Web3. It’s a term that gets thrown around quite a bit these days. Projects and people all over the internet often proclaim their connection to the concept without stopping to think about what web3 actually means and, even more importantly: what sets web3 apart from previous iterations of the internet?
In many cases, people learn about web3 from mainstream media, spreading the juiciest headlines about things like severe price volatility, outright fraudulent scams, hacks, and other emotionally charged events. These topics are news-worthy, without a doubt, but they are severely one-sided, highlighting the worst of a historic technological shift that is, in my opinion, as important and impactful to humanity as the creation and adoption of the internet.
I’d like to shed some light as to why many of us in the industry are so excited, why we are so passionate, and why we believe this is the most important work that we could be doing for the world. And, most importantly, why I think all of you should start getting involved to help change the world for the better.
My journey into web3
I was born and raised a lower-middle income California kid. I didn’t have many options coming out of high school so I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at the age of 17. After 12 years of serving in the military all around the world, I chose to prioritize time with my family over a very stable career and decided to separate from the Air Force.
To adapt to the civilian world, I reinvented myself through an MBA program from Rice University. Following my MBA, I worked for over six years at Goldman Sachs. I really enjoyed my experience at Goldman, where I was very successful and learned a lot about the world of traditional finance (TradFi). But, after a number of years, I found myself extremely unfulfilled and unchallenged, and I missed my younger days when I had a mission more important than my bottom line.
I was originally introduced to the cryptocurrency space through a childhood friend – though I didn’t pay any real attention for a number of years. In late 2016, I finally got involved in the budding web3 space, starting as a volatility trader. Nothing makes you pay attention like a little skin in the game.
After a year or two, I was hooked. I listened to podcasts and I read articles and white papers (conceptual, introductory documents that many web3 projects use to define their technology, features, and goals), absorbing anything and everything I could about the industry while wearing my TradFi hat. Since then, I’ve been a heavy user of web3 technologies – soaking in whatever possible.
When I first joined the Wall Street world, I was challenged and pushed to my limits…and I loved it. However, after a few years, once I was able to figure out the job and lift my head above water to do some soul searching, I realized that my future was to simply do the same thing in different situations to try and make more money. My mission was my bottom line, and everyone around me was not only doing the same but were also comparing themselves to each other. Once that really set in, I found myself unfulfilled, unchallenged, and without purpose. I knew I didn’t belong at Goldman any more and felt much more at home within the community of and culture of web3.
So I quit. And I started something new – something that has completely changed my purpose in life.
I’m now almost a year and a half into my full-time career in web3 overseeing global business development and partnerships at Edge & Node, the founding team behind The Graph and one of many core developer teams working on the data infrastructure that is absolutely essential for the next iteration of the internet.
When I told people I was leaving Goldman, most thought I was insane (just like my friends, family and fellow service members thought when I left my successful career in the military).
After leaving Goldman, the most common question from former colleagues was (and continues to be): ”What is web3 and what makes it so special?”
It’s a valid question with many different answers, depending on who you ask.
But what really sets web3 apart from web1 or web2?
The evolution of the internet
Let’s start with some historical context.
The beginning of the internet, or web1, included basic protocols for communication and static pages with very few interactive features. Let’s call this the read era of the internet where we, as users, could essentially only view documents online. Another way to think about this timeframe is through the lens of content creation and profit from content. In web1, companies created content and companies profited.
Fast forward to the next era of the internet, web2, the content creator era where everyday people could read and write content. With the advent of social media, the internet saw the proliferation and amplification of user generated content. Everything from social algorithms to microblogging, comments, and “likes” took hold. This changed how humans were able to learn, connect, interact, and collaborate – an essential step in the evolution of the internet.
The majority of the web still lives in the web2 era. With web2, everything we do online, every social media profile, post, and photo — and most aspects of digital life — are owned and controlled by the platforms on which we interact. Another way to look at the web2 era is where individuals create content, but companies own, control, and retain profit, often through data mining and value extraction from people.
Enter web3. Web3 is built as a decentralized system and set of protocols that make the flow of information transparent. This novel era removes the need for third parties to interact with individuals, no longer extracting value from people. Web3 strips concentrated power from an elite few and redistributes power to everyone.
With web3, we as individuals can now read, write, and truly own and control what we do and create online, along with our unique digital footprints. In other words, we create content, own, control, and capture value off of our own digital activities and assets.
What sets web3 apart?
The following questions still remain: how do we define web3? What actually sets web3 apart from past iterations of the internet?
Many people with whom I’ve spoken think that web3 is defined solely by a project building something that utilizes blockchain technology (data stored on transparent digital ledgers and validated on decentralized peer-to-peer networks). Perhaps. But consider the recent social media shift into the NFT and metaverse space. Now imagine if those NFTs (non-fungible tokens, or verifiably unique digital assets) were stored on private blockchains with assets based in private servers that the company controls and the companies can arbitrarily roll back or change things as it suits their needs. That’s not just a possibility; that’s actually a current and scary reality.
Centralized gatekeeping doesn't feel very web3 to me.
What about ownership? For example, truly owning one’s own digital assets in a self-controlled wallet seems very web3, especially when compared to the use of a centralized exchange. So, maybe that’s it. But ownership is a possibility in web2.
Companies can create tokens or NFTs, put them on a public blockchain, and allow you to keep your assets in a personal wallet. But what happens if a government deems that your assets are illegal? What happens if a token – or even an animated picture in the form of an NFT – is deemed a security, a blacklisted form of art, or any other nonsensical rule or law a governing body might impose?
