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We live in stories, whether they’re told to us by friends, in TED Talks, from the Marvel Universe, or exist in open-world games Cyberpunk 2077. Each story has mythical inspirations that hark back to parables constructed thousands of years ago. As I’ve worked with brands, startups and storytellers interested in pursuing a Web3 strategy, I’ve thought – what is the story Web3 enthusiasts are eagerly trying to tell?
Web1 was called World Wide Web, not Web1. The story consumers were told was, “There’s a digital way to send email with the touch of a button.” In the mid-1990s, AOL exploded in North America – about every six seconds, AOL acquired a new customer. Up until the late 90’s, websites were mainly static and used for sharing information, like a content delivery system. These were the speakers of their time. It was a one-way street where each story was controlled by one voice.
Then along came Web2, a social space where you could share cat videos and then be followed by cat food ads around the web. It led to social media stars and influencers chasing algorithms and studying analytics. At its core, Web2 was about using data analytics to manipulate history to get the most clicks and shares.
But nobody called it Web2. It was still the internet with a new social layer woven into it. A place where platforms housed creators who built audiences around niche fandoms, and advertisers gobbled up user data. Everyone was chasing the algorithm and technology became the tail-wagging proverbial creative dog. Where storytelling was once a learned craft accessible to a dedicated group of artists, now everyone and their dog (and their cat, of course!) were storytellers.
Then comes Gavin Wood in 2014 to tell us that Web3 was here.
The mythical quest begins
Gavin Wood is a blockchain guy. He co-founded Ethereum and later founded Polkadot and Kusama, platforms that help users launch their own blockchains. Wood says Web3 will give us a fully decentralized internet where companies like Amazon and Google don’t control market share. Wonderful idea, but one that sounds more like a mythical quest than a reality.
It reminds me of Richard Hendricks, the main character in Silicon ValleyHe says: “I want to invent a new Internet.” This begs the question: Do we really need a new Internet? Or should we let things evolve and not label things in motion? Blockchain technology has been simmering in the background for some time. But it’s been a rollercoaster ride, with the ICO bubble pop in 2018 and the current course correction. Now the big buzzword on everyone’s lips is “Metaverse” and the promise of an interoperable social and gaming system that uses NFTs to bridge this brave new world. The belief is that Web3 will be a fully interoperable 3D internet similar to what we have seen Ready player one‘s oasis.
Brands to the rescue?
The “Metaverse” is the new destination for risk-oriented brands, even if they and agencies can’t explain it in a 15-slide deck. Books are being written about it. There are experts who give lectures on this. Video games and metaverse become synonymous as mostly VCs and global consultancies hope that social media and gaming will be the convergence where advertisers can sell their stuff. How else can free-to-play and streaming services make money?
But gamers don’t bite. Gamers want to play. They would rather spend $5,000 League of Legends’ Skins as $250,000 on a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT to access that Other side “Metaverse” – where it costs even more to buy virtual land. Being a gamer myself, I’m happier spending $20 on it Cyberpunk 2077 and lose myself in the storytelling of CD Projectt rather than hoping that Yuga Labs will build something awesome for their expensive monkeys and a 2000s-style console game world.
So how do brands traverse Web3’s mythical metaverse?
The fandom we know
First, don’t chase trends. The real Web3 innovation will be a creator economy, not one driven by Web2 algorithms and data interpretation. Web2 took Web1 and made it interactive, but the data was still static. Web3 will be built on dynamic data, much like how characters in a role-playing game level up through experience points.
Information will be in constant flux as users use the system and developers build within a living platform. If we’re to achieve the mythical quest of building Web3, we’re going to be riding some serious datawaves. Brands need to find creators who best represent their world vision and integrate them as characters into their Metaverse stories. Until there is an open metaverse, it must either reside in standalone 3D ecosystems with an incredible history of experience, or be connected to pre-existing spaces within the platform system. All this will take time, not two to three years, as Web3 zealots trumpet on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Luckily, the best examples to study are already out there, living and breathing in the fandoms we love from Star Wars to Pokémon. These dynamic communities are connected to their many media nodes to keep the system running. Building a fandom like this from scratch is a daunting task, but like any great story, the first step always comes from a real place. A place where the creator is also a fan of the world he is building. One where the 11-year-old who loved Spider-Man can take his favorite web-slinger out of the Marvel toy box and adventure thirty years later (that’s my spot). There is a future we must build together, a future where the consumer is also the creator, who sometimes knows the value of a brand better than the brand.
Here come the plumbers
Web3 is not what evangelists would have us believe. Right now, ideas are being sown and the foundation for something big is being laid. You see the investments, announcements, collaborations, panels, studies from consultancies, people quitting permanent jobs, etc. The great unknown is how all the different ideas, cultures and visions come together in a coherent way and represent the best parts of our digital humanity .
When we listen to the myths of our ancestors, recognize our own hubris, and pay attention to our collective history, we have a real opportunity to build a future that marries creativity with technology. And who knows, we might even build that democratized, decentralized internet that Richard Hendricks and Gavin Wood promised us!
Benjamin Jackendoff (aka B. Earl) is a Marvel writer and partner at Skyview Way Studios.
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