On Building A Better Web: The Marlinspike Threads

If you want to follow the debate about crypto’s impact on society, which I believe is one of the most important topics in tech today, you better sharpen your Twitter skills – most of the interesting thinking is happening across Twitter’s decidedly chaotic platform. I’ve been using the service for nearly 15 years, and I still find it difficult to bring to heel. When following a complex topic, I find myself back where I started – in a draft blog post, trying to pull it all together.

That’s where I’ve been this past weekend as I watched the response to a thoughtful post from Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike.  (And yes, the fact that the Twitter conversation was driven by a blog post is not lost on me…)

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A Draft Syllabus For The Rabbit Hole

(image) The most common complaint I hear from friends and colleagues who are interested in the crypto/web3 world is how hard it is to “get smart” on the topic – for a neophyte, there’s just so much noise and precious little signal. Sure, you might dive headfirst into crypto Twitter – but the experience is both jarring and unproductive (ditto that for crypto-related Discord servers).

I’ve been exploring crypto for enough time to have developed a point of view on a handful of people and resources I trust to help me make sense of what is an increasingly fractious and confusing space. Below is a first draft of what I hope will evolve into a more polished “syllabus” of sorts for smart folks interested in getting smarter. This is purposefully not complete – the list could have been much, much longer. Please comment, email, or hit me up on Twitter with additional suggestions, and I’ll incorporate them as I can. And one caveat: I’m reading in this space with an eye toward crypto’s impact on tech, society, and governance. This list is *not* created with an eye toward investing in either currencies or NFTs. There’d be an entirely different set of resources for that task!

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Let’s Argue About Web3!

Popcorn in  hand, I’ve been watching the recent religious war between tech leaders, and I find it all quite…wonderful. It’s been a while since we’ve had this level of disagreement about the future of what we used to call “our industry,” and as long as the debate remains relatively civil, I’m here for it. Then again, we’ve already seen trolling (Elon Musk), blocking (Marc Andreessen), and shitposting (Jack Dorsey) from some of the biggest names in tech. But hey, at least the arguments are getting aired out.

So what are we arguing about? In short, the future. Nothing is more sacred in the world of tech – the industry has defined and owned the future’s brand for as long as I can remember. Arguing about how that future might play out used to be a full time gig for many of us. It was at the center of our editorial mission at Wired – to paraphrase founding editor Louis Rossetto, our job was “to make a magazine that felt like it was mailed back from the future.” But around a decade ago, arguments about the future subsided – what was the point, given that future had consolidated into a handful of technology titans like Facebook, Tesla, Apple, Google, Netflix and Amazon? Whatever gifts or perils the future might bring, one thing was certain: The tech giants owned it. Where’s the fun in that?

This turn of events was profoundly dispiriting for some, particularly those of us who had taken the red pill at the dawn of the commercial internet. Sure, I moderated a conference on Web2, and I wrote a book on search and Google, so watching Web2 businesses grow into the most successful firms in the history of business was … cool, for a while. But by 2012 or so, I had lost the optimism and excitement I once had for the industry. It felt like our dreams for a better world had been hijacked by centralized models of capital, and the future had become predictable again. Boring.

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Predictions 2021: How’d I Do? Pretty Damn Well.

As has been my practice for nearly two decades, I penned a post full of prognostications at the end of last year.  As 2021 subsequently rolled by, I stashed away news items that might prove (or disprove) those predictions – knowing that this week, I’d take a look at how I did. How’d things turn out? Let’s roll the tape…

My first prediction: Disinformation becomes the most important story of the year. At the time I wrote those words, Trump’s Big Lie was only two months old, and January 6th was just another day on the calendar.  A year later, that Big Lie has spawned countless others, culminating in one of the most damaging shifts in our nation’s politics since the Civil War. The Republican party is now fully captured by bullshit, and countless numbers of local, state, and national politicians are busy undermining democracy thanks to the Big Lie’s power.  A significant percentage of the US population has become unmoored from truth – and an equally significant group of us have simply thrown our hands up about it. Trust is at an all time low. This Barton Gellman piece in The Atlantic served as a wake up call late in the year – and its conclusions are terrifying: “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” Gellman quotes an observer stating. “But urgent action is not happening.” I’m not happy about getting this one right, but as far as I’m concerned, this is still the most important story of the year – and the most terrifying.

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