The wide world of crypto has always been made up of people who know a lot about money. After all, cryptocurrencies themselves are financial products.
The paradigm-shifting elevator pitch of Web 3.0 has always been able to pique the interest of investors, and over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an extraordinary amount of money flowing freely into the industry. Those funds have come both in the form of direct investment — venture capital (VC) and now decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and indirect investment — institutional acquisition of cryptocurrencies driving token prices up and bolstering the crypto-based treasuries of Web 3.0 projects.
We can expect to see more and more resources piling into the Web 3.0 space as time goes on, but it is becoming increasingly true that it does not have a (monetary) resource shortage. What it does have, is a shortage of products which are usable, appropriate and attractive for a mainstream audience.
So far, Web 3.0 and cryptocurrencies are mostly used by the classic early-adopter demographics — younger people and people with high technical proficiency. That can be expected for any technology which is extremely disruptive. In the past, the same thing has been true of social media (Web 2.0) and even computers. When Meta (former Facebook) first started, only college-aged students were invited to use the platform. When the “web” first drew breath, a list of known websites had to be maintained just so people would be able to use it.
Sequencing crypto’s DNA: Finance, decentralization, and democratization
At the moment, most of us are still living and working in a world where the ability to exchange and trade cryptocurrency tokens for fiat value is an essential part of their function. That paradigm may well shift in the future, but for now, most people’s willingness to hold any given token boils down to their belief in its ability to outperform other assets in the digital and other economies — the incentive is financial.
Those incentives have caused a whole slew of people who haven’t been regular investors before to flock to cryptocurrency. The relatively low financial barrier for getting into the crypto market combined with the seduction of stories about massive profits and crypto billionaires has spawned an enormous retail investor class in the cryptocurrency game. Those retail investors are often the same people who are bootstrapping user numbers for a lot of Web 3.0 products.
In most cases, the products themselves are directly linked to using cryptocurrency as a vehicle for investment and speculation: Uniswap (UNI), OpenSea and Aave (AAVE) are some of the most well-known, popular Web 3.0 products, and they’re all directly connected to acquiring and trading and getting leverage on cryptocurrency assets. Of course, it makes sense that these products have become popular, and their popularity has driven them to become some of the most polished products in the entire space.
However, “investors” are always going to be a pretty small subset of the overall population, and so there will also always be a cap on the number of people who are able to find value in something like Uniswap. For Web 3.0 to continue growing—in size, adoption and value—there needs to be additional focus on creating products that the average person can find value in every single day of their lives. As much as it is an incredible innovation, a Web 3.0 which focuses solely on finance will never be ubiquitous technology.
Replacing Web 2.0: Imitation versus innovation
A lot of Web 3.0 projects are making massive inroads by being “alternatives to Web 2.0 platforms.” Web 3.0 has some clear advantages over Web 2.0, which make them much more appealing to a broad audience.
Some applications, like Odysee, offer a more equitable platform for creators and users than alternatives — in this case, YouTube. By removing the costs and overheads associated with intermediaries and middlemen, Odysee is able to offer creators on their platform a much larger cut of profits than competing Web 2.0 platforms like YouTube and Twitch.
Like Odysee, the Brave browser is also trying to create a more equitable platform for its users — this time by overhauling the Web 2.0 ad-based revenue model with a more private, transparent and fair alternative.
Web 2.0 ads are often intrusive both in terms of being injected into the content we consume online, as well as the privacy-invasive practices used to serve targeted ads. Brave ads don’t appear on web pages at all but in the system notification tray instead. Ads aren’t targeted using enormous databases of your personal information, instead, chosen locally — so your personal info stays private. Not only that, you can completely opt out of Brave ads if you want to. If you do opt in, users are given 70% of whatever the advertiser paid — creating a much more fair, private, and transparent advertising system.
Other apps, like Session messenger, leverage the benefits of decentralization to offer greatly improved privacy compared to centralized messengers. Using its staked service node network, Session is able to offer more privacy and anonymity than any centralized competitor in a completely trustless way.
Apps like these are playing an essential part in onboarding mainstream users onto the Web 3.0 future. Session alone has grown 500% in 2021, as users ditch WhatsApp in favor of more private alternatives. Brave is slowly establishing itself as a major browser and currently has over 40 million users.
These things all have a few things in common: they’re easy to use, they have obvious advantages regardless of your interest in crypto, and they don’t require any significant financial investment.
Why we need users: Improving products, increasing value
In tech, value is ultimately driven by users. In the end, if nobody is using your technology, what’s the point? If Web 3.0 is going to remain one of the biggest growing industries in the entire world, it needs users.
For all of the benefits it offers, creating truly decentralized applications is a lot more complex than their centralized alternatives. More users will help solve this problem, as products with users can mature more quickly. As Session has grown, the additional feedback, reporting and support from its community has enormously helped improve the actual application. I’m sure other projects have found the same thing, as their popularity has increased, everything moves more quickly.
The next step for our industry should be to reach that critical mass of users as quickly as we can. Not only will this continue to drive the growth and improvement of the applications themselves, it will also attract new investment into the space — more resources, more growth. The Web 3.0 train is moving more quickly than it ever has before, but we’re still speeding up. If we want the wheels to keep rolling, we should support and encourage projects which will introduce new mainstream audiences to the exciting world of Web 3.0.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Kee Jefferys is the CTO of Oxen, a blockchain project powering a new class of interconnected privacy apps. After contributing to Monero related projects, Kee co-founded Oxen — a brand new privacy coin. Kee has co-authored several whitepapers, including for Session messenger, Chainflip, and Oxen.