µniverse – 4
I remember the early days of the Internet. I was a failing entrepreneur in Mumbai in the summer of 1994. Two years after my return to India, I wondered if I could be successful after a string of flops. It was then that I started reading about the Internet. Two months spent in the US using a dial-up browser convinced me that this was the future. And thus was born the idea of creating IndiaWorld as an electronic information marketplace to connect Indians globally.
As I read about Web3 now and look beyond the price volatility of Bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies, there is a similar feeling that there is something new and exciting being created. What is needed is to think about how this can be applied – what are the second- and third-order effects of the decentralised infrastructure that is being constructed?
Just as the early years of the Internet offered the promise of digitisation of all that was not, Web3 can decentralise all that is not. It is up to us to imagine the use cases and the new “universes” that can be constructed.
The Economist wrote recently about the promise of Web3:
The history of modern computing is of a constant struggle between decentralisers and recentralisers. In the 1980s the shift from mainframes to personal computers gave individual users more power. Then Microsoft clawed some of it back with its proprietary operating system. More recently, open-source software, which users can download for nothing and adapt to their needs, took over from proprietary programs in parts of the industry—only to be reappropriated by the tech giants to run their mobile operating systems (as Google does with Android) or cloud-computing data centres (including those owned by Amazon, Microsoft and Google).
The web3 movement is a reaction to perhaps the greatest centralisation of all: that of the internet. As Chris Dixon, who oversees web3 investments at a16z, explains it, the original, decentralised web lasted from 1990 to about 2005. This web1, call it, was populated by flat web pages and governed by open technical rules put together by standards bodies. The next iteration, web2, brought the rise of tech giants such as Alphabet and Meta, which managed to amass huge centralised databases of user information. Web3, in Mr Dixon’s telling, “combines the decentralised, community-governed ethos of web1 with the advanced, modern functionality of web2”.
This is possible thanks to blockchains, which turn the centralised databases to which big tech owes its power into a common good that can be used by anybody without permission. Blockchains are a special type of ledger that is not maintained centrally by a single entity (as a bank controls all its customers accounts) but collectively by its users. Blockchains have outgrown cryptocurrencies, their earliest application, and spread into NFTs and other sorts of “decentralised finance” (DeFi). Now they are increasingly underpinning non-financial services.
It is time to reinvent the world brand customer relationships and rethink them in the context of Web3, blockchains, and cryptocurrencies. There are hundreds of billions of dollars being wasted because of reacquisition and wrong acquisition. Tapping into those is one of the biggest business opportunities in tomorrow’s digital first world. The µniverse, constructed as a DAO with the right rules and incentives, is waiting to be built.