
In a fully open world, there are certain immutables.
One is that data is permanent. Nothing on the chain can be changed after it’s been committed unlike the current world where the web decays and things are ephemeral. Are there things that would be better forgotten? Does permanence invoke a certain standard that prevents people from being their authentic, raw selves?
Another is that everything has an explicit value and subject to market conditions. This brings us back to the financialization effect that crypto has. What perverse incentives might this encourage, and what will this look like once the speculation cools?
Lastly, in a world governed by protocols and code, there are no human mediators to make things better with the snap of a finger. Our machines and systems will be our overlords, which means that everything must be encoded and made explicit. Rules must be designed to be flexible enough to accommodate changing conditions but specific enough to be prescriptive in code for any given situation. How do we maintain the flexibility of ambiguity while leveraging the benefits of guarantees?
What is the future of the tools we use every day, and will web3 push them to become more community-led and empowering or will it force unnecessary structure and unwelcome incentives into a relatively “innocent” space?
These are just some of the questions on my mind as I dive deeper into this space. I’d love to chat if you’ve been thinking about the same things!
This is the 90th installment in my experiment of publishing raw, lightly edited mini-essays every day towards achieving 100 public pieces. Check out the rationale and the full list here.
Some tool for thought manifestos that highlight these principles and web 3 promises the same ↩︎
What happens in this world with “private” info? Maybe sensitive info is stored encrypted on chain and you have to use your private key to deserialize it? What are the implication of having no centralized “mediator” or “authority?” Will we see web3 equivalents of authority platforms that can help people who lose their private keys or other critical info? Can you have authority without explicit power? Perhaps in this future world, the “authorities” are akin to museums, community-led credit unions, libraries rather than heavy-handed governments? ↩︎