The idealistic spirit of the beginnings of the Internet is blowing on Web3, but for how long? – magazine

So what about Web3, whatever it is and will be? Is this just hype, a buzzword, the new darling of investors – or the start of a revolution that will finally bring us the internet we’ve always been promised? Yannic Plumpe, who has done extensive research on Web3, also asked himself these questions. We publish here an excerpt from his collection of documents in essay form.

By Yannic Plumpe

Today, the word Unix designates a whole range of operating systems. But at the start of the computer age, there was only one, the original Unix. From the 1970s, almost all mainframes worked with it. Without the simple user interface or pre-installed programs known from Windows. A community of idealists gathered around this system, which continued to develop Unix over the years – and which wrote one or another laudatory pamphlet. For open standards and open source, against commercialization.

Especially at the beginning of the computer age, there was a special atmosphere of novelty, the spirit of discovery and a culture characterized by openness and freedom. There were no formally trained IT people, experts, or standards. Everyone was changing careers and relying on learning each other’s skills. Because the digital systems were something completely new and designed by the community itself, there were few or no path dependencies.

Of course, there were also frictions. Corporate commercial interests have played an increasingly important role and different currents and splits have formed within the community. Unix wars even happened. Ultimately, however, the (technical) diversity of the community led to enormous innovative power. The standards established then still form the basis of software development today. And macOS, iOS, Android, or Linux are Unix-based or at least inspired by it.

The internet dream – and the disappointment

The one described Hackers, open source, and the Unix/Linux/Gnu culture also had a huge formative influence on pamphlets like The Cyberspace Declaration of Independence (1996) by John Perry Barlow or A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto (1993) by Eric Hughes, which should open the way to a free Internet very early on. Both texts articulate the demands of the new networked society made possible by the Internet, which challenges old hierarchies and power structures. A decentralized network structure must be created from a centralized organizational structure.

The power of the state was questioned by many Internet pioneers. They demanded radical transparency and preferred collaboration to competition. Much like the Unix community, the early Internet scene featured everything Silicon Valley would still like to be today. She was open, innovative, smart, pragmatic, solution-oriented, and a little nerdy.

The problem: Expectations of the internet have been raised that have so far only been disappointed – even though the myth of the “free internet” is firmly rooted in our minds. Instead of the promised transfer of power from centralized institutions – the “weary giants of flesh and steel” – to the networked society or even the Networked individuals which Barry Wellmann was first talking about in 2000, after the less than idealistic atmosphere of the gold rush before the dot.com bubble, we had a walled garden of GAFAM platforms.

Google, Amazon, Facebook (Meta), Apple and Microsoft dominate and monetize the western part of Web 2.0. Or rather, a splinternet, a fragmented web in which China and Russia do their own thing behind firewalls. There are also institutions that still do not know how to use the Internet. For years, early idealists have been increasingly critical of the actual development of the Internet, such as Internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee.

Can Web3 keep the promise of the Internet?

But what does the history of Unix and the early days of the Internet have to do with Web3 or the crypto and blockchain scene?

On the one hand, their beginnings are similar to the developments presented. After the publication of the Bitcoin white paper in 2008, a small tight-knit community also gathered around the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto – the inventor (or inventors) of Bitcoin worked on the main cryptocurrency and related ideas. Until bitcoin became known to the general public in late 2010, early 2011 by the whistleblower platform Wikileaks, which now called for bitcoin donations, it was in a manageable scene.

But the connection between Wikileaks and Bitcoin wasn’t just born out of the necessity that at the time there were hardly any service providers who were willing or able to process payments for Wikileaks. Julian Assange, founder and spokesperson of Wikileaks, had written a book on the culture of cypherpunks at this precise time, expressing unequivocally his commitment to this culture. Developers around Satoshi Nakamoto also took this strong cue, as they all felt attached to cypherpunk culture.

Probably the most important blockchain ecosystem based on the idea of ​​Bitcoin was and is also being developed by an idealistic community: Ethereum, which its inventor Vitalik Buterin has described as a “next-generation smart contract and data platform.” ‘decentralized application’ in the introduction of becomes the associated white paper.

The other parallel with the pioneers of Unix and the Internet are the ideals of the first crypto and Web3 community: decentralization of power, maximum transparency, open source, networked society. Bitcoin is a response to the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. Intermediaries, especially banks, must be replaced by cryptographic processes. Open source code takes their position. Ethereum, in turn, not only challenges states and corporations with the possibility of creating decentralized autonomous organizations, DAOs for short, but also platform operators such as GAFAM groups through Smart Contracts and dApps, decentralized applications.

It therefore seems that the actors of Web3 today meet the expectations of the beginnings of the Internet, even want to trigger a social revolution. But even within the blockchain community, a line of conflict has long developed: that between idealism and big business.

Banks and companies like Web3

Web3’s current discourse is polyphonic, crashes of billions worth projects like FTX, Terra Luna or Celsius, initial hype about NFTs and cryptocurrency price swings, billions of venture capitalists recall the internet bubble.

While some quirky idealists in the inner circle of developers around Satoshi Nakamoto are developing Bitcoin more and more judge with a critical eye – even call it a disaster, Web3 is popular with players it actually wanted to make redundant. Banks are setting up their own decentralized financial directorates, US states are launching their own coins, Facebook has turned into meta and is opening up its platforms to NFTs.

Is it just forward flight? Or will Web3 also disappoint initial expectations of a free Internet? Is Web3 perhaps just an expression of dissatisfaction with perceived powerlessness? Could it be interchangeable because it’s more about what Web3 stands for? Is it hype or a (social) revolution? A more comprehensive and thoughtful view of Web3 that goes beyond technology, hype and quick profits would certainly be desirable from my point of view.

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