Molly White's Work Debunking Web3
3 min read

Molly White's Work Debunking Web3

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This week I came across Molly White's website called "Web3 is going great" (this podcast is a great option if you'd like to hear her explain in audio). I appreciated Molly's perspective because she's a practicing software engineer who pushes code. She's taken the time to look at Web3 through a critical technological/social lens. And if you know anything about Web3, you'll know that's a daunting prospect.

The past year or so, I've been trying to learn as much as possible about the technologies powering the Web3 movement (blockchain, Solidity, wallets, NFTs, DAOs, etc.). Something about the mission statement of decentralization and democratization spoke to me. And, like most people, I'm pretty fed up with all the rotten things that our current state of technology has been doing, especially the addictive, manipulative, and un-human ways technology has commandeered our individual and collective lives.

In short, while I find Web3 tech fascinating, I've had a hard time figuring out exactly what Web3 does that open source software does not. I have not been able to answer this question in any compelling way.

What is clear to me is that web3 is really good at separating people from money. Despite all the sincere impulses driving the movement, I haven't been able to shake the strong feeling that the only thing "new" about Web3 is hype. That the real innovation happening here is a brazen attempt to skirt financial regulations. Despite all the cries for decentralization (which I fully support), it feels like an opportunistic attack on the open internet while it's down, fueled by a decade or two of built-up frustrations with social media and addictive technologies.

I keep coming back to infrastructure. When you deploy a regular old website, it goes to a server (usually Amazon Web Services if you keep digging far enough). One way or another, the company or person hosting the site pays for  server space and computational power to respond to requests for information stored on the server.

In Web3, the idea is that you pay "gas fees," which ultimately go toward the core group of technologists providing the server space and computational power. Nothing wrong with this in theory. But reality is that these servers, the computations they perform, and the technology powering the entire system lack the rich social, technological, and regulatory frameworks that the existing internet is built upon. Also, since it's all so ephemeral and cryptic, the entire network ends up being a volatile black box system. Call me old fashioned, but that's not the infrastructure that I want my essential services built on.

Web3 fans could call the newness a feature. And perhaps over time it will be. It could allow us to reclaim so much diversity, richness, and color that was lacking throughout so much of the commercial internet's history.

For now though, I don't think starting over is the best move. As if that's something we can even do. Sure, there's an allure to greenfield technological and social projects. Like we somehow get to wipe the slate clean and start fresh (though this so-called "clean" slate was also fundamentally started by a group that is mostly white, mostly men, mostly affluent).

Bottom line is that Web3 and open source feel to me like different flavors of the same thing. When I cut through the hype and hyperbole and get down to the bottom line, I just want solid infrastructure to build cool shit on. Are there problems with the history of open source? You bet. (this book has a great overview of how NPM changed the course of open source) But do we want to throw away all of the rich history of the open web for a hyped-up movement? I don't.