In Defense of web3
Blockchain-backed "web3" technologies are growing in popularity — and controversy. I take a look at several criticisms.
However, blockchains are not without their controversy. Here I hope to address a multitude of concerns in one place, to better help people understand what common misconceptions they might have.
Everyone has seen the videos of crypto farms that are wall-to-wall racks of GPUs or specialized chips called ASICs. These are obviously massive wastes of power and highly unsustainable. This is the “Proof of Work” model of validating blocks on the blockchain, and it is currently used by Ethereum, the main blockchain in the web3 ecosystem.
However, Ethereum is transitioning to a model used by other popular web3 chains like Polygon and Tezos that uses 99.9+% less power and disincentives sinking massive amounts of electricity and silicon into mining. This method is called “Proof of Stake.” Instead of every single miner racing to validate every block of transactions as quickly as possible, a handful are randomly selected to perform validation.
Yes, a lot of stolen art has wound up on blockchains. In some very limited cases, it has translated to sales. All of this is horrible, even when it doesn’t sell. However, this problem is not new. Before NFTs, the perennial complaint artists rightfully had was about t-shirt bots. Web3 certainly has its fair share of art theft — though the entire internet suffers this problem.
NFT buyers want to be able to trust that what they are buying is authentic. However, as of today, much of NFT buying and selling takes place on OpenSea, a website that was early to the market and now functions sort of like its Amazon. They now exert a near monopolistic influence in a traditional “web2” way and, much like many companies from this era, are very sloppy and careless about how they enforce rules and laws. Verification is handed out haphazardly, and intellectual property takedowns require extraordinary steps on the part of the holder.
Given that artists (both pro- and anti-NFT) and NFT collectors all have an aligned set of incentives, a path forward towards more trusted exchanges of art (and other forms of NFTs) will be possible.
NFTs Will 404
Most people understand that NFTs often contain URLs to files, such as the image in the case of art. While it is true that this URL can be to a centralized service like Amazon S3, the method of storage preferred by the community is IPFS. This system works somewhat similarly to torrents to create long-term, decentralized storage for files.
Whether IPFS will reliably be the robust, long-term, decentralized file system it promises to be remains to be seen, but the system is being built with permanence that outlasts someone maintaining a file on the cloud in mind.
The Internet Should Be Free
The ethos many have come to expect from the web is that everything should be free, which web2 sites have drilled into people with heavily ad-centric models. But even those, like Twitter, are increasingly giving way to subscription-based services. Generally speaking, as much of the world’s wealth of art and information should be digitally accessible — and NFTs largely allow that by decoupling ownership from the ability to view and access the art, DRM schemes notwithstanding.
Those who put work into creating things of value, be that value functional or artistic, deserved to be rewarded. The hope with web3 is that can be to pivot away from the ad-based models dominating the web to ones that directly reward artists. This can be great for you as an end user who both hates ads and subscription fees — the model should hopefully give way to a wealth of content that you can consume, even if you do not own its NFTs.
You Can Just Commission Artists
The single most common refrain I hear in response to creators getting paid is that artists can just be commissioned — and commissions are great and useful part of the artistic ecosystem! But this insistence that artists should earn money largely by creating for others rather than creating things for themselves that then people purchase works against true freedom of artistic expression.
While it should always be easy to commission artists to make work you want, we need more artist-first avenues that enable them to devote more time to personal creations — that then others hopefully find worth owning.
Decentralization Doesn’t Require Blockchains
Many rush to describe ways that servers using inter-operable APIs would be able to create a decentralized exchange of digital assets that is currently only possible with NFTs — and it is very true that this could come to fruition. However, just because something can be implemented this way does not mean it will. This also creates multiple points of failure, as any one node in the system can easily shut down, taking assets stored on it with it.
The key value of the blockchain in this regard is making it nearly impossible for any one party to manipulate the ledger. While many web3 projects have “rug pulled” in the sense that developers have failed to deliver on promised features or taken money they promised to allocate elsewhere for themselves, the NFTs live on forever on the blockchain. While this fails to solve every possible problem with decentralization, it removes the ability for individual bad — or even just bankrupt — actors from taking data down with them.
Artificial Scarcity is Bad
Generally, I agree. The ideal is a post-scarce society where everyone can enjoy abundance of both needs as well as luxuries that can be sustainably provided. However, we do not live in such a world, and, in the meantime, scarcity is better to be pushed into the digital world if it unlocks someone’s ability to pay their bills in the physical world.
Creators who create artificial scarcity in the Metaverse but make money that then pays the bills in the real world have transformed scarcity into a new, defanged form. Better people find themselves unable to buy expensive JPEGs than not be able to put food on the table.
The rapidly emerging web3 space is far from perfect and does not solve many problems in the areas it has begun to influence. However, it does offer some interesting innovations over what was possible before and helps connect creators with new audiences and sources of revenue.
We do not need web3 to be perfect for it to be good, but only by engaging with it, can one shape it to be good. The new normal is being constructed right now. Let’s make it weird and wonderful.
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Published by Smol Farm, a hobby egg farm & other eclectic projects owned by LGBTQ+ women.