After doing a deep dive into the Web3 rabbit hole for our ground-breaking iSportconnect Web3 Summit, I’ve come up for air and let my thoughts re-settle into the Web2 real world. In the process I think I’ve had a sort of epiphany that I would like to share.
Note I'm coming at this as largely a newbie of web3 who has a much better understanding of the sports and entertainment business than Web3.
First, let me get one thing out of the way. Forget about cryptocurrency. I’m tired of hearing about it and reading misinformation about blockchain written by people with a crypto meltdown axe to grind. The whole subject is a toxic distraction and I’m going to ignore it.
And yes, I am aware that there are those who will say that talking about Web3 without crypto makes no sense. Too bad, I’m doing it.
Out of principle, I’m not going to use the abstruse and annoying expression ‘NFT’ either.
I want to talk about Web3 as the next big thing that comes after Web2 and pick up on a number of general ideas that I’ve heard expressed not by the sceptics but by people who have bought into the basic notion that there is going to be a blockchain revolution in some shape or form.
Because Web2 is a super-entrenched default infrastructure supported by the richest companies in the world, Web3 faces the challenge of a certain amount of inertia, to say the least. I think we all agree that mass adoption of blockchain isn’t going to happen tomorrow.
But what’s going to push things in that direction?
Remember that Web3 is about back-end technology and ordinary people won’t even know if their internet is Web2 or Web3, so the adoption discussion is really more about B2B embracing blockchain than B2C.
And Web3 is by no means an all-or-nothing proposition. Blockchain might work for some things and not others. Everybody agrees that blockchain ticketing, for example, makes sense for all kinds of reasons. But that’s a small application in the grand scheme of things.
What about the bigger picture?
So, here goes. And be patient, because this is not going to be some negative rant, quite the opposite.
Many true believers express the view that the Web3 revolution is just like the Web2 revolution, and that, basically, mass adoption will happen when everybody wakes up to all the great things that blockchain can do for them.
Yes, while the Web2 internet took time to get off the ground, and there was even a dot.com crash on the way, the reason it eventually gained traction was because it made life easier for millions and millions of ordinary people in their everyday lives. They could shop without leaving home and manage their bank accounts and make appointments and communicate with each other. It saved time and effort and money. A lot of stuff’s cheaper to buy online. Who in today’s world would want to go back to pre-Web2 living?
Does Web3 promise to make daily life easier for ordinary people? Not that I’ve heard. Sure, blockchain can do cool new things. But saving time, effort and money for the average person does not immediately appear high on the list.
One of Web3’s selling points is the promise that blockchain will enable people to control the data and personal information currently being sucked up by the big platforms that dominate Web2 and the websites that consumers frequent online.
Who really cares?
Do people who buy stuff online really give a damn if the company they buy from has their data? Or the online news source they subscribe to? Do they care that if they do a Google search that it cooks up some algorithm that they’re part of? Is that anything that grown-ups who are paranoid about their own snooping government or the Russians lose sleep over?
No. In return for the convenience of Web2, people are largely comfortable with surrendering some of their privacy, even if they might not like it and want more regulation. This is not a complex equation. I remember Obama saying something to this effect years ago.
Of more relevance is the B2B issue of whether companies and organisations – including sports entities − that depend on the big platforms for distribution will embrace blockchain in order to gain control of their data. Is that a priority? Most of them don’t even know how to make optimal use of the data they already have.
Is the data aspect going to be what drives Web3 mass adoption? How long will that take? I don’t know the answer to those questions. What do you think?
We’re told that Web3 is about a creating immutable distributed ledgers of transactions and ownership. People will be able to own tokens and transact in a new transparent economy based on blockchain.
So what? Who’s asking for that?
How much can tokenisation benefit ordinary consumers and businesses? Will the advantages of blockchain become so obvious that Web3 achieves mass adoption? In the next 20 years? Again, I don’t know. What do you think?
Web3 has the potential to transform the entertainment ecosystem for music, film, sports, art, games, all the fun stuff people like to consume and take pleasure from. They will be able to own their own blockchain treasure chests of content and get access to new experiences and deeper engagement in the entertainment they are passionate about and be part of and transact with communities of like-minded fans.
Ah ha, now we’re getting somewhere!
And here is my simple-minded epiphany. Pardon me for being slow on the uptake because this is something visionary big brains have no doubt known from day one.
Forget technology and think use cases.
The difference between adoption of Web2 and Web3 is that Web2 growth was driven by information, communication and shopping for goods and services, and Web3 growth will probably be driven by entertainment, including sports entertainment and especially gaming.
Web2 adoption was geeky, Web3 adoption will be fun.
A corollary is that while Web2 started out being for grown-ups, Web3 is really for kids. I mean that playfully. I don’t know what the upper age limit for being a kid is nowadays, it seems to keep rising. Anyway, gamers and sports fans are all kids at heart.
The softest target for Web3 is the same young digital natives who already form gaming communities and spend billions on owning in-game digital assets in Web2 games. They buy skins in Fortnite and League of Legends. They already understand the token thing.
There’s supposed to be about three billion gamers in the world. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by suggesting that gaming is likely to be the main driver of Web3 adoption.
Sports can be another big driver, perhaps in connection with gaming. New entertainment metaverses between Web2 and Web3 may speed things up.
The Web3 conversation can go in all kinds of directions. To make it
profitable for sports, keep the focus on how innovation more generally can deliver new experiences and better entertainment for the fans. That’s what matters most, not technology.
Sometimes Web3 will be the answer, but there may be valuable solutions that don't require Web3 at all.