Is Web3 the future or a scam? Depends who you ask.
Photo: Shubham Dhage/Unsplash

Is Web3 the future or a scam? Depends who you ask.

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Good morning! This Tuesday, Web3 can be anything you want it to be, the jury in the Theranos trial started deliberations, and Oracle paid big bucks for Cerner.

The Web3 Rorschach test

Jack Dorsey caused a ruckus on Twitter last night when he tweeted that "You don't own 'web3.' The VCs and their LPs do." He warned anyone in the space to "know what you're getting into..." That, of course, got all the Web3 purists talking about how Dorsey's a Web 2.0 founder, he doesn't get it and Web3 will still set you free.

The whole market is a conundrum right now. Prices keep rising, profile pictures keep turning to pixelated art, Discords keep filling up and everybody in your life is going to spend the holidays telling you to stop buying physical goods and live the NFT life exclusively. But to what end? Where's the evidence that this decentralized, unstoppable vision for the future of the internet is actually going to be all those things? Or even, you know, exist?

Some look at Web3 and see a scam; some see the future. If you've been on Twitter the last few days, you've seen how heated the debate has gotten over all things decentralized. Even the terms are complicated: Web3, crypto, blockchain and decentralization all get lumped together despite often meaning hugely different things. And the debate seems to often veer into ideology rather than technology.

NFTs are just one example, but they're a good way to understand the ideological divides. Most people fall into one of five (occasionally overlapping) camps:

  • The real-world-implications camp: The current state of NFTs is a precursor to a world in which the deed to your house, the contract for your car loan or your college degree would all be stored on the blockchain, along with all relevant history and information, in an unchangeable and transparent way. SmartRealty is one company working on this stuff.
  • The collect-'em-all camp: People have always collected things that connect them to things they like. Stamps, trading cards, postcards, Polaroids. What are NFTs if not digital versions of the exact same thing? NBA Top Shot is still the best case for this one.
  • The direct-connection camp: The internet has suffered from too many intermediaries, and NFTs give artists, musicians and creators of all kinds a more direct and pure way to connect with their audience. Audius is one example, but this is probably the most popular big-picture case for Web3: an internet not controlled by middlemen.
  • The cool-kids-club camp: NFTs are, above all, a token of access. They're the new country-club membership, allowing you and only you into whatever game/event/digital space it controls. Bored Ape Yacht Club is leading the charge on this front.
  • The YOLO-nihilism camp: Nothing matters, money is pretend, prices only go up, let's just buy some stuff and make some money and not worry so much about the big picture. See: the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade NFTs, Pepsi's "Mic Drop" NFT series and Melania Trump's … thing.

You can see whatever you want in NFTs, and in Web3 in general. You can look at it as a cash grab by a bunch of rich techies looking to make a quick buck, or you can look at it as the beginning of a new, better era of the internet. The reality is surely some of both, and mostly somewhere in between.

  • Investors put more than $28 billion into crypto and blockchain companies this year, per PitchBook, and more than $3 billion into NFT projects alone.
  • In NFTs, giants like Coinbase and OpenSea are centralizing the decentralized, and Adam Mosseri's acknowledgement that Instagram is interested in NFTs proves there's still plenty of Big Tech Energy in the space.
  • Getting into crypto right now feels like a get-rich-quick scheme, in a good way — which is why tech employees are flocking to the space, The New York Times reported.

There are still issues here, of course. Copying and stealing have become rampant in NFTs, with artists seeing their work suddenly pop up in someone else's drop. A lot of NFT projects aren't decentralized at all, so you really truly are just buying a JPEG on a web server. And 2022 will bring big questions around regulation, IP, copyright and so much more.

  • For all the hype, NFTs are still only for the earliest of early adopters. A NonFungible survey found that 260,489 wallets had purchased an NFT in the third quarter of this year. And since one person can have multiple wallets, the actual number of NFT owners is still quite low. But it's growing fast, up more than 10x since just last year.

