In the probable case that the title is not making much sense, this text will be about the current web3 social platforms ambitions.
From a user perspective, the question that always comes to mind first in the initial phase of using the product is:
why should I use this product?
Many self-labeled web3 social platforms come with countless promises, like a different ownership model, new royalties concept, more privacy, and probably, most important, data portability.
Now the reality is that most promises will remain just that promises...
First, most, if not all, of the promises will be in direct conflict with any concrete way of monetizing the product.
And that is why often will be common to find a lot of tracking efforts, centralization, and user lock-in.
You will probably hear: in this space, everything is in its early stages, and indeed there is some merit to this point, but let us not kid ourselves until there is a huge success; the reality is that we are pretty much in an absolute tsunami of failed web3 social platforms.
Countless dead domains and projects are resting now in the web3 social projects grave. Now you may wonder why this string of failed platforms seems to be a never-ending string; the answer lies in the fact that web3 platforms have a lot of challenges to overcome.
Let’s look at some of the core key issues:
1 - Decentralization / higher costs
2 - Echochamber / not enough diversity
3 - Misaligned incentives
4 - Interoperability issues
5 - Market whims
6 - Scalability issues
7 - Artificial scarcity
8 - Comodifing everything
9 - Irecuperable failures
10 - Hype, Hype, Hype, borderline scam
I am pretty sure that most of these issues might not even appear so obvious, and it is tough to gauge precisely how impactful they are, so making a small dive into each one might construct a compelling case.
1 Decentralization / higher costs
Decentralization, in the real sense, generally means open-source, open-data, open-APIs, immutable contracts, and absolutely no centralized control over data.
No web3 social project will thoroughly check these boxes. There is a false equivalence between the need for cryptocurrencies and decentralization. You will be in perpetuity feed misinformation that tokens are needed for decentralization, and the technical reality is that it is simply not true. Also, a project that somehow manages to somewhat achieve the aforementioned feats will have to foot a much larger bill since there is no scenario making things decentralized from the perspective of the
builder that will be less expensive.
2 Echochamber / not enough diversity
I am yet to find many interesting people on any web3 social platform, especially in the academic domain. And yes, there is a lot of hype from tech companies and prominent names(many times, celebrities eager to make a buck as if they do not have enough) that might want to enter into this new blockchain world, but that represents mostly the chase for profits that drive them there, a deep divide between the enthusiasm of VCs & and people that have non-financial motives seems to be prevalent. So it is clear that a lot of topics, cultures, and visions are completely inexistent in this space, and even more dreadful than this lack of meaningful information is that some things like trade talk, price speculation, and constant hype seem to dominate everything.
3 Misaligned incentives
Most published Web3 content works using many scheme types similar to you scratch my back, I scratch yours. Rewards, raffles, and contests often, all of these actions exist with the specific purpose of hyping some prices. And this is why primarily SPAM is so in your face because even on web2-platforms, SPAM is created in order to produce profit in some way, either through trying to shape public consensus, ad fraud, manipulating ranking algorithms, manipulating prices, scam people, and the list goes on. Now with Web3, many of these incentives that are auxiliary in Web2 are pretty much at the core of many Web3 projects, where FOMO, NFTs, Tokens, public wallets, everything is financialized. All these are catalysts of spam. Recently the Lens protocol made a snapshot proposal with an initiative to solve some of the most visible problems. But in so doing, you can observe fake hype, for example, mentioning that users posted over 300k posts while failing to disclose that of those 300k posts, a double-digit percentage was posted just by one or two addresses. In reality, the engagement is abhorrent, with way less than 1 comment per 100 posts, and depending on how subjective your classification is, you can easily say 70% of everything is just SPAM.
4 Interoperability issues
Although to be fair, this issue is not something related only to blockchain technology or the current form of what is now sold as web3. As FB or google complained when they were asked by the EU to increase interoperability, the fact is when you do that interoperability increase, others might try to create a lot of products with the same data, and you will lose control over the quality, and also lose control over the ability to fix issues, since some products will not be under your control.
In short, when things are under federated control, there will be cases where you will be unable to modify or even fix a product.
This is not to say that we should not strive for federated control. We definitely should try to have that. At the same time, users need to be educated about what that will imply. All products should clearly state which part of the product and which data is controlled by who. Without that, people will think your product is full of bugs when the reality is that sometimes you might have 0 control over some features.
5 Market Whims
This is probably one, if not the most challenging, issue to solve, meaning that social platform usage should not be subject to associated token values and market whims. This can not be concretely solved, especially inside the paradigm that the market solves everything that seems more toxic by the day.
