Saturday, January 22, 2022

"Web3 doesn’t eliminate the problems posed by social media; it capitalizes on them"

From Real Life Magazine:


A towering wave of hype and speculation is forming around “Web3,” fueled by speculative windfalls, blockchain boosterism, and a general dissatisfaction with the established social media platforms. Cryptocurrency-based forms of interacting with internet content — e.g. NFTs — are the essence of what passes for Web3 innovation. They have moved into such fields as gaming, the art market, and the sales pitch for Facebook’s Metaverse; they have been touted as designer accessories, Twitter profile-pic bling, and as a means to try to legitimate exclusive ownership in digital marketplaces. 

Yet the idea that “Web3” constitutes some new framework that corrects or repudiates the problems of the previous “Web 2.0” paradigm misrepresents the emerging interactions and continuities between them. As interested parties try to push NFTs and crypto into the mainstream, they don’t upend the current platforms’ mass markets and cultures of virality but become embedded within them.   

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok — the bedrock of what’s being post-scripted as Web 2.0 — may appear to focus on publishing user-generated content, but their main product is virality. Their interfaces, replenishable feeds, audience metrics, and ranking algorithms are all aimed at creating and rewarding viral content. Its spreadability and instantaneity connects people, refashioning user bases into industrial-sized audiences, or “communities,” as those platforms tend to euphemistically describe them. Virality connects audiences and attracts advertising revenue; it determines the spaces and markets that social media currently monopolize.   

After all, it’s not as if any content is intrinsically contagious. Virality depends not on really great dance moves or memes but global distribution systems that take advantage of digital media’s easy reproducibility while simultaneously tracking its circulation. It is a product of platforms operating at scale, which requires a global user base and the computational power to track and support a massive number of user interactions — millions per second for the likes of Google and Facebook. Viral content is dependent on the platform architectures and underlying legal structures on which it transpires and flows. The larger the platform, the more it operates at scale and centralizes its distribution mechanisms, and the more widespread, instantaneous, and valuable virality becomes....