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Moxie’s impressions of web3 (from making some distributed apps)

Moxie Marlinspike blog | Jan 7, 2022

Moxie marlinspike blog - Moxie's impressions of web3 (from making some distributed apps)Despite considering myself a cryptographer, I have not found myself particularly drawn to “crypto.” I don’t think I’ve ever actually said the words “get off my lawn,” but I’m much more likely to click on Pepperidge Farm Remembers flavored memes about how “crypto” used to mean “cryptography” than I am the latest NFT drop.

Also – cards on the table here – I don’t share the same generational excitement for moving all aspects of life into an instrumented economy.

Even strictly on the technological level, though, I haven’t yet managed to become a believer. So given all of the recent attention into what is now being called web3, I decided to explore some of what has been happening in that space more thoroughly to see what I may be missing.

How I think about 1 and 2

web3 is a somewhat ambiguous term, which makes it difficult to rigorously evaluate what the ambitions for web3 should be, but the general thesis seems to be that web1 was decentralized, web2 centralized everything into platforms, and that web3 will decentralize everything again. web3 should give us the richness of web2, but decentralized.

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It’s probably good to have some clarity on why centralized platforms emerged to begin with, and in my mind the explanation is pretty simple:

  1. People don’t want to run their own servers, and never will. The premise for web1 was that everyone on the internet would be both a publisher and consumer of content as well as a publisher and consumer of infrastructure.We’d all have our own web server with our own web site, our own mail server for our own email, our own finger server for our own status messages, our own chargen server for our own character generation. However – and I don’t think this can be emphasized enough – that is not what people want. People do not want to run their own servers.
  2. A protocol moves much more slowly than a platform. After 30+ years, email is still unencrypted; meanwhile WhatsApp went from unencrypted to full e2ee in a year. People are still trying to standardize sharing a video reliably over IRC; meanwhile, Slack lets you create custom reaction emoji based on your face.This isn’t a funding issue. If something is truly decentralized, it becomes very difficult to change, and often remains stuck in time. That is a problem for technology, because the rest of the ecosystem is moving very quickly, and if you don’t keep up you will fail.  When the technology itself is more conducive to stasis than movement, that’s a problem. A sure recipe for success has been to take a 90’s protocol that was stuck in time, centralize it, and iterate quickly.

But web3 intends to be different, so let’s take a look. In order to get a quick feeling for the space and a better understanding for what the future may hold, I decided to build a couple of dApps and create an NFT.

Making some distributed apps

To get a feeling for the web3 world, I made a dApp called Autonomous Art that lets anyone mint a token for an NFT by making a visual contribution to it. The cost of making a visual contribution increases over time, and the funds a contributor pays to mint are distributed to all previous artists (visualizing this financial structure would resemble something similar to a pyramid shape). At the time of this writing, over $38k USD has gone into creating this collective art piece.

I also made a dApp called First Derivative that allows you to create, discover, and exchange NFT derivatives which track an underlying NFT, similar to financial derivatives which track an underlying asset 😉.

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Both gave me a feeling for how the space works. To be clear, there is nothing particularly “distributed” about the apps themselves: they’re just normal react websites. The “distributedness” refers to where the state and the logic/permissions for updating the state lives: on the blockchain instead of in a “centralized” database.

One thing that has always felt strange to me about the cryptocurrency world is the lack of attention to the client/server interface. When people talk about blockchains, they talk about distributed trust, leaderless consensus, and all the mechanics of how that works, but often gloss over the reality that clients ultimately can’t participate in those mechanics. All the network diagrams are of servers, the trust model is between servers, everything is about servers. Blockchains are designed to be a network of peers, but not designed such that it’s really possible for your mobile device or your browser to be one of those peers.

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