Web3: the risk of naming
November 26, 2021
In the last few weeks, I’ve heard from many - mainly not technical - people the expression “Web3”. In a way, it is excellent that people that are not tech-savvy start to learn about the Web, how it works, and where it might go, since they are using it consciously or not to perform the majority of tasks in their lives. The issue I have with this, though, is that no one of them could explain how it would work or why they are so confident that the future is going in that direction. The only thing they could associate with Web3 was that cryptocurrencies would be the future, and their value would go to the moon.
I’m not a pessimist about the future of cryptocurrency and blockchain, but I’m not sure that it will happen either. I’ve been interested in the technology space for the last 20 years, and I have seen many technologies been proposed as the game-changer failing and being completely forgotten. Some were inherently flawed, others were technically sound, but they did not deliver on the promised success. Those 20 years taught me to approach any new technology that promises to change the world with a healthy amount of skepticism, and blockchain and cryptocurrency are no exception.
The problem I have with the usage of the term Web3 to define a Web based on blockchain is that it implies that the next generation of Web will be as such. This expectation might prove true, but we can not tell for sure, considering that we are at the beginning of the development of such a model, so it’s tough to say if it will work or if an unsolvable issue will prevent it from ever working. In addition to technical challenges, there are also commercial, regulatory, and many other battles that a groundbreaking technology needs to win before attempting to become a foundation technology in our world.
Speaking about the expression “Web3”, I think it is already an example of my point. Even if the most natural way would be naming it “Web3.0”, it was opted for the “Web3” name to reduce the confusion with Web3.0. The Web 3.0, or Semantic Web, was proposed in 2006 by Tim Berners-Lee and never became a reality, at least not how he originally envisioned it.
The risk is that by giving it such a loaded and catchy name, many non-technical people will start blindly believing in it. I think this would be a terrible outcome since as soon as it becomes evident that the reality is not like what they were expecting, many will become disfranchised. Some of them could even start believing in conspiracy theories to explain what did or did not happen. In addition to those risks, there is the risk of malicious people surfing the trend and creating scamming schemes.