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Web3: the internet’s 3% difference
008. On identity, creation, and optimism
I’ve had this essay occupying the corners of my mind for months now. When I rewatched Virgil Abloh’s Harvard lecture in December, everything finally clicked.
Virgil, the former Louis Vuitton and off—white designer, had a “PERSONAL DESIGN LANGUAGE” and believed you only have to slightly innovate an existing thing to create a new one. That was his 3% theory. In his words, it was “developed in practice. Evolved over time. 3% is applicable across practices and fields, different media, eras of our history. Our future.” 3% if applicable to our future on the internet.
As discourse in the last year transitioned from crypto to Web3, comparisons between previous experiences and value propositions on the web dictated that there are discrete eras of the internet. Yet, the web feels like an iterative organism—growing and evolving with each new innovation or challenge. The idea of editing something 3% applies to this very moment where we find ourselves in two reportedly different eras (Web2 and Web3).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with these terms, you can still turn back now and save yourselves. But if your curiosity is anything like mine, the high-level summary is:
Web1 (read) primarily had static sites that you could view.
Web2 (read, write) introduced the ability to create content at scale. This era began with platforms like Blogger before being dominated by Google and Facebook.
Web3 (read, write, own) will enable people to own their identity and the content they create, which will be interoperable across platforms and protocols.
Each of these eras have and will make 3% improvements upon each other. This change manifests in each subsequent technology/product created and evolved over time, culminating into another era. When it comes to web social for example, the timeline looks something like this:
Captured in this 30-year timeline is Web1, Web2, and the beginnings of Web3. These additive “versions” of the web continue to persist in some form and one is unlikely to supplant the other. In fact, the best part of each era should exist symbiotically with any future 3% innovations that builders make. This begs the question: other than the evolved tech and business models—which, to be clear, are both significant—what’s really different in the grand scheme of things?
Everything is exactly the same
I saw this Kanye screenshot on Tumblr back in the day and it was a complete mind-bend.
“Everything in the world is exactly the same.”
On the surface level, this sounds incredibly pessimistic. But artists like Kanye care about people and delivering the best products possible. Building and creating is self expression no matter the medium and should improve/impact something for the end user. Everything is ultimately about people … Everything is ultimately about people.
Ironically, anti-crypto people love to use the argument that everything’s the same to discredit Web3. To them, we’ve seen all of this before. Sure, Usenet created a distributed discussion system in the early 80s, but that led to bulletin boards, Reddit, and even Twitter. Yeah, IRC built distributed chat in late 80s and is still very much alive, but it made way for the Discords and Slacks of the world. When we debate moments in time such as these instead of assessing how their core concepts reverberate from inception to present-day, we miss the progress we’ve made and can continue to realize.
We can pontificate about the tech and business model changes from Web1 to Web2, but both were made possible by builders who were optimistic that we could do better. And we did. Although Web2 became a centralized, ad-targeting, data-mining mess ... From the ashes emerged small business products, internet access for developing countries, and a creator ecosystem that entertained and taught us at scale. The good shouldn’t be discounted, but we can still learn from and challenge the old guard to build something better.
The 3% difference
Enter Web3, where we laud ownership enabled by decentralization and interoperability. It sounds like utopia because it is. We have a long way to go in terms of design, user experience, incentive design, and so much more. But a fully realized Web3 means people have the choice to own their creations, communities, and identities.
In the last few years, creators have started moving away from ad/sponsorship revenue to NFTs and social tokens, incentivizing their audiences and ultimately building communities around their work. Even more, people are congregating around shared interests whether it’s thousands of people in ConstitutionDAO bidding for a piece of the US history or thousands of people in LinksDAO aiming to purchase a golf course.
Personally, I’m most interested in how Web3 will evolve identity on the internet. Today, self expression on the web is usually tied to your legal name, a username, and/or email account. Conversely, Web3 wallet addresses aren’t tied to your legal identity and people can have multiple wallets for various purposes—gaming, working, NFT collections, investing ... You get the picture. The ability log in with an ethereum address for example instead of email is a game changer and will allow people to experiment with self expression on the web. Identity isn’t and shouldn’t be static, so how many alt wallets will people have if that’s the norm? I’m curious to find out.
Web3 is distinct in that it gives people the choice to be owners on the internet—that’s its 3% difference. And if everything in the world is exactly the same, then 3% progress is substantial and the impact will be remarkable.
Thank you for reading. For the OG subscribers, you may have noticed a little rebrand — we’ll talk about that and more consumer/crypto/culture next time. If you’re new here, make sure to subscribe to join the conversation.
Special thanks to Chris Jenkins, Seyi Taylor, Kristy Tillman, Packy McCormick, Abena Anim-Somuah and other friends for their feedback on this piece.
+ The percentage of creativity is 3% by Virgil Abloh
+ Everything in the world is exactly the same by Kanye
+ Web3/Crypto: Why Bother? by Albert Wenger
+ Web3 is Self-Certifying by Jay Graber
+ My first impressions of web3 by Moxie Marlinspike
+ The Ownership Economy by Jesse Walden