Context On The Nature of Web 3.0
What is Web 3.0? This question is not rhetorical. To provide context we will start with some background.
Internet 1.0 and Web 2.0: An Anecdotal History
Many OODA Network members date their involvement in the alpha and beta testing of “Internet 1.0”. For the historical record: Internet 1.0 was never a marketing “thing”. Web 1.0 has been bantered about, but only retrospectively. For many of us, the onset of the Web 2.0 moniker came at a point in our professional lives when it felt instantly suspect, counterintuitive, or commercial – like “Information Superhighway” before it. It felt like high-tech marketing, and we treated it as such, marching forward with the frameworks and aspects of technology culture which brought us to the network in the first place, prior to broader Silicon Valley marketing efforts. Apple’s famous Orwell-inspired “1984” commercial during the Super Bowl XVIII on Jan. 22, 1984 was as far as our anthropological interest went in terms of mass media commercialization of technology. Everything after that event was suspect. So too with Web 2.0.
The Web 2.0 “Operating System” became an ecosystem of open and closed garden platforms (I.e., the Apple iOS and Google Android App stores; the Google and Facebook portfolio of companies). Web 2.0 was not Modems, D and D, Newsgroups, CP/M cards installed in an Apple II, Electronic Arts’ One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird, Zork, or Tetris. It is gaming platforms, MUDS, MMOGs, FarmVille, in-game currency, Warcraft, Madden’s NFL 22, mobile gaming, Angry Birds, casual gaming, and Twitch. Connectivity, fueled by easy-to-use GUIs and compelling computer graphics, was now the baseline functionality. Birds of Feather slash Communities of Practice – aka Self-forming Networks – became the norm.
Traditional media disintermediation “moments’ during this period include the launch of the Netflix Streaming and Hulu, the decimation of regional and local print papers at the hands of digital advertising, and Glee becoming popular first on Hulu, then on Fox. Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes (Both of whom were discovered via the internet), Napster, BitTorrent, the “Like” button, retweeting, and hordes of internet influencers figure in here somewhere. By 2014, the U.S. music industry was half its size with half the usual annual revenue.
For the individual consumer, we were no longer an audience member in a broadcast model, but a network user looking for ease of use, services, and engagement. All of it became one big interactive Platform as a Service (PaaS) model. Hulu, Uber, and Door Dash are late-stage Web 2.0 architectures. It certainly had not become what net neutrality activists thought was a viable global network interface and it was not what the creators of the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic network or Aaron Schwartz had in mind.
In the way of informal ethnographic observations over the years (admittedly laden with many assumptions and personal biases) of the ‘Internet 1.0’ cohort, as a function of demographics and some core principles, we adopted some of the Web 2.0 functionality but ignored a whole lot of it. YouTube, podcasts, some Twitter: yes. Facebook (except for reasons of managing family and kid’s events because that is where all those logistics went during Web 2.0): no. Facebook for personal communications: not so much. LinkedIn: yes, but for professional purposes only.
Throughout, cybersecurity professionals, white hat and black hat alike, have always been in an opportunistic and reactive mode, respectively. As one of our members pointed out on a recent OODA Network monthly call: the creators of Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) had neither a security mandate nor imperative when architecting the system.
If they had to be concerned with security at the time, the whole thing would not have the design essence that made the ARPANET, well, the ARPANET. It was all about the connectivity and availability of limited high-performance computing resources with, according to urban legend, the incidental design goal of the ability to maintain military-grade Command and Control (C2) in the event of nuclear war via TCP/IP. Protocol security was not the priority at the time.
Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Tor, the arrest of Ross “Dread Pirate Roberts” Ulbricht and the shutdown of Silk Road are in the historical mix here as well. Suddenly, the prevalence of the umbrella moniker “Dark Web” (which seemed to come out of nowhere) was as strange as the introduction of “Web 2.0” nomenclature before it.
Dread Pirate Roberts. Source: Sideshow.com
A Previous Web 2.0 Research Framework
From 2008 to 2012, I was the Managing Director of the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium (MIT C3), which introduced the notion of “convergence culture” not as a technological phenomenon, but as a cultural practice. The research project offered this framework as a more rigorous anecdote to the broad “Web 2.0” commercial marketing framework prevalent at the time. We also positioned what Prof. Henry Jenkins called the “black box fallacy” – the assumption that convergence was a hardware-driven phenomenon, with all solutions delivered over time to a standardized, platform-agnostic ‘black box’.
In 2006, Prof. Henry Jenkins introduced our research framework:
“Right now, convergence culture is getting defined top-down by decisions being made in corporate boardrooms and bottom-up by decisions made in teenagers’ bedrooms. This circulation of media content – across different media systems, competing media economies, and national borders – depends heavily on the active participation of the consumer. I will argue here against the idea that convergence can be understood primarily as a technological process – the bringing together of multiple media functions within the same gadgets and devices.