In this world, there are 3 types of things: things that are profitable and good for society(very few of those, maybe competition might be though is a complicated matter), things that are profitable and are not good for society(ex: gambling), and things that are not directly profitable but are good for society(healthcare, housing, solving climate change, education, and many others).
It is subjective, but I think social networks mostly fall into this category of not being profitable. After all, the only model that seems to have produced profits is the advertising model. The social-network advertising model sucks and is despised by numerous users. The trend stood clear as time passed; old and new users alike started to use AdBlock more and more, and the users that directly wish to see ads are in one solid minority, which means companies are forcing ads upon their users.
6 Scalability issues
This is definitely solvable, but right now, developing a social network using blockchain will be more expensive, slow, and result in a worse UX. The simple answer is that utilizing transactions and consensus layers will be detrimental to speed and performance. You do need additional communications, maybe additional infrastructure, and definitely more dependencies that can cause multiple troubles. The idea here is that technology could and should overcome this, there will always be a cost, but the hope is that at some future point, that cost will be so negligible, hence will not be a cause for concern. It is hard to predict when that point will be reached and what exactly that will look like, but certainly, I would not put even a few years passed that possibility.
7 Artificial scarcity
This is one vicious tactic used to deceive so many individuals, and when I say used is too kind of a word. In fact, this tactic is the complete weaponization of marketing. It does not come from web3 space naturally but is used extensively there.
This tactic works pretty much to hype value and transform things that could absolutely be free into something that is gated behind a price tag, very akin to the phrase:
Sell ice to the Eskimo. In the year 1325, war was waged over a bucket. Also, wars waged over boulders and other meaningless things that may seem humorous. But it is a reminder that value is largely subjective, and with enough constructed belief, anything can gain potential value that is not intrinsical but artificial, meaning that people might do absurd things in order to get something that has gained non-intrinsical value.
8 Comodifing everything
It is not irregular on most web3 social platforms to see some estimated value floating somewhere besides a piece of content. For me, directly assigning a precise value to everything, especially on platforms that should connect users, seems somewhat wrong. It is a constant reminder that many times we are in servitude of the bottom line and nothing more than that. A lot of human needs and rights should transcend and overwrite the profit motive, not only on paper but in reality, and it seems there is a long way to achieve that. So instead of commodifying yet another thing, maybe, just, maybe, there would be some consideration to do a 180 reversal on this one.
9 Irecuperable failures
This a simple one, as I presume, is very familiar to many that have interacted with blockchain technology. It implies that due to the nature of immutable transactions, actions can be triggered that will catastrophically end a protocol(based on one or more smart contracts) or commit an unauthorized move of crypto assets.
Now, in reality, most blockchain platforms are not perfectly immutable, which points me to say, I fully appreciate immutability even if it comes with more security risks. And what is scarier is the recent developments do not trend at all in favor of immutability. In fact, I would not be surprised if immutability starts to get eroded more and more. And I imagine that investors in the majority do not really care about this since they would do anything for mass adoption, no matter the cost. For them, crypto is just another vehicle for making a profit.
But crypto and blockchain with almost no immutability feature should not bear such a name. Instead, it becomes just a public storage/computational network, which is still better for the public since it provides more transparency but is more controllable and will 100% be fully captured.
10 - Hype, Hype, Hype, borderline scam
Product quality in the crypto space, at least for me, seems pretty scarce. Most products lack simple features, are full of bugs, and many services break frequently. We see headline after headline of hacks and exploits that are, to some extent, related to the low quality of the product in general. I feel this space has a good chunk of programmers that were not in any such field before web3 emerged, which is probably why usually, the result is degraded quality.
Frankly, everything I wrote about this point pales in comparison with the fact that a large group of individuals commonly designated as
leaders of crypto-space will hyperbolize everything and overpromise up till the moon sort of speak of. That is very damaging since it reduces any shred of credibility this space has. One news the other day was that Descentraland valued with a huge B(lion) in front had on a random day only 38 active users. Other recent news describes that over 81% of TXs on Ethereum are MEV bots, and, comically around, 50% of all TXs were rejected by validators because they had relations to sanctioned addresses.
The main takeaway is at some point, so many overpromises will blur the line between optimism and purposefully lying. Being closer to reality is much healthier for this ecosystem, even with the cost of being less grandiose. Drop all dreams and focus on the immediate facts, and avoid being labeled as a snake oil salesman. I suppose this applies at least to 80% of crypto-space promoters.