Because nerds are rarely nerdy for only one thing, along with everything else I really really like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). D&D is a tabletop role-playing game where players create their own characters and embark on adventures in a world co-crafted with a game master. While the game began as a pen-and-paper affair, much of the content (e.g. lore, settings, monsters, spells, etc.) is now digital with platforms like D&D Beyond or Roll20 servicing this online audience.
How does my personal hobby relate to web3? Data ownership and portability; key tenets of web3.
As a refresher, data ownership refers to the legal rights and control that individuals have over their personal data. In the context of D&D, this might include the information generated for or during an adventure, such as a character, their mechanics, or the lore of the world they inhabit. While players may have created these things themselves, the data itself is often stored within the context of a larger campaign or game system that is owned by a publisher or game designer. So who owns it?
This is a tricky issue and one common to web2 domains. Do I own the content I post on Twitter or does Twitter own it because it owns the platform? What say should I have concerning the personal information I provide Facebook? What are the correct procedures if someone wants to use the content I make on YouTube?
This has really been a sticking point for web2 and has been an issue that web3 addresses at the forefront. There are a number of interesting ways web3 provides users with truer data ownership, such as the following:
Self-sovereign identity: In web3, individuals have the ability to create and manage their own digital identities without the need for a centralized authority. This means that users can control their personal information and decide who has access to it.
Data monetization: In web3, users can earn cryptocurrency by sharing their data with companies and organizations. This creates a new model where users are compensated for their data instead of it being exploited for profit without their knowledge or consent.
DAOs: Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are entities that are managed by code and run on a blockchain. DAOs can be used to manage digital assets, vote on proposals, and distribute funds. This allows for more transparent and democratic decision-making, which can help ensure that users have a say in how their data is used and allow for data stewardship to be effectively implemented.
Data portability, on the other hand, refers to the ability to move personal data between different systems or platforms. In some ways data portability is an extension of data ownership. If I truly own my data then I should be able to take it with me if I decide to leave a platform or service. Compared to data ownership, data portability is less of an issue for web2 platforms. Facebook, Google, and Twitter all provide users with some means of downloading a copy of their data and or transferring it to another service. However this is not always easy to do and sometimes limited by specific restrictions put in place by these platforms. For smaller platforms data portability can be effectively non existent.
For D&D, data portability might mean transferring character sheets or campaign notes from one game platform to another. Currently, there are several tools available that allow players to export and import data between different D&D platforms. However, these tools are often limited by the restrictions placed on data usage by publishers and game designers. In order to run a session of D&D I often rely on three different applications, two different websites, and a variety of different official and unofficial content. It’s hodge-podge and it's a mess, but it's worth it because it’s so so fun!
As with the wider web2 environment the lack of easy data portability limits what I can do and compose. Web3 seeks to address this issue in a few different ways:
Decentralized data storage: In web3, users can store their data on decentralized storage networks like IPFS or Swarm. This allows users to easily move their data between different applications without relying on a centralized service provider.
Interoperability protocols: There are a number of interoperability protocols in web3 that enable different decentralized applications to communicate and share data with each other. This allows users to move their data between different applications and services seamlessly. For example, the ERC-20 token standard allows different Ethereum-based tokens to be easily exchanged between different wallets and exchanges.
Decentralized exchanges (DEXs): DEXs are platforms that allow users to trade cryptocurrencies without the need for a central authority. Because DEXs are built on open protocols, users can easily move their cryptocurrency holdings between different exchanges and wallets. This enables users to maintain control over their digital assets and trade them in a decentralized and open ecosystem.
While data ownership and portability are afterthoughts in web2, they’re key pillars in web3. On web3 it’s not to just make and create but to do so in such a way where I feel safe knowing that what I make is truly mine and can be brought with me wherever I go and shared with anyone I might want to share it with. But not only that! From this I believe we can also achieve something more: composability. The ability to compose something new from the building blocks made by others and seamlessly attribute their contributions, whether direct or indirect, so that anyone can easily trace how the thing I built was made.
P.S. If you're curious about web3's historic relationship with fantasy, look up "vitalik wow".