The Ideological Web3
For someone who enjoys new technologies and novel ways of solving problems, something about the whole Web3 movement has been hard to swallow. The crux of it is that the technological shift is driven by a belief system rather than utility or a long-awaited breakthrough. No technology in history has gathered adoption driven purely by a belief system. Web3 might be the first digitally-native religion, and Crypto the first digitally-native orthodox group.
Religious orthodoxy is a fascinating manifestation of human desire for meaning and purpose. There are many groups that come to mind, but one the purest of this form are the Aghoris of India. They challenge traditional religious beliefs, perceptions and way of life. The foundation of their belief system is seeing everything as pure, no matter how dirty or gross it may be. Aghoris believe that every person's soul is Shiva (the supreme being), but is covered by aṣṭamahāpāśa (eight great bonds) - including pleasure, anger, greed, obsession, fear and hatred. The practices of the Aghoris are centered around the removal of these bonds.
They denounce personal identity for that of the group. Aghoris do not cut their hair, they cover themselves in the ashes of the dead and have practices that would seem abnormal to almost anyone else. They have a very distinct visual persona:
Aghoris are an adopted identity, you cannot be born as one - you can only get ‘initiated’ by another Aghori guru into its way of life. Becoming an Aghori brings a new identity, purpose and belonging to these people. This group dynamic and the resignation of personal identity and replacing it with one of the group might seem familiar:
The Web3 crowd are ideologically devoted to building a digital world focused on the removal of greed, power, supervision and censorship. It’s giving digital natives a new identity, purpose and belonging - much like the Aghoris.
There are however some hard challenges, spiritual even, in doing this while removing these powers from internet utilities (Twitter, Facebook, Google etc..) that are providing value to society. These utilities have figured out how to provide their service for ‘free’, while wrangling the challenges of operating at web-scale and with oversight of global regulatory, governance, compliance, economic and fiduciary frameworks of public companies. They’re not perfect and have plenty of flaws, but these frameworks cannot be replaced by distributed ledgers and governance.
The pendulum will indefinitely swing between centralised and decentralised governance and systems. However, real and tangible innovation is happening behind-the-scenes with technical breakthroughs in new interfaces, modalities and capabilities driven by software. These seem more likely to drive the next iteration of the internet ecosystem than the innovations backed by ideology.
The Composable Web3
If you mute crypto/web3 twitter and unsubscribe from a few newsletters - the discourse referenced above disappears. It’s a tiny but loud microcosm of the web. There is another shift happening that does not have a name, profile pictures, disappearing inventors, gas fees or benevolent dictators.
The transition from Web2 to Web3 is going from “Amazon as societal utility” to every component of Amazon being available as a utility to everyone. Distribution as a service (for e.g. distribute via sellers on TikTok), Warehousing as a Service, Logistics as a Service, Personalisation as a Service - so everyone can compose their own version of Amazon. You can do a lot of this from your home today, but still requires a fair amount of hand-wringing technical work and there are lots of gaps still to be covered. The economics of this works (or is not as capital intensive) because you don’t need to amortise the costs of the entire ecosystem with each product like Amazon does.
Its decomposition, not decentralisation, and most if it is already here. The next iteration of the internet will come alive when the ability to compose new products and businesses are democratised.
Decentralisation and decomposition reach the same goal: no single party owns the ecosystem. The players are the owners. No tokens, no ledgers, no gas and no dictators. There exists a clear, viable path to funding, building and achieving this goal. Web3 version of Amazon isn’t a decentralised, DAO-governed entity - its no Amazon. Amazon will move, as it has been doing for a while, to a provider of services. Twitter is already making moves in this direction with Bluesky. Its likely Meta will just provide the software and hardware infrastructure so businesses can build their own virtual worlds instead of hosting anything themselves.
When a business can be created digitally by purely composing several commoditized utility services from various providers in their respective verticals — we can all have a party and cut a cake for the establishment of a new business that is no longer dependant on any one provider, as well as the true birth of Web3.
And when the pendulum swings back as these services consolidate, we can get another ideological group together to demand the creation of Web4.
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