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Here Comes Web3: Chris Dixon’s Read Write Ownby@ralphbenko
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Here Comes Web3: Chris Dixon’s Read Write Own

by Ralph BenkoMarch 15th, 2024
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How to restore the Web as “a powerful source for social change and individual creativity.”
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The World Wide Web, thank you Sir Tim, was conceived as a technology designed to be “a powerful source for social change and individual creativity.” It has devolved from that into a (cyber)space of moated castles, Disneylandish cathedrals, not bazaars.


While very entertaining and very useful in many ways the hegemonic Web platforms present as artificial rather than organic, hierarchical rather than egalitarian. The Big Platforms are owned and managed by a handful of dominant, supervalued, companies.


Prominent are Alphabet (Google’s parent) and Meta (Facebook’s parent). Low cost and high profit, they are great at informing and entertaining us. Meanwhile, however, in consequential ways they are beggaring those who provide the content and the users who consume that content.


The top platforms are richly paid to channel advertising. To us.


The Web has evolved into a massive, and massively profitable, advertising engine. As such, the Web now might be (and is becoming) seen as a form of de facto feudalism, digital imperialism, and digerati aristocracy.


The attention of us billions of serfs is the product sold to advertisers.

No coercion there. More like… seduction.


Note, this critique does not imply a call for legislation or government regulation. Both tend to be blunt instruments that land much harder on startups than on the hegemons of the digital megaverse.


It calls for transformation. Which will come, as always, from more innovation, as Microsoft dethroned IBM, Google (partially) dethroned Microsoft, Facebook (partially) dethroned Google, Apple (partially) dethroned Facebook, and so forth.


How did we get here? Can we, and if so how can we, once again unleash the imprisoned lighting (h/t Emma Lazarus) of the colonized Web to create a new golden age of innovation and equitable prosperity?


Enter the blockchain.


First, though, who am I to judge?


I am one of the few surviving Original Gangsters of the Supply Side/Reaganomics revolution.


We, relentlessly mocked by the right (“voodoo economics”) and the left (“trickle-down economics”), got policies enacted that, over time, pushed the Dow from 814 (on that day in November 1979 that Reagan officially declared his candidacy for the presidency) to its current flirtation with 40,000.


Our voodoo doubled real per capita GDP (from $30,000 to $60,000). It raised nominal American and world GDP by a factor of ten.


Pretty good voodoo.


That said, what’s the next act?


The juice from the original equitable prosperity policy formula -- of stabilizing the dollar (slaying the inflation dragon for two generations and cutting the top marginal income tax rate from 70% to, initially, 28%) -- got wrung out around the time Bill Clinton left the building.


I was and am enthusiastic about reducing counterproductively high marginal tax rates across-the-board. Yet much of what ensued in the name of supply-side during the 21st century is a cargo-cult version of supply-side’s successes of the ‘80s and ‘90s.


The post-Reagan/Clinton grotesque caricature of authentic supply-side economics has left the economy limping for a generation. Cumulatively, over 20+ years, sub-par growth rates are crippling. They leave us with an economy, both national and personal, far lower than what consistent 3+% supply-side growth rates would have delivered over time.


As Einstein probably never said, compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. A one or two percent differential compounded over 20 years makes a huge difference.


Is there a new, plausible, way to re-ignite vibrant, widely shared, rising living standards? As Nobel Prize winner Paul Romer has pointed out, the secret sauce is innovation. Tech.


Enter A16z’s Chris Dixon, “a General Partner and has been at Andreessen Horowitz since 2012. He founded and leads a16z crypto, which invests in web3 technologies through four dedicated funds with more than $7 billion under management.”


Dixon has delivered a splendid new book Read Write Own: Building the Next Era of the Internet. It lays out in clear, practical terms how the wild wild Web was lost. And how to set it right in such a way that everyone, including us serfs, can prosper.


As war is too important to be left to the generals, prosperity is too important to be left to the economists. Enter Dixon.


How to restore sizzling, equitable, prosperity?

The blockchain.


The blockchain is a revolutionary form of software which, when more fully developed, portends to allow most of the value created by the community and by its cultural creatives to be enjoyed by the full community and its cultural creatives.


Not (as now) exclusively, or at least primarily, by the corporate royalty and tech aristocracy.


At long last, Dixon gives us a presentation of the blockchain and its properties imbued with an enthusiasm leavened with shrewd practical insight devoid of hype. Dixon is one of the Masters of the Digital Universe (as coder, entrepreneur, and investor).


He knows whereof he writes and has written the first really great, comprehensive, book on the blockchain, Read Write Own: Building the Next Era of the Internet.


Eureka!


Dixon provides an overview in his introduction. He there provides us a World-Wide-Webb-telescopic-eye view of the three eras of the internet, of a new movement, of seeing the truth and determining the internet’s future.


