Web3 Is Annoying, But It Doesn't Have to Be Sustainable business plans can outpace get-rich-quick schemes.
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Months ago, I was discussing Web3 with a friend, and he made a comment that struck me as both optimistic for the future and irritated with the present. He said Web3 "won't be what it is today."
I agree completely with him. There is a tremendous amount of "shiny object syndrome" happening right now, with a rush of business leaders and marketers flooding the Web3 space. But many of them have no idea what the technology means or what it's capable of. When Elon Musk blasted Twitter for enabling NFT avatars before fixing foundational issues on their platform ("This is annoying," he wrote), he was calling out this same problem.
This isn't to say that NFTs, or any other Web3 technology, is all hype. There is a tremendous amount of value in NFTs, for example — especially for content creators looking for new ways to connect with their fans. But this is a transition period in digital history. We are shifting into the world of Web3 and will continue to do so over the next decade. The issue is not the technology or the concepts behind it: It's that corporate executives are too short-sighted to dive in wholeheartedly and instead take shortcuts just to hop on the trend.
Web3 won't be what you think it is
Nobody knows what the future will look like, and this is especially true of evolving technology. We can already see numerous companies trying to "create" the metaverse, as if any single company can do that. (Despite Mark Zuckerberg's hopes, that's like saying Meta is going to build the internet.) On a more positive note, at least these over-ambitious technocrats understand the long game.
Web3 will rely on blockchains, which in turn rely on millions of computers (or nodes) connected to the network. The numbers are currently relatively small, but they will grow substantially in the coming years. However, this will take time. Advocates at organizations like IPFS are heading in the right direction, explaining the benefits of a distributed web in terms of privacy, security, sustainability and scalability.
There will also be hurdles to overcome. Skeptics abound in the current climate, earning headlines for calling out the NFT boom or calling the metaverse a buzzword. These shallow arguments miss the bigger picture. Recall how many 1990s-era critics argued digital alternatives would never replace shopping malls, bookstores or classrooms? At the time, those critics were right: Reading a book on a computer screen in 1995 was not a pleasant experience. But the prediction was, as it is today, myopic.
The path forward is about more than simply waiting for mainstream technology to catch up. It relies on leaders leveraging the technology for good reason. When my company decided to launch our direct-to-NFT publishing tool, we did it knowing our users — who are professional creatives — wanted to access new avenues for monetization and distribution. It was a logical solution that genuinely benefited our community. We are not unique in this regard — companies should be looking for how to implement artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchains and NFTs in thoughtful, useful ways.
If leaders focused on their teams, users, clients and business models — and then considered how new technologies could benefit them — this would be more sustainable, helping to mitigate against a bubble bursting like the dot-com crash.
The slow march of time is getting faster
When I was about 10, my brother's friend came over and showed me how to connect to a bulletin board system. This was the first time I used a dial-up modem. I remember being mesmerized by all the files we could see on another computer. The changes between those early digital days and today's internet took three decades to happen. In those years, companies made very costly mistakes, and investors made and lost billions of dollars — and society learned from it all.
In some ways, we're seeing the opposite today. Rather than seeing people hesitate to dive into Web3 — remember when newspapers were reluctant to build websites? — we're seeing a rapid influx of fad-followers hoping to capitalize on buzzy trends in the cryptocurrency and NFT space. But without a well-thought-out strategy, it's all smoke.
Web3 is here to stay. The progress is already happening. Unlike the past 30 years, however, it won't take another 30 for us to manifest an entirely new digital landscape. I believe it will happen — and while it will take time, it also might happen sooner than you think.
Related: Entrepreneurs Should Embrace Web 3.0