2022 is going to be a key year in this space. The pressure's on for someone, anyone to figure out how to make Web3 into something more user-friendly and exciting than just "the internet but you can invest in everything." The gaming industry figures to lead the charge; creator-focused companies won't be far behind. So far, they've built great systems for a few people to make eye-popping amounts of money. Which is a pretty good description of the internet we have so far! But maybe not the one Web3 people hope for. The time is now to build it better, and get rich trying.

— David Pierce (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM ANT GROUP

In 2020, U.S. merchants sold over $54 billion worth of products to Chinese customers on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms, which rely on Alipay to facilitate the transactions. The year prior to the pandemic, Chinese tourists in the U.S. engaged in 800,000 transactions using the Alipay App, for sales valued at $232 million.

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People are talking

Speaking of NFTs, musician Brian Eno isn’t sold on the idea:

  • “People I like and trust are convinced they’re the best thing since sliced bread, so I wish I could have a more positive view, but right now, I mainly see hustlers looking for suckers.”

Matt Mullenweg is betting on open source, and he’ll spend his whole life fighting for it:

  • “It's a human right to be able to see how that technology works and modify it. It’s as key to freedom as freedom of speech or freedom of religion.”

Internal culture problems are driving departures at Ubisoft, one developer thinks:

  • "I think abuse and toxicity are contributing factors but not deciding ones for most [people] … Women and people of color experience them as deciding factors."

Making moves

Oracle is buying Cerner. The deal cost $28 billion, making it Oracle’s biggest acquisition to date.

Rocket Companies will purchase Truebill, a personal-finance app, for $1.3 billion.

Open English is looking to go public as soon as next year, a source told Bloomberg.

ZeroFox is going public via a SPAC. The deal would give the company an equity value of about $1.4 billion.

Ziv Oren is Reblaze’s new CEO. Oren was most recently the cloud security company’s COO.

Angie Jones joined Square as VP of Developer Relations. Jones is a former senior software engineer at Twitter.

Brian Brooks joined Voyager Digital’s board. Brooks has been the CEO of Bitfury for a couple months.

Three Canoo execs are leaving. CTO Peter Savagian is stepping down along with two remaining co-founders, sources told The Verge.

In other news

Lawmakers and workers want details about the Amazon warehouse collapse. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is asking Andy Jassy for more information, and several hundred workers are pressing Amazon to permanently end its cell phone ban.

The jury in the Elizabeth Holmes trial started deliberations yesterday. Deliberations are also scheduled for today and Thursday.

Tech employees see crypto as the next big thing, according to a report by The New York Times. Execs and engineers are leaving their jobs at Google, Apple and others for smaller crypto startups, and investors are dropping billions on crypto firms.

Airbnb made its New Year’s Eve party rules more stringent. Guests without a history of positive reviews can’t reserve a one-night stay, and the company will crack down on last-minute two-night bookings that have a high likelihood for “disruptive parties.”

Vladislav Klyushin was extradited to the U.S. The Russian national was charged with his involvement in hacking and stealing earnings information about companies like Roku and Tesla.

Chinese influencer Huang Wei was fined for tax evasion. The popular creator’s social media accounts have been removed.

Your free guide for app design

No tech worker shares more insight than a dev. Engineers like Mina Markham are dispensing tips all the time, and, most recently, Addy Osmani and Lydia Hallie teamed up on a new online book called “Learning Patterns.”

The Google Chrome and TypeScript engineers pieced together the book, which covers JavaScript, React design and performance patterns. The goal is to point out common design issues and offer relatively easy ways to fix them. It’s a useful resource to bookmark for future design projects.

A MESSAGE FROM ANT GROUP

According to a Nielsen Report, 94% of Chinese tourists said they would pay with their phones if the method becomes more widely adopted overseas; 93% said using that method would likely increase their spending. To meet them where they are, more and more U.S. companies — both here and in China — are embracing Alipay.

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.


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