I think most of us that grew up alongside the internet can agree on one thing: The internet as we knew it died sometime around the year 2015, as the most prominent data-brokers finally figured out how to monetise their platforms.
Around this year, the conversation among creators largely seemed to shift from finding the next “big thing” to “How do I appease the algorithm?” Smartphones became so ubiquitous in life that only one in four teenagers reported not owning one. Social media companies had just finished their last round of start-up acquisitions and could finally sit down and really focus on “consuming as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.”
The year is now 2022, and the independent blog is a good as dead. As is the freelance artist, the independent musician (“indie” today may as well mean that Spotify is your record-label). Much is the case for the independent anything, as the flow of information ever tightens around a handful of companies, forcing content-contributors to play by their algorithmic rules.
As AI homes in on the definition of “broadest-possible appeal”, content aspiring to commercial success continues to trend toward negative entropy, algorithms stymying outlier creative expression. Interest in curated content-discovery channels has largely evaporated as streaming giants promote their auto-generated “Recommended Picks” before everything else, training our reflexes to gravitate towards the “safe” option. The price for convenience is paid in freedom.
If the internet pre-2015 could be described as a chaotic anarcho-capitalist state, in the absence of a working regulatory framework the dust has settled into a mafia-run oligarchy. The archaic idea of a stateless, free internet seems increasingly a pipedream with each added user bringing added liability to help dig down its ultimate grave of regulation. China sensed this threat early on and became proactive in mitigating it. We all know how that is turning out.
Or as I like to describe it, “controlled chaos.” The do-over, but with silicon-wrought ground rules. With Web3’s implementation of information integrity, everything changes.
Democracy emerges in lieu of anarchy. Laws are written by consensus, not by corporations. Public opinion is no longer easily monopolised by leveraging disinformation and algorithmic imbalance of outreach. The forces which control the flow of information become transparent.
Blockchain technology lays the foundation of trust, upon which consensus builds a framework of inclusive governance. At its core, Web3 holds no secrets, no unspoken rules, and all taking part in it are stakeholders by design. With blockchain, rules are no longer proprietary company secrets that purposely leave the userbase guessing.
A game-changer for creators
Apps taking foot in the social space are already vesting influencers directly in their userbases, and vice versa. The amount of influence one has is now quantifiable, and those influenced are allowed agency by way of mini-economies in their sphere.
Smart contracts such as NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) have become a stopgap against plagiarism online and provide freelance artists a novel method of monetisation bereft of middlemen. Consumers are incentivised to engage in content legitimately with a verifiable proof of investment.
Akin to displaying a piece of well-known art in one’s own home as a display of personality, taste, and/or wealth to visitors, an NFT being displayed on one’s homepage can help fulfil a similar end in a world where personal relationships are increasingly online. Supporting digital content creators therefore becomes less of an act of pure altruism, and for artists comes the renewed feasibility of a career in freelance media.
Centralised enclaves will always have their place on the web, but for the first time in over a decade, they will also have competition.
Freedom through rules
Structural resilience through cryptographically-ensured democracy. Integrity protects the right to transparency and agency, both of which underpin the constitution of Web3.
Popular support by way of fair and equitable distribution. Mutually beneficial infrastructure all but ensures large-scale adoption.
Once thought of as the epitome of “Western democratic” freedom, the Silk Road of culture-exports, the internet has since become its own antithesis. Web3, is its antidote.
Web3 is the internet matured.
I wrote this as a dot-connector for like-minded individuals who keep hearing about this stuff in the news through irrelevant anecdotes about NFT bubbles and enigmatic “blockchain” integrations in existing platforms. We’ve had Bitcoin Evangelists blabbing in the news for over ten years at this point, but most of it has been hot air up until this last year or so. I think we’re out of the primordial ooze by this point. Self-respecting apps are finally starting to take form, and the possibilities seem endless. Optimism seems rational again.