A person’s most prized possession is freedom, and when someone tries to take it away, we revolt. Examples can be as small as complaining about overtime or as big as a country invading another country. Personally, this year I’ve realized freedom has actually been the defining factor in my interests, choices, and at times allergies. The point I realized this was when I looked at what web3 brings to the table, and I’ll try to get this thought process across here.
TL;DR: web3 means for data what open source meant for software.
We can learn much by looking at the past. I’d like to highlight three specific developments as they pertain to the evolution of freedom in its different forms: personal freedom, team freedom, and freedom of software.
Personal freedom is manifested in the counterculture of the 60s. It’s a direct response on a long development in the western world where a small – predominantly white established – group enforces their norms and values on the world, among which slavery, gender inequality, censorship and the power structures in society.
This counterculture leads to decades of protests against the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement and the black panthers, second-wave feminism, the free speech movement gay liberation and experimentation with creativity, sexuality and drugs. What these things have in common is that its people rising for the right to be themselves and be valued.
Team freedom comes from the desire of people to add value. In 1913 Henry Ford installs the first moving assembly line and since then it has been an example on how to scale up. This process has been adopted in the software industry as a waterfall process, in the hope, it would be as successful. The main difference is that the software to be produced is unique each time, resulting in more stress throughout the system where no one could take responsibility.
The coming of Agile is a direct response that acknowledges that development is knowledge work, requires skill and collaboration, it works better when focus is shifted to an equilibrium of trust, responsibility and commitment. This moves forwards to DevOps as well as to other industries.
Freedom of software is a response to the industrialization and closing of software in favor of profit. Among those who started in the pre-1980 world of experimenting with software, there was an aversion to this, which in its turn lead to Stallman’s laws of freedom, the open-source initiative and of course the rise of Linux.
In the present days, we see the open source is commonplace, companies like Microsoft have even embraced the open source philosophy completely. All relevant frontend frameworks are open source, every company out there at least uses open source components and solutions such as blockchains or digital assistants that are closed source can’t be trusted so will not work out in practice.
Freedom of data
The missing freedom from the above examples is the freedom of data. Now to get it out of the way fast, it’s not about GDPR or privacy, it’s about the fundamental right to own your own data, to be yourself. At the root of the web3 movement lies the power a company can have just by owning your data. A very common example is facebook holding your data and offering services with it to you, so they can collect more of it, creating a vendor lock-in. When you’re a president and you’re locked out of twitter for example, they keep your data with no way to take it back. This is a centralized approach we’ve taken for granted from big corporations, public services and governments.
Web3 in its heart registers data in a decentralized way, where only the owner controls it. The most common technology for doing this is blockchain, where transactions are stored but not judged. The earliest use case that arose was on currency, but for a lot of data the smart contract is more appropriate. In essence, the rules of the system can be implemented in a smart contract in such a way that every relevant party can use it, while the instance itself is in hands of the owner.
A common use case can be health records: all stakeholders from hospitals to dentists to the government for legislation work together on defining an open source smart contract for health records, and we as owners of that data each create our own instance. It abides by all law and regulations, it is free to be used by any party, but the data remains ours and we decide who can access it. You may have a cached copy, but we own the authoritative data.
This same principle can be applied to any data we currently use, imagine that we can make a status update to our smart contract which is then shared on any platform that we allow access to. To be able to revoke access so all posts are automatically removed as per GDPR requirements. To be banished from a platform but retain all your data and go to a community that is more in line with your ideas. And most importantly, you decide what information you want to consume, prohibit pushing content or ads using some black-box algorithm but purely on your preferences as you set them.
Imagine a world where you are in control of all your data. Where you decide who accesses it, and where it goes. Imagine what this does on the distribution of power, of wealth, and on the way businesses will have to do operate.
It took the setup of one discord community seven days to collect over 8,000 people and 40M and make a competing bid on the constitution of the USA. The rise of the decentralized web has begun, and we welcome you with open arms.