What Web3 is Not

Jeffrey Hykin
5 min readDec 22, 2021

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Update: 1/18/2022

This is an update of defeat, as I believe the common definition of Web3 no longer refers to The “decentralized internet”. Through incessant social media posts, and nearly constant edits to the Wikipedia page from crypto bros and the ntf hype squad seem to have successfully distorted Web3 to mean an internet of purely financial transactions.

My original article below is now a relic.

However, replace “web3" with “decentralized internet” below and it should still be accurate.

Original Article

Over-hype, misunderstanding, scams, and betrayals associated with “Web3” are bad enough to ruin it’s reputation for a generation.

So let's get a few things straight before that happens.

1. The NFT *Market* is not Web3

If NFTs were equivalent to high-performance F1 engine oil, then most people would be using engine oil for home cooked meals. I'm not saying engine oil is useless, I'm saying your NFT purchase for "art" or whatever relates to Web 3 about as much as cooking with engine oil makes you a participant in F1 racing.

If you want to cook with engine oil (and you fully understand the consequences!) be my guest.

And to show that I’m not just dismissing this topic: imagine having a physical key, but the key doesn’t unlock any locks. It is a key to ✨nothing✨. Now imagine the key is made out of pape — actually paper is too valuable — imagine the key is made of compacted garbage. Ta.Da. you’ve successfully imagined almost* every NTF. Software devs can design locks to fit keys, and we can find these keys quite useful. But you, Mr./Mrs. End-User, should be about as excited for NFT’s as an Amish person.

2. Web3 is not Magical, it’s Foundational

In internet-land we (practically) cannot make roads. Instead, to see our neighbor we catch a train to Facebook/Discord/Microsoft HQ, we give them a blood sample, receive a tracker from them, and then they drive us to our neighbor.

With that hellscape in mind, imagine me standing at your front door with an 10 ton asphalt paving machine with WEB3 on the side.

Voila! Now you can ... just ... pave your own road to your friends house! 😃 \s

...

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Some people ((me)) are legitimately excited; ready to jump on the contraption, figure out how it works, eager to pave roads everyone can use! This does Foundationally change the balance of power in internet-land.

But most would be looking rather apathetic; standing at their front door patiently waiting for me to go away as I point to all the features of the new machine. Because that’s the reality. Web3 is useful like a paver. Foundational in a very literal way, but pavers do not magically poof roads into existence. It takes effort, skilled labor, and years of work before anyone benefits.

Speaking of labor:

3. Build it and they-- Wait who's building it?

Did I mention the drivers of these 10 ton asphalt pavers currently don’t have much (if any) financial incentive?

I should clarify; it can be very profitable for scam artists. Did I mention cons would be totally welcome to build their own roads / labyrinths, and there’s no super user-friendly way to distinguish them from legitimate roads?

Did I also mention the work of these likely-unpaid drivers aggressively threatens mega-corp’s profit margins; corporations that have both all the power in internet-land and every reason to try to destroy, taint, vandalize, and slander these new community-built roads?

As I **fearlessly** sit on my 10 ton paver... yeah I suppose I should still mention Web3 isn’t perfectly self-funded.

And speaking of funding...

4.1 Using Web3 is not (always) Free

Right now Google/Facebook/Microsoft often happily pay your storage bill for data. It’s not a huge bill, but if you want to do everything on Web3, just know that you’re going to need some storage space. You might already have enough space on your device, but maybe you’ll want an extra hard-drive connected to a small always-on computer.

However, adding or changing data, even just commenting on a post, (depending on how the website is coded) can also be considered "building", which brings me to...

4.2 Building Web3 is not Free

Asphalt pavers run on gas. And if you think gasoline prices are bad, wait till you hear about Ethereum gas prices, which is Web3-asphalt-paver's typical fuel.

Right now, making a un-changing site, that has a long ugly URL *is* totally free. But to update a web3 site, you must (as of Dec 2021) pay a hefty gas price to announce to the world “Hello everyone! My website has been updated! (And here’s proof that I’m the owner)". This high transaction price needs to be (and is!) changing. The full release of Ethereum 2 should be a major step forward, and might address it entirely.

There can be darker side to Web 3 though ...

5. Web3 is not Controllable

Web2 is already a public stage, but Web3 is a public stage AND most audience members are individually recording your performance. Once you post data publicly, once it’s been distributed, nobody (and I. mean. nobody.) can take it down.

No company
No government
... But also often not even you can

Even for the bravest of us, this can be a uneasy feeling. Most importantly though:

6. Web3 is not a Theory

Web3 is already here! You can publish your own Web3 site today.

Web3 has two forms; I'll call them federated and mesh.

  • The mesh form could be considered the "true" Web3. The IPFS (Inter-Planetary File System) is the backbone of the Web3 mesh, and crypto (like Ethereum) are the system’s muscles that allow it to update. The Opera browser and Brave browser have supported IPFS and crypto URLs right out of the box for a while now, even on mobile. FireFox can get IPFS support through the IPFS extension, and crypto support through the Metamask extension. To get your own Web3 URL, and have a website you can update, take a look at Unstoppable Domains, or Ether domains. If you want to see an elegant UI and an impressive precursor to Web3, take a look at ZeroNet.
  • The federated form of Web3 has several major advantages and major disadvantages. It’s also not separate; it can and will work together with the Web3 mesh. The main difference is the federated system can run entirely on web 2.0 browsers. It is a self-hoster server, but it collaborates with other self-hosted servers to look and feel like a singular website. Take a look at the Fediverse, Mastodon, and Element (formerly Riot) to get an idea of how to join some of these systems. Self hosting servers can be hard, but they are wonderfully capable/flexible systems.

And that’s it! I hope you’re still excited because there is so much potential for a faster, safer, less intrusive internet; we’re just going to need to build it.

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