They Say Web3 Is the Future of the Internet. But How? The jury is still out on the usability of blockchain and Web 3.
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Today's blockchain landscape has a lot in common with the early Internet: It's an unwieldy, unsafe, and unregulated "wild west" of loosely connected protocols that hardly appear to form the infrastructure for future commerce. The internet's early critics were clearly wrong that no one would ever want to use email. With blockchain, however, the jury is still out.
Concrete usability is one of the biggest challenges in moving blockchain past its wild-west phase. Using crypto for its original purpose of financial transactions is still comparatively difficult. But more importantly, the broader Web3 ecosystem still lacks the practical functionality and UX to form the infrastructure that will replace Web2.
Web2 is an incredibly well-oiled and easy-to-use organism. Think of Facebook, Google, Uber, DoorDash and your favorite banking app. Crypto lovers often complain about the problems with centralization in Web2, but the end user sees proper functionality and an excellent user experience. In Web3, on the other hand, they see only a trendy UX dumpster fire with potential.
One of the major players behind current — and therefore Web2 — IT technology is, of course, Microsoft and its Office Suite. Microsoft Office found its way into almost every business and every home since the late '90s. Excel rules finance, and Outlook rules email. These software were so functional that even hard-hitting critics and competitors had no choice but to use them. Nowadays, we can almost say the same thing for Google. Try as you may to cut yourself off from Google's products, but you will barely last a week.
Web3 doesn't have a Microsoft or Google equivalent. The most usable crypto wallets, such as MetaMask, that often serve as the portal into Web3 platforms have limited functionality. So far, interoperability is just a promise of some of the more ambitious projects.
Until now, most hyped crypto projects focused on Play-2-Earn games, minting NFTs of pixelated frogs, or monkeys with bling. Today, however, Web3 projects are building infrastructure that matters, making way for traditional companies to join the fray. Infrastructure can take blockchain past the hype because businesses that need services actually need usability and use cases that help them. Now, products can be as functional as Web2, but designed to incorporate the crypto ecosystem.
For example, a group of ex-AWS executives got together and built Mailchain, which simplifies messaging on Web3. It resembles and functions like a basic email setup, but in the background, it services crypto, recreating the abundant functionality from current IT tech in the Web3 space.
Other solutions take it even further. Instead of aiming to just about replace Web2 infrastructure, they fundamentally improve it with new functionality. One such example is Document GPS, one of ShelterZoom's signature solutions. It leverages blockchain to tokenize e-mail attachments and other content.
The extension enables users to track their email attachments and revoke access, even after a recipient has opened the email. It also prevents downloads, which can significantly reduce the excessive carbon emissions and data pollution from the repeated uploading and downloading of the tens of billions of attachments sent daily.
For the past decade, it has been Gmail's domain alone actually to improve email. But leveraging blockchain, the crypto industry could rapidly catch up to Google's dominance.
Decentralized building changes the fundamentals of building infrastructure
Blockchain creates a new dynamic where you may not need one dominant company, like Google or Microsoft, to make all the functionality in one project. Instead, you can have a collection of projects inside one ecosystem — which is in Web3's spirit of fostering democratization.
Ethereum has managed to offer a home to many amazing projects. But with the difficulties of managing bridges safely, and the siloed nature of the L2s and sidechains, perhaps other systems have a greater potential of being home to more all-encompassing ecosystems.
Decentralized building is still one of the strengths of blockchain technology. By not depending on a single authority, the direction and future of the system will not be driven by parochial interests. The progress might be messy, but the messiness can also be seen as a complex form of collective deliberation. One killer project at a time, a whole landscape of new potential can bloom.
Polkadot, for example, is built to facilitate cross-chain interoperability, allowing multiple Layer-1 solutions to communicate effectively, thereby possibly giving birth to highly functional ecosystems. So far, Polkadot has suffered from a lack of killer applications, and the project progress is slow.
Replacing Web2 is a tall order for any technology, and it is doubtful whether blockchain has the goods to do it. Finally, however, the industry is stepping up to the plate. Funky NFTs will keep gathering headlines and imagination, but the infrastructure companies will be the ones to bring Web3 to the forefront.