For the last year and a half, I’ve done my part to convert Web 3.0 from promise to reality. I’ve looked at hundreds of blockchain projects, spent countless hours evaluating the space, and helped ConsenSys build out various aspects of its business.
These past 18 months have been the greatest intellectual journey of my career. Every day was a Talmudic investigation into the foundations of the internet and the faulty structures underpinning our online. ConsenSys was a training ground, my Dojo, for building a new and fairer internet.
Despite the awesomeness of this adventure, I’ve decided to duck out for a little while. For anyone who follows the space, the reasons should be obvious and are likely not worth long form explanation: dApps lack adoption, blockchains are still janky, few use cases beyond ‘store of value’ are proven out, etc. Most critically, I felt that the largest problems to be solved in the near-term are in the fields of computer science and regulation. Most of the industry’s value pool sits in storing and trading crypto. I’m not particularly equipped to add value in any of these fields. While I’m zealous about the promise of Web 3.0, the near-term fit between problem space and individual no longer felt right.
Whether blockchains will eat the world or not, I cannot say. But in my opinion, this technology’s contribution to society is absolute and solid. Blockchain has brought forth a new lens for examining the challenges of living in a digital world, and it has expanded the solution set.
This new paradigm, Web3.0, is a catch-all term that illustrates an internet with greater user agency, privacy, and an equitable distribution of the economic value created online. Blockchain became a proxy term for this new way of thinking, probably because it enabled early liquidity in this technology’s lifecycle. But blockchain is one among many tools which currently exist (and the many more which will likely emerge) to power a more user-centric online society.
Here are some ways that Web3.0 elevated my thinking as a creator of online systems:
- Think in networks: For the past 15 years, online networks have become dominant parts of our online lives. I believe that these networks, while mighty, have just begun to transform the way we organize economies and societies. New networks will organize more difficult interaction patterns and will tap into less obvious economic structures underpinning society. Flexport, a multi-billion dollar network which organizes freight supply chains, is a great example.
- Design markets: Not only are networks redefining society, but the rule makers wield an incredible amount of power in determining (in the words of Alvin Roth, “Who Gets What And Why.” In the past couple of years, it’s become clear that the incentives of tech platforms and its users do not always align (just read yesterday’s NYT piece, “It’s Time To Break Up Facebook”.) Market design is an emergent field which helps to more appropriately structure markets with proper incentives, interaction patterns, and well defined structures. Tokens have emerged as a tool to allocate scarce resources on the internet and beyond; here is an excellent primer on the field by my former colleague, Wayne Chang.
- Realize that trust & safety underpin these markets and networks: We want to conduct business on top of stable infrastructure. America, for example, emerged as the premiere economy of the 20th century largely because it was a friendly and stable environment for entrepreneurs and executives to build and run businesses. Internet economies are not built on democratic or stable platforms. If you’re a seller on Amazon or a video publisher on Facebook, the rules of the game will inevitably change on you and make it harder to do business. And while public democracies presumably have the interests of their constituents (including corporations) at heart, internet economies only care when it helps them grow shareholder value. This Wild West era of the internet seems to be winding down, and new networks are going to have to be more thoughtful about trust and control mechanisms.
- Think through vulnerabilities: I did not know much about network security before joining ConsenSys, but it turns out a big part of security is anticipating threats and establishing preventative measures. This way of thinking does not only apply to software security: it applies to designing any multi-party game or system. Think through the ways that bad actors will look to exploit your platform. When you spot holes, address them. Doing so will make your market a safer and therefore more robust.
- Build a movement: All things equal, companies which build a movement will (pretty much by definition) garner more momentum than companies which don’t. If you want to create something big, stand for something important.
My time in blockchain has advanced the way I think about online networks and markets. If I’m lucky enough to be successful in my future endeavors, then I’m confident that this new way of thinking has furthered my ability to succeed as an online economy creator.
Decentralization will be one of the major projects of this century, and I’m thankful for Satoshi, Joseph Lubin, and many others to have the audacity and intellect to chase the impossible dream of a more balanced internet and society.
I’m planning to harness this newfound wisdom to create a human-centered online economy. Stay tuned to see what’s coming next!
Add me on LinkedIn if you want to stay connected. Thank you Justin Lechner for the great insights underpinning this article, and to all the lovely meshians ConsenSys for exploring the blockchain universe with me.