Instead, I want to argue that convergence represents a shift in cultural logic, whereby consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections between dispersed media content. The term, participatory culture, is intended to contrast with older notions of media spectatorship. In this emerging media system, what might traditionally be understood as media producers and consumers are transformed into participants who are expected to interact with each other according to a new set of rules which none of us fully understands.
Convergence does not occur through media appliances – however sophisticated they may become. Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers. Yet, each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information we have extracted from the ongoing flow of media around us and transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives.” (1 and 2)
Convergence Culture as a research methodology has three prongs:
Participatory Culture: Forms of public engagement based more on social and cultural protocols and less on technology as the primary driver.
Collective Intelligence: A term coined by Pierre Levy which refers to the capacity of virtual communities to leverage the special interests of their community members, normally through collaboration and large-scale discussions.
Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies.
An activist during the Arab Spring Protests
The antecedent of convergence culture is fan culture: Beatles fanatics, Star Wars, Star Trek convention, NCAA sports fans of any stripe, Comic-Con, and “Cosplay” (“an activity and performance art in which participants, called cosplayers, wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture, and a broader use of the term “cosplay” applies to any costumed role-playing in venues apart from the stage. Any entity that lends itself to dramatic interpretation may be taken up as a subject. The term is composed of the two aforementioned counterparts – costume and role-play” – 3).
These are all examples of fan culture. Fan culture is also represented by Ross Ulbricht’s selection of “Dread Pirate Roberts” as his pseudonym, after the fictional character in the novel, The Princess Bride, and its film adaptation. Pop culture techno-geek culture, hacker culture all figure prominently in convergence culture. Fan culture is marked more by emotion, compelling narratives, and cultural logics – as opposed to an assumption that more systemic, structured, technology-driven, consistent, net positive, rational patterns of behavior would emerge from the Web 2.0 cauldron.
In hindsight, we had a few blind spots on the project and in our research. One was the vital role of digital advertising, user data, and the monetization of social media platforms. We were not alone. The other was too positivist a working assumption of the role of transmedia and civic media, civic engagement, and self-forming networks. The work of MIT C3 research affiliate Ethan Zuckerman is the best-in-class exploration of how civic engagement was transformed by the availability of Web 2.0 tools. At MIT C3, we were also early champions of Transmedia for Social Change and participatory civic culture outfits like Fandom Forward and Invisible Children.
Source: USA Today
Unfortunately, by January 2021, the “fan culture cosplay gone awry” moment that was the QAnon Shaman on the floor of the U.S. Senate (and the Web 2.0 narratives, communities of practice, self-forming networks, and ICT tools that propelled him there to that moment) was just too clear a signal to ignore any longer: the blind spots and unintended consequences of our research framework had started to overwhelm the internet, the culture, and the system. By necessity, it is now time to go back to the drawing board.
Determining a Web 3.0 Framework for OODA Loop Research
With this previous Web 2.0 research framework in mind, the commercial Web 2.0 period ended with the Disney acquisition of Marvel Studios in 2009 and the Star Wars Franchise and Lucasfilm in 2012, Google and YouTube becoming a portfolio company of Alphabet in 2015, the DNC hack in 2016, the Justice Department indictment of the Russian Internet Agency and Grand Jury indictment of Russian GRU spies (Both in 2018), the January riots in Washington D.C. and the Cyber Ninjas audit in Arizona in early 2021, as well as the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifying before Congress and Facebook becoming a portfolio company of Meta in October of 2021.
We now embark on a Web 3.0 research effort here at OODA Loop. Early signs are that Web 3..0 has the promise, the tools, the cultural and architectural elements to reverse some of the more negative impacts of Web 2.0 build. We ask for your feedback and ideas.
Formative plot points of the Web 3.0 origin story include:
2008: The collapse of the global economy based on a sub-prime mortgage loan architecture – which disintermediated the value of real estate assets from the determination of fiscal policy and the flow of credit. The precursor to the market crash was an unknowing transfer of the value of hard real estate assets into the bonuses of investment bankers. As a result, 2008 became a flashpoint for the bottom-up exploration of alternative self-organizing financial systems, the storage of value, and disintermediated financial transactions.
May 24, 2009: The publication of the Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System White Paper by Satoshi Nakamoto
2013: Ethereum, founded in 2013.
2022: The Metaverse.
In our next post in this series, we will provide an analysis of some working definitions of Web 3.0 and a breakdown of some of the more thoughtful analyses of Bitcoin, Decentralized Finance, and other formative elements of the fledging Web 3.0 architecture and toolset.
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