The whole world is abuzz with excitement around web3 and metaverse and what the next version of the Internet would look like. Some people think that the new paradigm would enable a whole new way of working and living, and that the removal of intermediaries would usher in a fairer ecosystem, especially for creators; while others think that the future would simply be a replica of the unequal world that we live in. After all, why would anything change?
Which got me thinking. Is this a technology problem to be solved though? Or is it a business and policy problem?
Will decentralizing technology truly bring about decentralization of power — and equalize the playing field as some might hope? Or are we ignoring other factors at play? Borrowing the web2 world as an example. To look at how we get to a landscape dominated by Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook would require us to take a look back at not only how Silicon Valley operates, but also how the government policies over the years have enabled unchecked growth.
While Google traced their roots back to the search engine and Amazon to the online bookstore, these big tech firms became more ambitious as they amassed market power, acquiring hundreds of companies between themselves to expand across sectors and thwart competition. YouTube and Android are two such acquisitions that helped propel Google into online video and mobile OS, with the latter proven to be strategically crucial as the world transitioned to mobile. Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of Instagram was equally remarkable for its sheer size and market dominance.
Which brings me back to the original question. While the promise of the new paradigm is truly fascinating, what web3 will and will not become isn’t simply a technology problem to be solved. That would be too easy now, wouldn’t it? From who creates the tech and who funds the tech, to incentives and business models, to the actors involved in creating and delivering value, as well as to regulators and policymakers to name a few — many critical factors play a role in influencing the future of where technology will evolve and for whom it will serve.
At the recent Fintech Week London, my brilliant friend Leda Glyptis made the following remarks during her keynote on embedded finance: “It’s not a technology question; it’s an economics one.”
Indeed. And the same holds true here for us as well. The future is not a technology problem to be solved. We can choose which path we want to take — it's a societal question, a moral decision, as well as a business one.
What we do today and who we invite to the table will shape how this future will become.
Author Theodora Lau