Part One, “Read Write”—treats the early internet, which was effectively read only, and Web2, allowing us surfers to write and post through websites, blogs, podcasts, social media and so forth. He explains why networks matter and lays out a trenchant taxonomy of the two dominant incumbent networks (protocol, like the internet and email, and corporate, such as Google and Facebook) and their properties.


In Part Two, “Own,” Dixon then goes on to explain what blockchains are, what “tokens” are, and what the – radically great – properties of blockchain networks are… or could and can be.


“Own” is a short word with huge implications. Ownership is what has been lost, and which can be restored via a (better) blockchain.


In Part Three, “A New Era,” Dixon explains and explores the fundamentals of the business model, community-created software, and take rates (meaning the vigorish that the corporate network proprietors extract from their communities, a process he aptly calls “attract and extract”).


He lays out how building networks with token incentives can dramatically change the way the world works for the better, making it more prosperous, cultured, and equitable. He presents vividly the attendant “tokenomics” … and how to restore popular, rather than corporate-autocratic, governance.


In Part Four, “Here and Now”, he contrasts the culture of the computer (blockchain as compute platform) with the casino (cryptocurrency), concluding with “What’s Next” … showing how mobile computing, starting with the iPhone, changed everything.


He then lays out “some promising applications.”


Dixon concludes with a pragmatic vision of the reinvention of the internet… and what grounds his cause for optimism.


Until Dixon, in many years of my searching, like Diogenes with his lantern, I had encountered not one single really good, comprehensive, book on the blockchain. (I may have missed one, admittedly, for instance, not yet having gotten to Alex Tapscott’s critically acclaimed Web3.)


There I rested, baffled. So much sizzle. So little steak.


So, together with a brilliant acquaintance, I helped write one: Redefining the Future of the Economy: Governance Blocks and Economic Architecture. That said, it mainly was focused on the potential finance applications of the blockchain, not the Big Picture.


I thereafter co-authored a second book on this subject, Blockchain With American Character, a compilation of ten superior policies designed to let the sector thrive while protecting the public.


It took a long odyssey to arrive at Dixon. I wandered around for years asking people vastly smarter than me what the blockchain was good for and seeking examples of killer applications (“use cases” in the prevailing jargon).


In response, I got oodles of hype. And almost no satisfying answers … with one noteworthy exception, though a largely unpublished one.


Cometh now Chris Dixon.


I am not the only one impressed.


Sam Altman, the godfather of ChatGPT, blurbs Read Write Own: “Read this book to understand a compelling vision of where the Internet should go and how to get there.” Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban: “Chris Dixon succeeds at explaining how crypto technology is vital to our technological future and how we all can benefit much as we have from the internet.”


And many more captains of industry, tech titans, and nouveau billionaires discovered Dixon’s writings before I did.


My own modest credentials? I have been working within and with the Blockchain ecosystem for, well, eons. One of my LinkedIn verticals is Ralph Benko’s Cryptozoic Eon aggregating some of the most interesting stories about NFTs.


Geology nerds will recognize the original Cryptozoic Eon to be the pre-Cambrian era … before the trilobites and dinosaurs... comprising 80% of Earth’s geo-history. Are we trembling at the verge of the blockchain’s equivalent of the Cambrian explosion?


Dixon thinks so. So do I.


Call me Nobody yet my odyssey through the blockchain ecosystem has brought me into contact with creatures and cultures as exotically beautiful and, sometimes, as weird as those encountered by Odysseus during his long return to Ithaka.


My own pilgrimage:


  • Senior advisor to the fabulous Perianne Boring’s Chamber of Digital Commerce, one of the sector’s earliest and most distinguished cheerleaders.
  • Long-time active member of the Federal Blockchain Working Group.
  • Privileged to present more than once at the conferences of the Government Blockchain Association, the preeminent association of officials and international career civil servants.
  • Serving, for two years, as the senior counselor to the American Blockchain PAC, with its advisory board chaired by blockchain-co-inventor Dr. W. Scott Stornetta who generously contributed the introduction to Blockchain With American Character. The breakthrough nature of Stornetta and Haber’s discovery is decisively evidenced by the fact that three of Satoshi’s eight footnotes referenced his and Stuart Haber’s seminal paper.
  • The high privilege of working with one of Satoshi’s earliest Bitcoin core devs (and major contributor to the Android OS) Jeff Garzik in establishing a DC think tank devoted to smart energy policy, Washington Power and Light.
  • Voted Contributor of the Year in 2022 at HackerNoon for my blockchain writings in six categories: politics, economics, science, art, philosophy, and (with Greg Meredith) scaling.
  • My blockchain-related efforts have migrated primarily to the enterprise, rather than policy, side.
    • My primary focus is on the use of rho calculus (a refinement of Robin Milner’s Turing Award-winning pi-calculus) to deploy a blockchain that, unlike the dominant platforms, scales.
      • Bitcoin does a mere 7 transactions per second, Ethereum, 70 transactions per second. Inadequate for practical utility. And expensive to operate.
  • And storable. (Currently it costs almost half a million dollars to store one iTune on the dominant incumbent chains, hence the referenced data are mostly stashed behind someone else’s firewall, not at all optimal.)
  • And searchable. (Currently the dominant blockchains are largely opaque, like the Web before search engines.)
  • And secure.


