I find the current heated discussion around Web3 quite fascinating. What I think is an overlooked factor is how Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 started out and how they developed over time. That could give some perspective on where we stand with Web3 and how it might evolve.

Both Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 were architecturally very decentralized. Anybody could set up their own Web 1.0 website, host their own e-mail server, and there were plenty of forum software packages like vBulletin that provided interactivity. Web 2.0 was purposely architected to enable decentralized blogs for everybody (linked through RSS) and collaborative platforms with open REST APIs, among other things.

But what happened? Mainstream users gravitated towards a more curated, convenient, simple experience that was provided by large platforms: Yahoo, Google and Amazon in Web 1.0, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn in Web 2.0. Interestingly, all these platforms started out with a very “open” message with rich APIs and then slowly became more closed as they discovered how to capture more value from their user population and the resulting network effects.

It’s laudable and inspiring that the Web3 community wants to go back to decentralization and user ownership of data. But we have seen this movie before. Again, the architecture of Web 1.0 and 2.0 wasn’t the problem. End user behavior was. People willingly gave up control for convenience. And the big platforms were happy to oblige.

Maybe Web3 will be different because there is a clearer monetary incentive built in. But considering how rough the end user experience in Web3/crypto still is and how dominant a few major players seem to be already, there’s plenty of reason for doubt.


Originally published on LinkedIn, Dec 22 2021.

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