The Blockchain Web is a concept for the future of the internet, backed by blockchain technology and scaled up to the size of the current internet. It combines two ideas. The first is that Big Tech controls the platforms and owns the data that ordinary people use and share, but that power should reside with individuals instead. The second is that the web3/crypto community has tended to focus on building solutions looking for problems, rather than solving problems that already exist. Big Tech owns the whole stack, while web3 would have complete decentralization: the answer is likely somewhere in the middle. Tech platforms are free and we (our data) are the products, crypto sells the promise of token value for using the product: again, look between these two edges.
I’m calling this the Blockchain Web, explicitly not web3. The name web3 implies the functioning and uses for the web are completely changing. I don’t believe we should be tossing out the old and bringing in the new; rather, I think blockchain offers the potential to simply improve on the old. Consider cloud computing: we were able to write documents, build spreadsheets, send memos, listen to music, watch videos and much more before the whole internet was in the cloud. We still do those things, but now the specific devices we use don’t matter, and we can do these things wherever we have a connection. It’s all faster and simpler and more convenient than before. What if things like email and going to concerts and splitting the bill with your friends and even voting were not completely different, but just…better?
That’s what the Blockchain Web is about. By framing the blockchain (in extremely simplified terms) as a distributed and public database, we can think of the Blockchain Web as the existing web, but using the blockchain as the database, not corporate-owned databases. This doesn't redefine patterns, but maintains them while redistributing to individuals autonomy and control over the central component of the internet: data.
Now, this may still sound similar to every other web3 promise. Here are a few points as background to clarify the difference:
The really important bit here is that this is made for people who don’t know, and maybe don’t want to know, about web3 or crypto or blockchains. The technology enables things that currently either aren’t possible or simply don’t exist in the modern web, but the details aren’t important to the user. So then what does it all look like?
The “base layer” is a generalized wallet client. Undoubtedly, the wallet is the entry point into web3, and it’s the same here. The differences lie in the details of the wallet: it’s not so much for financial transactions, but rather for managing tokens that make up the rest of the ecosystem: identifiers, memberships, tickets, and similar intended to serve as utility, rather than currency. It could also be a messenger, able to receive messages from services and other people, and possibly be the client for a social network of sorts. Ultimately though, it should handle payments, but of a different kind: it can allow transactions from credit cards or bank accounts directly, without handling cryptocurrencies at all.
As it’s not just the wallet, but holds a lot more stuff, we can call it the Purse. Think Gmail (messaging) + Apple/Google pay + Ticketmaster “account” app + whatever else you can imagine. Bundle it all together and make it as simple as possible for everyone: none of the seed phrases and signing complexity that makes today’s wallets a bit scary. Many of these components exist already: WalletConnect is building messaging into their protocol, Magic offers tools for “web2” login for wallets, Mirror itself abstracts away the blockchain and provides a seamless experience for all sorts of actions (particularly blog posts: thank you Mirror!)
Beefing up the wallet to become a purse is great in theory, but requires the ecosystem of services to put it to use: the problems to solve.
Imagine an email inbox. At least for me, almost all the emails are ads or spam or newsletters I don’t read anymore, and very few are actually from people or services I care about. Going through each website to unsubscribe is a pain, and so they just keep adding up. The worst are the subscription renewal emails, that tell me I just paid for something I didn’t even realize I was still signed up for.
Now imagine unsubscribing wasn’t asking companies to remove your email: imagine it was you just hitting the stop button. Automatic renewals don’t happen, and they won’t keep burning you. No one you haven’t explicitly told can contact you is doing so.
This is possible with a token subscription model, where you are sent a token, possibly with a duration, that gives services the ability to send messages to you. And when you want them to stop, you simply burn the token. The service can only send messages to holders of the token, so now you’re gone. This model gives individuals control over their inbox and their subscriptions. Consider gated access to content, like a news subscription, and you don’t have to ask them to securely delete your payment and private information; just pay through the Purse in exchange for transferring you the token, and then when you want to cancel, again it’s simply burning it.
Unlock Protocol has built the groundwork for something like this: NFT-gated memberships, even renewable ones. Combining this with Purse, people could sign up for or purchase subscriptions through Purse, then use it as the inbox for messages from whatever companies. Again using Mirror itself as an example, access to sites is simply presenting your Purse credentials as authentication.
I’ve seen this discussed numerous times, but still haven’t seen a convincing effort put into it: tokens as tickets to events. Each resale of the ticket in the secondary market would come with royalties, a la NFTs, that pay back the original artist or performer. Further, resales could be limited in price increases. This solves the problems of scalped tickets becoming too expensive, artists only getting small cuts of their initial ticket sales, and authenticity of tickets (by verifying the token holder on the blockchain). FWB’s Gatekeeper is an excellent implementation, but is only used for FWB events. I’m certain there are more, but this seems like a straightforward win. In terms of Blockchain Web, send the ticket tokens to people’s Purses, and they don’t even have to get a new app.
Another example of a technology that has an obvious parallel but I haven’t seen be implemented: DAOs as actual government voting. The last American presidential election was famously and incorrectly (and, annoyingly, still is) called fraudulent by many people. What better method to implement a secure, uncheatable voting system than the public blockchain, which cannot be altered and is visible to all? An application to do this type of voting would likely need its own client, not Purse, for extra security and verification of the voters, but distributing tokens as a way to “register” voters and then creating a proposal for each candidate is straight from the DAO playbook. Everyone on all sides of this issue should agree on this.
That title itself is so grandiose to be a bit pretentious, and I apologize for that, but it has a nice ring to it, so I’m keeping it. The Blockchain Web is an ideal that emphasizes practicality in solving real problems with the internet today, using the blockchain when applicable. It won’t solve every problem. Right now, it’s being applied to many areas where it’s not quite the right solution. But there are many places where it does make things better. Note there hasn’t been mention of a governance token for these services, nor one serving as rewards for participation. The way to monetize these services, and this ecosystem, is the next chapter.
Follow me if you’d like for more takes like this (I know, I don’t have any followers yet, I’m starting a fresh twitter). Either way, thanks for reading!