Crypto has been growing for a decade and we’re finally starting to see what it’s all about: building the next internet.
By any metric you might choose to measure, the five companies that define technology in 2021 – Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon – are unfathomably colossal.
They represent five of the most valuable companies that have ever existed, all operating at the same time in the same field. They employ millions, count their users in the billions, their market caps in the trillions and enjoy a reach so pervasively global that their activities are a major theme in international politics.
Together these five shareholder-driven behemoths define what it means to be online. For billions of people, they are the internet. And to that I say: BURN IT TO THE GROUND.
Breaking the internet
This is, undeniably, a strange resting place for the internet, a technology designed from the outset to be open, permissionless, decentralised and intrinsically democratic. Some of the subsequent descent comes down to naive utopianism, some of it the discord between technology and regulation, some the corrupting influence of money.
Whatever the story, the outcome is that the internet as we know it – Web 2.0 – has become something vastly different to how it was originally envisioned: congested, top-heavy, monopolised, narrow. For all that everyone now has a voice, no-one has any control over the place in which they speak.
The third way
It speaks to the totality of the power and influence wielded by these companies that it’s not simply the absence of competitors that strikes you, but rather the inability to conceive of an internet that they don’t control.
However, a new train of thought argues that crypto will be the layer that enables the internet that might displace these giants – the decentralised web, or web 3.0. This would be an internet owned by the people and groups that build and create on it, using tokens and crypto-economics to power decentralised platforms, protocols, services and self-governing communities. (Expect to hear a lot more about DAOs – decentralised autonomous organisations – going forward).
Even saying it out loud sounds ridiculous, but if crypto has proven anything over the past decade it’s that it’s remarkably good at transforming the ridiculous into the unarguable.
First they laugh
It’s easy to mock crypto because it holds itself up to be mocked. DOGE is silly, SHIB is sillier. The constant talk of mooning and lambos is silly. Paying US$1.5 million for a picture of a rock is silly. This week a literal hamster is in the news for outperforming the S&P 500. The list goes on, and on, and likely will as long as crypto is a going concern.
But what underpins all these dumb things is that they were created by members of a community and built value through the energy of community. DOGE is a joke that’s been running for eight years and is worth more than most ASX companies. You can’t tell me that’s not worth thinking about.
Yes, there’s a lot of (too much?) money in crypto and maybe that’s already corrupting its vision. But perhaps the problem with the early internet was that no-one saw the money coming, so when it arrived the creators didn’t know how to protect this thing they’d built. Now we’re just trying to rectify the damage, one outlandish, utopian project at a time.