Ethereum is a better publishing platform than any of its web2 counterparts. Like Facebook or Twitter.
It’s globally distributed, has no geographical headquarters, and has nobody in charge. Ethereum won’t delete, hide or algorithmically reshuffle posts. Its newsfeed is the block order, but it won’t block certain politically-loaded topics. Its operators’ incentive is making money through transaction inclusion, not running ads. Ethereum rejects the concept of content curation and moderation.
Publishing on Ethereum is as close as it gets to shouting your words in the air when surrounded by others. Ethereum is the publishing platform we deserve.
The Tale of Three Webs
There’s the tale of the web’s evolution among people in the industry. You’ve probably heard it a million times by now, but how it goes is that web1 was read-only, and web2 added publishing or “write.” With web3 emerging through the advances of distributed systems, everyone has to have their opinion about it - me included.
But Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of Signal, published his “(…) first impressions of web3” at the beginning of this year and caught my attention. A central thesis of his piece is that “People don’t want to run their own servers, and never will.” The story he relays is that web2’s platforms emerged to fill the web1 users’ desire to stop running their own infrastructure.
And to unpack that, I want to empathize with his viewpoint.
Running web servers in times of web1 was indeed truly cumbersome. There were no cloud providers; internet connections were shit, and web development tooling as we know it wasn’t existent. Moxie makes this argument as it fits his central thesis that the “ecosystem is moving.” He’s saying: We’re already upgrading the web with protocols that omit to collect (meta)data to solve “The Social Dilemma.” The product they publish, the Signal messenger, e.g., provided no meaningful data to the Central District of California, stating that “Signal still knows nothing about you, but inexplicably the government continues to ask [us].”
So, by upgrading from web 2.0 to web 2.1, as Moxie suggests - can we pack up and move on from building cryptocurrencies? He solves the social dilemma? Is that it?
The Public-Facing Web2
The problem with Moxie’s behavior and article is that he didn’t stay in his lane. Signal isn’t truly a “web2 platform”, in the sense of Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram.
Within a chat on Signal, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Twitter, or any other instant messenger, for that sake, nobody gets centrally moderated or shut down. I’d assume you can speak freely in private conversations. The problem being in that case, who else is reading the conversation? Talking to you, Mr. FBI Agent. Here, privacy is at risk, and Signal’s protocol is a brilliant fix.
However, I’d like to argue that instant messaging (except for how Telegram implements it) isn’t really contested as a societal problem. The societal problem that leads people to give conference talks, go on podcasts and write blog posts is big tech’s active curation of public discourse on newsfeeds. Case in point: “Facebook allows Ukraine war posts urging violence against invading Russians.”
Taking On Responsibility
Hence, rhetorically scrutinizing once again Moxie’s original thesis if “People don’t want to run their own servers, and never will,” I’d like to assume that in the general case: It’s incorrect.
Indeed, would I, as a nerd, be asked to administrate a server running the Signal protocol for friends and myself: I’d say “Yes” immediately. It’s because: “Signal still knows nothing about [us],” and so it’d seem unlikely having to take on substantial responsibility. But Signal also doesn’t host a publicly accessible digital room as, e.g., Telegram’s channels or Facebook’s newsfeed do.
Would I want to contribute to hosting the Facebook newsfeed, and for that sake: Would I want to take on responsibility for shaping public discourse?
Back in the old web1 days, people had guestbooks and comment sections on their pages: Nowadays they don’t - but it’s not because nobody wants to host their servers: It’s because of the heavy responsibility of doing so. It must be the reason they say that “you either die an MVP or live long enough to build content moderation,” and I believe that’s true.
Ethereum is the newsfeed we deserve
And so that’s why web3 is taking off. That’s why it has fans and node operators. Sure, it isn’t very pleasant running an Ethereum full node and currently costs me roughly 130 EUR/month. But it guarantees that worldwide, whoever wants can publish whatever they want on-chain if they just pay the transaction costs.
“Smart Contracts are the Programmable Commons.” While traditional web2 platforms like Facebook are built on the assumptions of privately owned property and require taking on responsibility, Ethereum is collectively maintained, hosted, administrated, and run by everyone.
There’s no sorting for relevancy or increasing ad impression revenue. There’s no moral or social dilemma stemming from having total control over others’ communication. Node operators may be biased, but “Ethereum is neutral.”
That’s why Ethereum is the newsfeed we deserve.