So … now what?


Dixon is a true Master of the Blockchain Universe. Not (like me) a practiced propagandist. Thus he buries his lede on page 179:


“The stakes are high. As I’ve argued here, blockchain networks are the only known technology that can re-establish an open, democratic internet.”


Hello Congress my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again….


This re-establishment is a very big deal indeed.


What’s next?


For the tantalizing promise of the blockchain to be realized we need smart policy that protects the public while not stifling innovation or exporting this cutting-edge tech, and the potentially trillions of associated dollars, to Berlin, Singapore or Zug.


Imagine how worse off America would be today if Congress and our regulators had effectively deported the headquarters of the big Web success stories, like Google, to Europe or the Pacific?


The need for a savvy legal and regulatory environment is something that legislators, regulators, and the ethical actors within the industry (like Dixon) all agree upon. Yet Washington has thus far proved mostly thrown, acting like the primates upon encountering the monolith at the beginning of 2001: a Space Odyssey.


We’re at the precipice of deporting Web3 and its associated power, prestige and wealth.


That may be about to change.


The blockchain’s thought leaders are at long last gearing up to help guide the footsteps of the Washington elite back onto the Paths of Righteousness via smart policy, smart legislation, and smart regulation.


Some very smart leaders of the blockchain ecosystem are now promising to invest $78M in lobbying and advocacy in 2024, a modest investment in support a multi-billion dollar sector.


The open question?


Will they deploy their resources effectively? Or be taken in by the wily Beltway Bandits?


What to do? Those of us who remember C.P. Snow’s seminal The Two Cultures And The Scientific Revolution understand that the “physical scientists” (which would include software engineers, notwithstanding that software is, so to speak, metaphysical) among whom I count myself as a very lesser figure do not really understand the “literary intellectuals” (among whom I also count myself in a very minor way).


This misunderstanding causes a terrible disconnect. As Snow reported, in 1959: “They have a curious distorted image of each other. Their attitudes are so different that, even at the level of emotion, they can’t find much common ground.”


This can be countered… if the blockchain thought leaders know how to adopt an effective approach. There is abundant potential common ground.


Dixon’s book offers a “corpus callosum” – the brain’s bridge connecting the left (logical, dominating the physical scientists) and right (narrative-based, dominating the literary intellectuals) hemispheres – to enable both sides to understand each other.


To their mutual, and our, great benefit.


There’s a simple way to expedite this process, one with a high ROI.


Were the thought leaders of the $78M blockchain advocacy effort to allocate an absurdly small fraction (less than 1%) of their dedicated resources to distributing two copies (one for the Congressperson or Senator, one for his or her most relevant legislative aide) of Read Write Own, the impact almost surely will be disproportionately valuable compared to the low cost of such an operation.


How do I know? I’ve pretty much single-handedly gotten (non-blockchain related) legislation passed through the House. Twice.


There are a lot of smart, idealistic, people working on Capitol Hill, many actively interested in the blockchain and in its tantalizing potential. Put Read Write Own in front of them!


The power of Joseph Pulitzer’s principles can hardly be overestimated:


“…put it before them briefly so that they will read it, clearly so that they will understand it, forcibly so that they will appreciate it, picturesquely so that they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so that they may be wisely guided by its light.”


The late supply-side chief propagandist Jude Wanniski’s book “The Way the World Works” played an outsized role in igniting the worldwide wave of unprecedented equitable prosperity driven by supply-side economics.


This arcane fact is mostly long forgotten. That said, I was there and remember.


In the words of Ishmael, “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”


Read Write Own, properly deployed, very well could catalyze a comparably magnificent equitable prosperity transformation. Putting Dixon’s Read Write Own in front of the right eyeballs in the right way on Capitol Hill, could very well release the djinn of “the only known technology that can re-establish an open, democratic internet” from its lamp.


Which eyeballs? Don’t try to guess.


Simply trust the process known as “the wisdom of crowds” as described by James Surowiecki.


Flood the zone and let the implicate order take it from there.


And then … let a new golden age of equitable prosperity, via the road thereto so ably mapped out by Dixon, foment well-designed policy and thereby foster the next great manifestation of equitable prosperity for America.


And the world.


Read.

Write.

Own.