Any company that wants to survive will surrender whatever they must to the government. They will shut down websites and servers – sometimes freezing or deleting assets in the process. Think of the recent FTX debacle and the company’s abuse of client funds through the token they launched, FTT, yet which was based on outright fraud and illegal activities. Owning an asset that a centralized company maintains in centralized servers means that, if the company goes down, “your” asset likely goes down with it.
So, I’d say ownership is not what makes web3 unique.
And what about shared value and/or collective governance? When people have the ability to collaborate, interact, and decide the future of a platform or entity, as well as share in the profit within that ecosystem – does that make them web3? Companies could hypothetically do that in web2, with a traditional corporate and finance structure, by tacking on cooperative values. However, by and large, they just don’t.
So, I ask again, what is web3? Let’s start with a concise definition. In short:
Web3 is a new platform for decentralized applications.
In this context, the system is a technology that is used as a base upon which other things are built. For example, the personal computer is a hardware platform that enables people to create games, music, and connect to the internet. The internet is a platform that has led to social media, global communication, and everything else we do online.
But what is a decentralized application (or dapp)? That’s where things get interesting.
In short, an application is only decentralized if they have a completely decentralized technology stack. And what does that mean?
NO. PRIVATE. SERVERS.
This means no private or proprietary databases owned and controlled by any government, tech company, or anyone else. Decentralization matters, as we’ve seen when things get censored and/or shut down or when there are hacks due to centralized yet insecure servers.
Unfortunately, for most people, decentralization doesn’t matter…until it does.
Without a decentralized tech stack, a dapp is just an app. And an app is just more of the same ol’ web2 technology. In order for the internet to impact society, we need decentralized infrastructure at the base layer.
But why does decentralization matter?
The risks of centralization
Decentralization fights against the power imbalance exacerbated by centralization.
If you look at corporate structures around the world today, a handful of media conglomerates own most TV channels and content streams in the world. Seven beauty and fashion companies curate the majority of the products we use and clothes we wear. Worse yet, 10 food and beverage entities decide the ingredients that go into the food we eat. And within technology, five of the biggest companies in the world decide the majority of how the internet and surrounding technologies serve information.
Information distribution is a risk vector of power that could be abused in the wrong centralized hands. Information is the basis for decision-making and choice that affects most people across the planet. A handful of companies are wringing every ounce of value out of their users' digital footprints.
In the U.S. – a corporation has a legally binding, fiduciary responsibility to choose to benefit their shareholders over users on their platform, regardless of the negative physical, mental, or emotional impact these choices may have. An incentive structure like that feels misaligned to me.
How to help decentralized technology succeed
So, the next logical question is: how do we help steer away from centralized technology and ensure decentralization succeeds? In short, we need to use decentralized technology! If you aren’t building something as a developer yourself, then use applications that rely on decentralized chains and networks, file storage, oracles, and data services.
There are a handful of true web3 technologies out there that take decentralization very seriously. The one I am helping to build is The Graph, the only project that is making blockchain data organizable and usable in a decentralized way.
Without relying on The Graph’s decentralized network for blockchain data needs, a dapp is just an app, and an app is just more web2 technology and will end up with web2 outcomes. The Graph is essential infrastructure for web3. Full stop.
Why I joined web3
I have come to realize that web3 is an integral part of making the future equitable for all. I am committed to being part of it, as a user, an active participant, and a contributor across many ecosystems, helping the world adopt decentralized technology infrastructure across all industries.
So when folks ask me why I consider web3 to be so integral, I often respond:
The world deserves open-source, verifiable, and transparent information, because information ought to be a right, not an exclusive privilege for the powerful.
Web3 changes the incentives away from value extraction to more generative economics… like Charlie Munger says “You show me the incentives, I’ll show you the outcome.”
Web3 enables technology that is resilient to being shut down through centralized control, where intermediaries become a thing of the past – where no government or entity can ever intervene and where we can have a truly borderless, entity-free economy where people are free to choose if and how to participate.
Web3 empowers people. For the first time in human history, people are able to take the power, control, ownership, and decision-making away from a few powerful global leaders and give it back to the masses, so that individuals have a say in how global technologies evolve. After all, we are all stakeholders in the internet—a utility that has connected the entire world.
Reflecting on these reasons, I realize how fortunate I am to be working on such important issues, working on this technology, and working with a team of core developers contributing to The Graph. I feel humbled to be a part of a thriving and enthusiastic community that values impact over money, innovation over complacency, and taking on the biggest challenges in the world.
How to get involved:
Apply for a job in The Graph ecosystem, join The Graph Discord and The Graph Official Community Telegram, become an Indexer, Curator, and Delegator, apply to become a Graph Advocate, or start building and/or using subgraphs for yourself to unlock data on blockchains. Help build the future of the internet and find purpose in what you do. Come and see why The Graph is not only one of the most important protocols in the space but is also one of the most exciting.
Come and help change the world. It doesn’t get much better than that.
About Edge & Node
Edge & Node is a software development team dedicated to the advancement of web3. Founded by the initial team behind The Graph, a protocol for indexing and querying blockchain data, Edge & Node plays a vital role in supporting and scaling protocols and development teams throughout the global web3 ecosystem. From building solutions that helped decentralize one of the most critical layers of web3 to tracking every project being built in the decentralized community, Edge & Node is mission-focused on empowering individuals with the ability to contribute to moving humanity forward.
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