Public Goods and New Ownership Models Will Shape the Internet’s Future
Perhaps Chris Dixon explained it best when he said web1 is “read”, web2 is “read and write”, and web3 is “read, write, and own.” With this explanation of web3, let’s try to understand why it’s important to build in this new internet, and why you need to take a step back to understand public goods.
Whether it was because everyone around you was buying Dogecoin in hopes that it would soon be valued at $1, or hearing that the artist Beeple sold a JPEG for $70 million, web3 has been inescapable for the past two years. Should we care though? Is this groundbreaking, revolutionary technology that will take over the world tomorrow, or is it another useless thing in the news to overlook since it’ll soon be gone?
The reality may be that it’s somewhere in between. While this tech is probably going to change the world, it’s also not happening tomorrow. But the reasons why you should care about this next iteration of the internet may be important enough to make you want to build in web3, and two of the biggest reasons are public goods and new models of ownership.
The Importance of Public Goods
First, let’s take a step back to frame an understanding of public goods. Traditional examples of public goods include clean air, libraries, and even the electric grid. These are commodities or services that don’t exclude anyone from using them, and one person having access to them doesn’t negatively impact someone else’s. A more relevant example in today’s knowledge-industrial age would be open-source software, which is non-proprietary software that anyone can modify, enhance, or simply view the source code for. Popular mainstream examples of open-source software include Mozilla Firefox, Linux, and JQuery. Open-source software enables developers to work and collaborate on projects made by different individuals, teams, companies, and organizations.
These public goods are like the roads and bridges of the internet. However, this time, we don’t need to spend years fighting for a permit or negotiating a land sale — we can start building in web3 immediately.
The current dominant internet platforms are built on having taken what we in web3 consider public goods, and turning them into privatized products. Think Google, Facebook, and TikTok. They aggregate users and their data, exploit those users (i.e. you and me) for profit, grow their platforms using network effects, give us back none of those profits, and continue that cycle to reap billions. These forms of exploitation, which originally were accepted because of their use cases, are one of the key reasons why web3 is exciting; it’s built on the idea that there is an alternative way for companies to make money without exploiting users for data and profit. Instead, we now see a world where building open platforms that share profits and value with users allows us to create more value for everyone involved. Tell me, doesn’t that sound amazing?
In web3, builders strive to create messaging apps, financial products, social media platforms, and search engines that are public goods. These are commodities and services that we’ve simply come to accept as owned by private corporations who allow us to use their products to profit from us, while delivering mind-numbing ads on a minute-by-minute basis. We are exposed to ads that only seem to get more intrusive with each passing day. And no matter how much profit they make, companies like Facebook will find a way to milk us for just a bit more, and somehow make us less happy on their platforms in the process. Just think about how much worse your experience has gotten on Instagram in the past couple of years.
User Ownership and Control of Data
The world that web3 builders are creating is one where it won’t be the platforms who have full control of the data; it will be users who own whatever content they’ve created and retain actual ownership of the digital assets they’ve bought. Right now, when you buy something like an item in a video game or a ticket to a concert, there’s a private server operated by the company you purchased it from that ticks a box off saying that the item in question is yours. In reality, it’s not actually yours, but is owned by the company running the server. In web3, these digital assets live on public blockchains, they are portable, and most importantly, they are actually owned by the user.
A world in which users can take their data and assets from one platform to the next will introduce a sense of competitive pressure that doesn’t exist with the companies of today, who think you have nowhere else to go. Companies will eventually have to update how they do business by switching from extracting value to delivering it, because they will know if they aren’t creating enough value for users, they might simply leave to another company that will, and take their data with them.
As our world moves even more online, digital property rights are increasingly important and that is not something possible with today’s web2 models and platforms. It’s not impractical to think we will soon live in a world where a majority of the things we use paperwork for now will all live on blockchains, like art and music. In order for that to happen though, we need to actually be able to own our digital assets in a way that’s only possible with blockchain’s guaranteed settlement layers.
It sounds cliche at this point, but the same way that it was evident to people that the internet was going to change the world in ways we knew and later in ways we didn’t, web3 will do the same.
The job opportunities in web3 are endless, plus some of the most intelligent people in the world today are leaving great jobs to help create this future. As a bonus, the work is generally fully remote, meaning we can easily tap on talent globally.
Web3 As Value Creation
Web3 brings the potential to unlock more value for everyone on the internet. Instead of platforms having control of the data, users own any content they create and any digital objects they purchase, and those assets are typically portable.
In order for us to get to this next evolution of the internet, we need more people to understand why it’s worth working towards to begin with. It’s time that we stopped letting these billion- and trillion-dollar companies exploit us, and instead partake in the value creation that our being part of the network allows. There are so many amazing projects shipping that really do go beyond the cringe headlines you see, like when Matt Damon was the face of Crypto.com.
Blockchain’s innovation will revolutionize the world the same way the internet did, and it will enable more people to take part in it too. Removing intermediaries, radical transparency, and putting more money directly in the hands of people changes the power dynamics of our world in fundamental ways. And it creates a design space for meaningful innovation and progress
If, after reading this, you’re convinced that it’s time to start diving into web3, then you’re in luck. Since this space is so nascent, most information is free. And spending time learning is what you need to do more than anything else.
Most people ask me what they should buy for their portfolios, but my response is usually to tell them where to spend their time learning. By learning about web3, they will start to understand how to invest where they see value. For instance, I’d start with the Bitcoin and Ethereum white papers. Neither are very technical, and they help explain the core thesis of each network in a simple to understand manner. They’re really good starting points for any beginner, and they remain documents that experts in this domain go back to time and time again. If you haven’t read them yet, now is a good time to start.
Azeem Khan is the Fundraising & Partnerships Lead at Gitcoin. He has been working at the intersection of culture, entertainment, and blockchain since 2013.
Frank America is an author, researcher, comedian, and musician. He has a background in English Literature, Philosophy, and Communications. Frank is the Editor-in-Chief of The Rug News, and a Content Manager at Bankless Publishing.
Hiro Kennelly is a writer, editor, and coordinator at BanklessDAO and the Editor-in-Chief at Good Morning News. He is also helping to build a grants-focused organization at DAOpunks.
Chameleon is a designer and creator in the web3 space.
BanklessDAO is an education and media engine dedicated to helping individuals achieve financial independence.
This post does not contain financial advice, only educational information. By reading this article, you agree and affirm the above, as well as that you are not being solicited to make a financial decision, and that you in no way are receiving any fiduciary projection, promise, or tacit inference of your ability to achieve financial gains.
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