Just as we've begun to adjust to swell of economic, political and social changes brought on by the 2020 global pandemic, a new wave of change has been forming on our horizon. Web 3 is the next iteration of the internet that will fundamentally change; how we transact online, what personal information we share online, and the kind of relationships we have with brands.
What is Web 3?
Let's start with Web 1. Tim Berners-Lee, the founding father of the internet, defined web 1 as 'the read only web... the brick and mortar thinking applied to websites' where everything was basically a digital brochure. Web 2 saw the emergence of social media and the mobile web with tech giants like facebook reining supreme and us - the consumer - locked into a deal where our data became monetised in exchange for free access and the ability to participate on these platforms.
Web 3, as Juan Medoza writes, is a rejection of Web 2 centralised control and ownership of applications by using blockchain technology and smart contracts powered by Etherium. Resist the urge to glaze over the last point as 'cryto-babble', what this essentially means is that through technologies like blockchain and etherium (smart contracts), the internet - or the next version of the internet - will be run be decentralised apps and decentralised organisations where we no longer need an intermediary i.e. a bank or a tech platform to make a transaction or interaction happen; the exchange happens between the brand and the customer.
How did we get here?
The concerns of trust, privacy and tracking have become mainstream conversation in an era of fake news, deep fakes and that creepy kind of advertising you felt sure was listening in on your recent phone conversation. For so long we've accepted that price of using platforms like Facebook and Google for free, meant giving up our rights to own our own data, but rising consumer concern over this surveillance and innovation with new technologies (like blockchain and smart contracts) is giving birth to new exchanges.
Take the finance sector: When you borrow money, trade stocks, or Apple Pay-purchase a coffee, a middleman—a bank or a brokerage—makes the transaction happen. Decentralized finance cuts out that third party by running everything on blockchains, meaning all transactions are made directly.
Whilst there's a lot attention on finance; the principles of these relationships are being applied in other places, which is at the same time exciting and disruptive for marketers.
Where are we seeing this transfer of control?
Patreon and Substack are examples of platforms allowing creators (artists and writers) to control the conversation, flow of money and ownership of products with consumers in this reimagined internet. Brave is a search tool without the surveillance of Chrome. Lotame allows people to sell their personal information to brands through a private exchange. These are the early adopters gaining traction, but others are following, fast.
Who are the innovators?
We posted here a short time ago on NFTs and the tokenised of digital assets. A similar approach could emerge for brands where they tokenise access to features, tiers and experiences without the need to partner with an intermediary to make the transaction possible. Facebook and iOS are known as wall-gardens, but what if every brand, through a more decentralised internet was able to create a more unique partnership with their audience? Big tech's influence decreases as the power is redistributed back to the owner/brand/artist.
Think of the music business which is notorious for crunching artist revenues to the point where they only see ~15% of every dollar they make. Electronic-music artist Justin Blau, known as 3LAU, has fetched $17 million in the past month from NFTs, helped in part by a tokenised release of his three-year-old album Ultraviolet, “It’s a way to monetise your fan base in a way that’s never been possible,” said Mr. Blau.
So what does this mean for marketers?
Ad-blockers, the impending disabling of third party cookies, and the recent App Tracking Transparency (ATT) update to iOS requiring people to 'opt-in' to behaviour tracking has slowly, then all of a sudden, created a series of new challenges for marketers. Web 3 takes this a step further, taking the control away from the tech platforms and allowing organisations to write their own rules, managed by a technology that cannot be corrupted (blockchain) on smart contracts set up by the brand (etherium).
The say nothing changes in decades and then decades happens in weeks. We all felt that last year going through the pandemic and I can't help but feel marketers are about to experience this as the next iteration of the internet takes shape.