Web3's Instant Rush to Centralization

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

Moxie Marlinspike has written my new favorite piece about the modern crypto bubble. Read the whole thing, but a few choice quotes for me were:

It reuses the same connections, TLS session tickets, etc for all the accounts in your wallet, so if you’re managing multiple accounts in your wallet to maintain some identity separation, these companies know they’re linked.

Companies who make wallet apps have easy access to linking your "main" wallets with your "alt" wallets. Bye, bye privacy. Well, unless you trust the wallet-maker, but this is all supposed to be trust-free, right?

Then, on web3's instant move towards centralization:

Given the history of why web1 became web2, what seems strange to me about web3 is that technologies like ethereum have been built with many of the same implicit trappings as web1. To make these technologies usable, the space is consolidating around… platforms. Again. People who will run servers for you, and iterate on the new functionality that emerges. Infura, OpenSea, Coinbase, Etherscan.

A good example of this? The NFT he created and posted on OpenSea was removed by OpenSea (something, something, can't get cancelled in web3…) and he then became unable to access his own NFT in his wallet.

All this means that if your NFT is removed from OpenSea, it also disappears from your wallet. It doesn’t functionally matter that my NFT is indelibly on the blockchain somewhere, because the wallet (and increasingly everything else in the ecosystem) is just using the OpenSea API to display NFTs, which began returning 304 No Content for the query of NFTs owned by my address!

So yeah, he lost access to something he "owned" because the platform holder took it down.

I have only dipped my toe in the waters of web3. Looking at it through the lens of these small projects, though, I can easily see why so many people find the web3 ecosystem so neat. I don’t think it’s on a trajectory to deliver us from centralized platforms, I don’t think it will fundamentally change our relationship to technology, and I think the privacy story is already below par for the internet (which is a pretty low bar!), but I also understand why nerds like me are excited to build for it.

I tend to agree with this take. When I look at what's going on today with crypto and I compare it to my history of seeing new tech come and go, I keep being reminded of bittorrent. In the mid-2000s bittorrent was expanding into tons of spaces and many suggested that everything from websites to chat apps to basically anything making an internet connection would run over bittorrent. In time we saw that biottorrent did have a place, but it was far from everywhere. I think crypto does have a future, but I'm unconvinced it's going to do 1/10th of the things people seem to think it will today.