We operate in a Web2 world. But what does it mean and why is it important to understand?
In today’s social internet, a powerful few control nearly all of our online experiences and the vast amounts of corresponding data that accompanies those experiences. What you see, what you like, who you tag, and where you are belong not to you, but to a number of extraordinarily large tech companies. You’ve heard of these companies – Facebook, Google, Twitter, and TikTok – and they’re all centralized Web2 platforms that “own” the majority of our online existence. While much of the Web3/decentralized internet chatter sounds like marketing hype right now, the core value proposition of Web3 is exciting. As the leader of a privacy-focused social enterprise, I’ve seen a growing interest in online privacy issues over the past few years.
News after news shows that corporations have been poor stewards of our trust and privacy, which is why I think companies like Mastodon and mine, MeWe, have grown tremendously. People are tired of being manipulated to get their data.
Web3, if executed correctly, could fundamentally disrupt the consolidation of power we see today from big tech to people tech.
Web3, or decentralized technology, makes it possible to transfer the ownership of digital data from companies to their users. This decentralized technology has many potential benefits – new ways to make money, new forms of governance, and ultimately the promise of personal privacy and increased control as an individual user of these tools. Decentralized social media fundamentally shifts the center of control from the business to the user.
Perhaps the most stark examples of the impact on our digital privacy in our current Web2 world are the major social media platforms. In a recent the wall street journal interview with Frank McCourt, founder of the non-profit organization Project Liberty, which aims to transform the way the internet works and which benefits from the digital economy, said: “Big tech knows more about me than my wife, and I didn’t give them permission.” The article goes on to share “the fact that a few powerful internet players are ‘hoarding and exploiting’ users’ personal data, which is not only inherently unfair, but also ‘socially corrosive'”. I completely agree.
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Today, there are too many barriers to switching social media platforms. If you’re among the 45% of users who have considered quitting Facebook or other major platforms, you’ve probably felt the pain of what that means: quit the platform and leave your digital life behind too. . If you leave, most of the time the company keeps your “social graph” – a digital representation of your online connections.
The potential promise of Web3 is to be able to seamlessly move your digital “social graph” from one platform to another, allowing you to align your platform choices with your values.
Today, the most well-known Web3 companies are usually crypto companies, but I think it’s when social media is decentralized that we can see the benefits of this technology for consumers. From my perspective, many companies like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok are unlikely to make this transition because their business models rely on selling user data to generate ad revenue. Others, like Discord, could pave the way for this transition because they don’t sell user data to generate ad revenue. But in a decentralized world, each person could have their own “social graph” that allows them to maintain their connections regardless of the platform they use.
It is clear that today’s social media is not as “free” as it first appears. We pay for it in monitoring and selling the most personal aspects of our lives – our tastes, our location and our friends. But even though we feel manipulated, we are stuck because all our connections are there. According to findings from the Pew Research Center, Americans are concerned about how their data and information is collected and used by businesses (79%) and governments (64%), which has created a moment of change. The Internet should be owned by its users, not by a few extremely large and powerful corporations.
Not so long ago it might have sounded like a utopian, technological dream language, but technology and dream come true. It will take many entrepreneurs, business leaders and businesses to bravely step into the unknown and take action to make this work. For my part, I am excited about what the future of the internet – owned by the people – holds for us all. The future of social media is decentralized, which means the future of social media is ours.