The more one writes about identity, the more the word becomes a term for something that is as unfathomable as it is all-pervasive.
So said Erik Erikson, the psychologist who coined the term "identity crisis.” It often feels true: identity is a nebulous concept, with many connotations and its meaning highly context-dependent. This is no different in Web3.
In this post I’ll try to alleviate this: a framework for thinking about identity on the web as primarily a tool to store, manage and retrieve information.
It won’t clear up every use and misuse of the term, but I hope it lends clarity in thinking about how identity can shape Web3, how applications can build for this, and what these choices will mean for our experience of the web.
At the start of this year, Twitter and Facebook banned then-President Donald Trump from their platforms. Google, Apple, and Amazon kicked Parler, a right-wing social media app, off their platforms. 2021 gave clear proof yet that tech companies control online society more than any government, constituency, or constitution. Elizabeth Warren has led a chorus calling for a breakup of big-tech, while the big tech companies themselves race to pour billions into the ‘metaverse’ to establish their dominance on the next major platform.
But on a complex issue more in the spotlight than ever, most commentary is missing a simple framing: internet-based platforms are natural monopolies. If our prescriptions miss this diagnosis and treat the symptoms rather than the underlying cause, we’re doomed to recycle the ailment. If we recognize the situation, we can design the right governance for online networks to keep private and public interests (sufficiently) aligned.
A natural monopoly is an economic term for
a monopoly in an industry in which high infrastructural costs and other barriers to entry relative to the size of the market give the largest supplier in an industry, often the first supplier in a market, an overwhelming advantage over a potential competitor (Wikipedia).
A central pillar of the Web3 vision is "composable data" - the idea that the information that powers our online experiences can be read, remixed, and 'composed on' by applications across the web. This reusable model is in contrast to today's model, where data are primarily trapped in application-specific siloes.
Composable data is a paradigm shift for how the web works because it not only changes how applications are built but what an application is. This post aims to make this shift clear and concrete.