Far too often, innovative new technologies are designed with built-in barriers to access — especially for marginalized and underserved groups. We can’t let Web3 follow the same course, argues Ricardo Diaz, partner and chief digital officer at LA-based ad agency Omelet.
Everyone is talking about Web3 these days. It’s clear that we are entering a new (and third) phase of the internet, but Web3 is still very much a conceptual and ambiguous term made up of a set of principles and initiatives, rather than specifications.
What people seem to be excited about is the promise of decentralization (of money, ownership, and so much more) and the accessibility that could bring to a world dominated by small groups of powerful people making decisions that impact billions.
But while I’m seeing some amazing potential for this new technology, Web3 is anything but accessible today. In fact, it’s making things less accessible for some communities; widening the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
That needs to change before the promise becomes a distant memory.
Similar to Web2, Web3 promises a utopian vision of the future of the internet. And I still believe in that vision. Unfortunately, right now a small minority of the community is seeing the majority of the financial gains from Web3, and this is exactly the type of inequality we were trying to leave behind.
Technology is neither good nor bad; it has no consciousness or bias. It’s up to us to give Web3 a better purpose and direction on how we want this technology to help evolve society and culture.
It has an immense opportunity to correct our previous mistakes; to make the foundations of our future internet a better and more accessible place. To get there, we have to be more thoughtful in how we approach it, to emphasize and push this technology to help make the wealth distribution gap smaller, not bigger.
The good news is that we are still in the infancy of this new technology and there are promising projects starting to pop up.
Web2 is far from perfect. Five companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) are responsible for 43% of today’s web traffic. Without intention, Web2 consolidated power in just a few tech companies.
While decentralization can help fight this, it doesn’t automatically equal equity.
The concept of decentralization isn’t new to the internet. Back in the early 2000s, Web1 started to lay out the standards and protocols for multi-distributed networks. Napster and BitTorrent are two early examples of network decentralization that some of us old-timers remember using. The technology helped inform our early approaches to openness that came with Web2.
But once again decentralization is being touted as the savior that will enable Web3 to level the playing field. It is not the silver bullet to making the internet a more accessible place. It’s up to us humans to dictate how this technology can make things more accessible. We have to be more intentional in pushing Web3 to bring prosperity and value to the poorest of communities.
Web3 can be a very intimidating place. Today, the first requirement to enter the Web3 space is a good amount of disposable income; the first big hurdle for some communities. But more importantly, you also need a high level of expertise to feel comfortable in Web3. The learning curve is steep, the technology is still clunky, things are always changing and mistakes can be very expensive.
Even as a computer science expert with a great understanding of the web, it is intimidating to me. And to make this learning curve even steeper, the rise of Cryptocurrencies and NFTs has attracted an army of scammers and hackers.
With no consumer protection regulations in place, some in the Web3 community have more of a “Code is Law” mentality for policing the Web3 marketplace. This doesn’t feel like the right way forward.
There is tremendous opportunity in decentralizing all sorts of information in an effort to make it more accessible to everyone. For all of its faults, Facebook has done a great job of connecting even the most underprivileged of communities from around the world. It’s a free service and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Web3 can offer this similar promise while also respecting consumer privacy and not being beholden to a single corporation.
As someone that has lived through Web1 and Web2, I’m acutely aware that even the most exciting technologies come with unintended consequences. I’ve seen how capitalism and privilege can leave out the groups of people that need help the most.
Today, Web3 is making the financial divide bigger, not smaller, and that needs to change. Right now is the time to be critical on ways to apply equity, access, and inclusion to the next phase of the internet. Let’s not repeat history and learn from the lessons of Web1 and Web2 to help make Web3 and our future internet more equally accessible to all.
Ricardo Diaz is partner and chief digital officer at Omelet.