Last week Jack Dorsey announced the next iteration of the Web — Web5: The Decentralized Web Platform. His motivations for calling it Web5 and skipping Web4 seem to be that Web2 + Web3 equals Web5, but it seems arrogant for someone to use their significant reach to promote a Web3 project and call it Web5.
It’s no secret that Jack Dorsey is against much of the VC involvement that has been involved in Web3. This is somewhat strange given he would never have achieved such meteoric success with Twitter without investors in the picture.
Anyway, regardless of your position on VCs, what I take issue with is this idea of Web5. This isn’t because I wrote about Web4 previously (which I still stand by), but because you simply cannot brand something as being the next major iteration of the Web without a significant change to the fundamentals of the platform you are releasing.
Web3, built on blockchains, brought with it the ability for users of protocols to own and govern them. It was created by technologists which, like the previous iterations of the web was not announced by a person with significant influence in the industry. Instead, it was the hackers, academics, and hobbyists who through their belief in the transformative potential of what they were working on built the foundations for a new era in computing. They didn’t obsess over labels, they simply saw ways in which they could improve upon what was already there, in some cases drastically.
The labels to describe these transformative movements came after, once there was something working, with enough interest to generate significant buzz around them. Gradually as more and more people were onboarded to the web, entrepreneurs and innovators identified new types of products and services that could be built.
In the case of Web1, it was Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web project which the term the web was gleaned from, which involved the creation of the web’s foundational protocols including HTTP and HTML, and the first browser.
Web2, the social web was popularized by Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty during their conference by the same name in 2004. Web2 reflected the disruptive effect this next generation of web platforms had on publishing and the creation of social networks due to the proliferation of interactive websites.
Web3 was coined by Gavin Wood, CTO of Ethereum and subsequent founder of Parity Technologies and Polkadot, while working on, at the time, the relatively unknown Ethereum project in 2014 saw how what they were doing fundamentally changed the type of web platforms that could be developed with distributed ledgers and cryptocurrencies.
All these titles came from individuals who were observing fundamental changes in what was possible with the web, not simply using it as a marketing gimmick.
With the success of the platforms that emerged in the various iterations of the web, they did make use of venture capital to ultimately achieve their goals. Even critics of the industry would agree this was a necessary evil to serve global populations. Hence, as the web grew, so did the available funding. But that funding was never there at the beginning for the early innovators and creators.
The availability of significant venture funding to any industry is dictated by its popularity. The funding available to Web3 projects was a sign of its own success, much like the funding for Web1 and Web2 companies before it.
You cannot stop this from happening unless you eliminate the VCs. But the point that Jack Dorsey misses time and time again with his criticism of Web3, is that many of the early Web3 projects didn’t benefit from venture capital. Ethereum raised funds via its crowd-sale (the first-ever ICO), but this was open to anyone who had the belief in the project.
You had to be lurking in the right online communities to be a part of it, but this was no different to the early adopters of bitcoin.
Bitcoin maximalists will point out that it didn’t require any funding to be built, as Satoshi provided the first version of the Bitcoin client, but it seems over the top to differentiate between the exact way both networks were bootstrapped — both were platforms for significant subsequent innovation.
Therefore, the announcement appears to be so short-sighted, Jack Dorsey has made it clear that he is a Bitcoin maximalist, but to choose to use Bitcoin as a foundational layer for the platform makes no sense. Bitcoin is a digital store of value, it is not a platform for computation, and it has limited programmability. Ethereum and subsequent blockchains were all designed as decentralised ledgers that could be used for computation, not just storing a digital currency. Bitcoin’s utility is limited to being a digital store of value, whereas the programmability of Ethereum and other blockchain protocols enables technologists to build general-purpose applications that exist on a ledger.
In addition, the community around these blockchains like Ethereum is incredibly functional versus Bitcoin, and able to govern regular upgrades to the protocol adding new features. Any changes to Bitcoin typically result in yet another forked version of the protocols and much arguing between its proponents.
Looking at Bitcoin versus Ethereum and others there is simply no rational reason why someone would choose to build their project on Bitcoin due to its lack of utility and effective governance.
Furthermore, with the naming of the new platform, even if the name Web5 was justified, what is so powerful about the platform that has been proposed by Jack’s TBD Labs that is so revolutionary?
They are building on top of the Bitcoin network and want to create a protocol using concepts such as decentralised identity which are cornerstones of Web3. It simply makes no sense to describe this as Web5.
If Jack Dorsey thinks he can create a better version of Web3, then he should go for it, but at least please don’t have the arrogance to call it Web5. That isn’t his decision to make, especially when your foundational layer is built upon the wrong tool for the job.