Robin Sloan
the lab
November 2021

Notes on Web3

Kvindedansen i Megara, 1888-1889, Niels Skovgaard
Kvindedansen i Megara, 1888-1889, Niels Skovgaard

It’s possible you have, in recent months, seen people writing with excite­ment (or curiosity, or consternation) about “Web3”. The term imagines the tran­si­tion of many internet services to a model built around cryp­to­graphic tokens, such that ownership and/or control of those services might be divided between their token-holders, a group that might include their users. The tokens would also have exchange value, so, as a user, you could always: cash out 🤑

Ethereum is the locus of most of this work — hey, who named that client library web3.js, anyway? — so it’s not unrea­son­able to read “Web3” as “Ethereum-powered internet”.

This message was emailed to lab newsletter subscribers. The assumed audience is subscribers who know roughly what Web3 is supposed to be, but aren’t sure what to think about it. (Here’s more about assumed audiences.)

If you are already convinced that Web3 is the appro­priate next step for the world’s inter­net­worked computer systems: this post is not for you. Go forth!

Instead, this is for people still sort of … cautiously curious?

Cards on the table: I am not merely a skeptic, but a full-fledged enemy of Web3. I hope my animosity can’t be instantly dismissed: “He’s a hater; he’s old; he doesn’t under­stand the technology.” I am, in fact, old — 41! — but, as miti­gating evidence: I write science fiction; am deeply curious about the future(s) of the internet; and even produced a well-received NFT project.

I don’t intend any great rhetor­ical effect with the notes below; I just want to offer them as meager coun­ter­weight to the growing hype. I think Web3 speaks strongly to people whose thoughts bend often toward those internet futures … so, in a sense, I’m posting this for other versions of myself. Hello!

Here are my notes on Web3:

I’ll close with credit where due: Ethereum should inspire anyone inter­ested in the future(s) of the internet, because it proves, power­fully, that new protocols are still possible. I do not think Web3 is a desirable or even tolerable path forward for this web right here, but I take its lesson well. “Code wins arguments”, and so do clubs, and cults; time remains to build all three.

November 2021, Oakland