US tech masters of the universe squabble over the future of the internet

Having stepped down as CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey has criticized claimed ‘Web3’ technology, which has inevitably triggered some of its cheerleaders.

At a conceptual level Web3 is the evolution of the internet towards a fully decentralized technological model based on blockchain, which will counter the domination of the current iteration by a few giants, such as Google and Facebook. As with anything blockchain, it can all appear very arcane and abstract so we recommend reading around the matter. This New Scientist article seems like a decent primer.

If implemented as advertised it would shift control of data from platforms to the individual, thus ensuring both the portability of your digital identity across platforms and the ability of individuals to offer and commercialize their data as they see fit. Somehow the ‘metaverse’ has been shoehorned into the general Web3 concept, perhaps because it’s thought that your virtual identity will also be governed by the same decentralized principles.

The founder and, until recently CEO of social media giant Twitter – Jack Dorsey – has taken it upon himself to express public scepticism about all this, however. His chosen medium was inevitable, with this tweet representing Dorsey’s opening salvo.

VC stands for venture capitalist and LP the limited partners of such firms. One in particular seems to have taken Dorsey’s tweet personally, with the co-founder of Web3 enthusiast VC firm Andreesen Horowitz subsequently blocking Dorsey on Twitter.

While it’s easy to view this as a self-indulgent public spat by tech megalomaniacs with commercial agendas, it has brought an important matter into the foreground. Why would a VC firm be so keen on a new technology unless it thought it could make lots of money out of it? Surely those commercial incentives will always drive it towards controlling as much of this supposedly decentralized technology as possible.

On the other hand it’s hard to imagine Dorsey doesn’t have an agenda of his own. Yes, maybe he’s enjoying the post-Twitter opportunity to speak his mind, but are we to believe his motives are untainted by his own commercial considerations? Having said that, Dorsey has spoken in the past of a decentralized social media platform that would potentially resolve the burden of top-down censorship that so plagues the likes of Twitter and Facebook currently.

Fellow oligarch Elon Musk also decided to get involved, signalling his own scepticism about Web3.

The result of all this seems to have been to more clearly define an ideological schism among the self-appointed tech masters of the universe between Web3 cheerleaders and sceptics. As ever the ideal position is probably somewhere in between them but, if the past couple of years has taught us anything, it’s that unchallenged consensus is usually harmful to everyone in the long run. So it’s good that Dorsey has attempted to ignite a public debate on the matter, albeit one some Web3 cheerleaders seem reluctant to participate in.

At stake, potentially, is the future direction of the digital economy. Regulators have belatedly realised they have almost no influence over the internet in its current form and are mainly just seeking to extort money from the companies that run it, though irrelevant retrospective fines. They’re no more likely to be on top of the next iteration, which is why it’s encouraging to see friction between those with the greatest influence over it.

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