There has been a few great articles on the web3 movement and blockchain proponents recently, which draw out a couple of themes.

Molly White’s Blockchain-based systems are not what they say they are sets out a useful structure:

If you go out seeking to learn from their proponents why blockchains and the systems built atop them are apparently the future of our web, you’ll begin to see some common themes. Two of the ones I see most frequently are:

  • Decentralization: data in blockchains are distributed across innumerable servers run by innumerable people and organizations, rather than stored on servers controlled by one organization
  • Immutability: what is written to a blockchain cannot be changed or deleted, unlike more traditional databases These fall apart under further scrutiny.

The analysis that follows is cogent and clear, and leads to a conclusion that:

Blockchain technologies have somehow managed to land in the worst of both worlds—decentralized but not really, immutable but not really.

This aligns with Moxie Marlinspike’s “first impressions of web3”. He sets out a quick summary of web1 and web2, including two forces that shaped them:

  1. People don’t want to run their own servers, and never will.
  2. A protocol moves much more slowly than a platform.

He then explores how those forces are shaping web3’s reality. In a practical sense, the former means that most people access web3 through a small number of value-adding services — as a result, the lived experience isn’t the decentralised blockchain but the centralised service. Once that starts to happen, he argues, those central services become platforms which out-innovate the underlying decentralised protocol, meaning that the value consumers receive increasingly comes from the centralised services (and we’re back to a web2 world).

The other common thread from both authors’ accounts is the tendency of web3 proponents to talk in the abstract. Moxie notes the tendency to focus on the future value of their systems, as a way of deflecting criticism about their current state, with the catch-cry “it’s early days still”. Molly observes a similar tendency to “switch between discussing the theoretical implementations […] and the ecosystems we have today as it suits their argument”. In both cases, those signals suggest that these systems are still bleeding edge, and best thought of as emerging.