Tuesday, January 11, 2022

First Impressions of web3

Moxie Marlinspike (Hacker News):

web3 is a somewhat ambiguous term, which makes it difficult to rigorously evaluate what the ambitions for web3 should be, but the general thesis seems to be that web1 was decentralized, web2 centralized everything into platforms, and that web3 will decentralize everything again. web3 should give us the richness of web2, but decentralized.


However – and I don’t think this can be emphasized enough – that is not what people want. People do not want to run their own servers.


If something is truly decentralized, it becomes very difficult to change, and often remains stuck in time. That is a problem for technology, because the rest of the ecosystem is moving very quickly, and if you don’t keep up you will fail.


One thing that has always felt strange to me about the cryptocurrency world is the lack of attention to the client/server interface. When people talk about blockchains, they talk about distributed trust, leaderless consensus, and all the mechanics of how that works, but often gloss over the reality that clients ultimately can’t participate in those mechanics. All the network diagrams are of servers, the trust model is between servers, everything is about servers. Blockchains are designed to be a network of peers, but not designed such that it’s really possible for your mobile device or your browser to be one of those peers.


This was surprising to me. So much work, energy, and time has gone into creating a trustless distributed consensus mechanism, but virtually all clients that wish to access it do so by simply trusting the outputs from these two companies without any further verification. It also doesn’t seem like the best privacy situation. Imagine if every time you interacted with a website in Chrome, your request first went to Google before being routed to the destination and back. That’s the situation with ethereum today.

Joe Groff:

Maybe people don’t want to run their own servers, but they also don’t want to run their own clients. Part of the allure of iOS, Chrome OS, etc. was centralized admin—immutable OS, automated updates, etc. Could server software do that too, without centralized hardware?

Brandon Skerritt (via Hacker News):

I think was this a fair article that accurately portrays some parts of web3 at this given moment in time.


I just thought I’d write this and explain what’s being done to fix this and go further.


There is some genuinely cool tech being worked on here, but due to the monetrary aspect there are scams up to my eyeballs. And those scams make the whole industry look bad.

Alex Ivanovs (via Hacker News):

I will say that by no means am I discounting passionate people who work in this space. Blockchain and security is something I can advocate for. Because it has a promising future to help keep our digital identities sealed. This is interesting to me.

But in its current state, Web3 is as disorganized as it is complex and difficult to grasp. Why would the average citizen of the world care about strings of numbers, hash rates, proof of stakes, sharding, or digital inception of pixelated art.

Adi Robertson:

In the online auction market OpenSea, you can pay around $600 to buy a portrait of a robot in streetwear — and, if you’re lucky, a stake in a new media empire.

The robot is called a TARS, and it’s part of the Voguverse, an elaborate 37th-century mythos involving space arcologies, a nuclear war, and interstellar travel. The portrait is one of countless digital assets being sold as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. But by pairing its fictional universe with a blockchain-based ledger, the creators think they can tap into a new way to tell stories.

As NFTs explode in popularity, entrepreneurs are imagining an entire media industry that’s built around them. At its most ambitious, the vision is sometimes dubbed a “decentralized Disney”: a world of fictional crossovers like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its many spinoffs but where different characters and creative properties are owned by a panoply of fans, not a single company.

Lukas Schor:

Apple is blocking a release of our @gnosissafe mobile app because we display NFTs in it. After 2 weeks of back-and-forth, I felt that we need to talk publicly about this to raise awareness.

Ben Thompson:

One of the reasons that crypto is so interesting, at least in a theoretical sense, is that it seems like a natural antidote to Aggregators; I’ve suggested as such. After all, Aggregators are a product of abundance; scarcity is the opposite. The OpenSea example, though, is a reminder that I have forgotten one of my own arguments about Aggregators: demand matters more than supply.

To that end, which side of the equation is impacted by the blockchain? The answer, quite obviously is supply. Indeed, one need only be tangentially aware of crypto to realize that the primary goal of so many advocates is to convert non-believers, the better to increase demand. This has the inverse impact of OpenSea’s ban: increased demand increases prices for scarce supply, which is to say, in terms that are familiar to any Web 3 advocate, that the incentives of Web 3’s most ardent evangelists are very much aligned.


Update (2022-01-13): Stephen Diehl (via sirdigby, Hacker News):

At its core web3 is a vapid marketing campaign that attempts to reframe the public’s negative associations of crypto assets into a false narrative about disruption of legacy tech company hegemony. It is a distraction in the pursuit of selling more coins and continuing the gravy train of evading securities regulation. We see this manifest in the circularity in which the crypto and web3 movement talks about itself. It’s not about solving real consumer problems. The only problem to be solved by web3 is how to post-hoc rationalize its own existence.


On a compute basis, blockchain networks don’t scale except by becoming the very same plutocratic and centralized systems they allegedly were designed to replace. There is an absurd cost to trying to do censorship resistant computation. […] The Ethereum virtual machine has the equivalent computational power of an Atari 2600 from the 1970s except it runs on casino chips that cost $500 a pop and every few minutes we have to reload it like a slot machine to buy a few more cycles.

Update (2022-01-19): See also:

Update (2022-01-25): cdixon:

A recent criticism of web3 is that it isn’t actually decentralized, because there are centralized services in the mix, such as NFT marketplaces like OpenSea, and data availability services like Alchemy.

This criticism is based on a mistaken understanding of what web3 advocates mean by decentralization. I’ll try to explain.

There will be centralized services in web3 just as there were in web1. The key question in web3 is whether the network effects accrue as private goods (as they did in web2) or public goods (as they did in web1).

4 Comments RSS · Twitter

Kevin Schumacher

The apostrophes in plurals in the responses from App Review (in Lukas Schor's Twitter thread) are triggering me hard right now...

I've been on the internet since 1992, and I didn't understand ANY of that.

So much of the positive energy and "Let's change the world by building technical solutions" remind me of web 1 that I've come to the following conclusion.

Much of the Web 3 enthusiasts have grown up in a world where building technical solutions was about pulling in stuff from NPM, hosting them on AWS, or creating an app for iOS, that they genuinely believe that THAT is all there is.

No one is stopping anyone from hooking up a Raspberry Pi to the internet and use that to host their Webapp. Browsers allow you to create PWA's that Apple can't stop.

But the big difference this time is that there is a LOT of money floating around, and a LOT of it is in the hands of people who know that betting on the right horse tech wise, will lead to 10X-100X returns.

Last round it was ad networks, this time it's the control of currencies.

Scott Galloway today has his typically pithy and insightful take on it from a business and economics point of view: https://www.profgalloway.com/web3/

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