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I’m an avid follower of Mai’s work in Compost and often look to Hypha.Coop as a model of best practices. This analysis of terms and the specific political economies or tendencies they signify may be interesting to Resonate Members seeking to navigate current environments.
By Mai Ishikawa Sutton May 17, 2022
(To tease you into reading the whole thing.)
Reflecting on the term Web3, Evgeny Morozov points out that while its proponents evoke it as a revolutionary new phase of the web, they rarely (if ever) address fundamental issues of power that made the old web toxic. He writes that many Web3 advocates are adversarial towards “Web 2.0” projects for their monopolistic control over user data. Yet despite Web3 products’ core offering of enabling end-users to own their digital assets, most don’t engage with the underlying political economy that fundamentally shapes the priorities and incentives of these tools. For one, Evgeny notes that many of the same VC investors who are salivating over the profitability of Web3 ventures are the same characters who were behind funding and shaping the most disastrous, centralized “Web 2.0” companies.
Taking a less critical stance, CEO of Bluesky, Jay Graber gives an elegant overview of the Web’s phases of history – describing Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web3 as “the hosted web, the posted web, and the signed web,” respectively. This breakdown is helpful to contextualize the current wave of cryptographically timestamped global ledgers, aka blockchains, within a technological history of the Web. Jay’s definition of Web3 is notably more expansive than what you normally hear, harkening back to its original definition of a semantic Web. She therefore includes not just blockchains, but any protocol that is “self-certifying”, including older protocols like Git, PGP, BitTorrent, as well as newer ones, such as IPFS, Hypercore, and Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB).
I should disclose that I have been a core member of the Internet Archive’s DWeb Projects team for the last three years. As part of this work, through a collaborative process with several dozen stakeholders, I co-stewarded the process to define the five overarching principles: Technology for Human Agency, Distributed Benefits, Mutual Respect, Humanity, and Ecological Awareness. Our aim was to put a stake in the ground and affirm the values of those building alternative network infrastructure. Instead of merely being not centralized, we wanted to define what it was that we stood for.
Though some have pointed out that it sounds too much like dweeb, I find “DWeb” to be an incredibly useful umbrella to organize under. It seems to attract people who are not only interested in building a new Web (and many Webs) for the sake of profit, but also for the sake of addressing concrete challenges, especially those faced by the most marginalized communities. And while people do cite the ways the Web used to be more decentralized, the term is temporally ambiguous. It doesn’t have the baggage of seeming like a new phase, nor is it under threat of having an expiration date. This creates room for the movement to evolve as we gain more allies and build a network of solidarity. By calling it a DWeb, it reminds us to continue wrestling with the question of what it is we’re decentralizing.