The Ownership Economy We Left Behind: Web 3 Can’t Fix What Greed Broke.

image of a cowboy on a horse. behind him is a horse carrying the bitcoin symbol on his back. image has text that reads: the ownership economy we left behind. text is written in handwriting font.

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image of a cowboy on a horse. behind him is a horse carrying the bitcoin symbol on his back. image has text that reads: the ownership economy we left behind. text is written in handwriting font.

“If the last generation of software was built upon a foundation of user-generated content, the next generation of software will be user-owned, with digital ownership leveraged as a building block to enable novel user experiences.”

li’s newsletter: the ownership economy and upcoming era of content ownership

This article missed one thing: content ownership isn’t some new future utopia, it’s what is what blogging was.

Web 2 is thought of as the era of social media, with dynamic, “live updating” applications fuelled by JavaScript and Ruby on Rails in place of clunkier php and (god help us all) perl web applications.

But web 2 was also defined by open APIs that allowed people to post from their tumblr to their twitter, insta and FB directly, or vice versa. As in the raw text or image appeared as if it were posted from that platform, not as a link back to the originator platform.

These open APIs died in favour of siloed websites and apps – because it was imperative to keep eyeballs on only their site in order to make these “free” services profitable by snapping up all the data.

I can’t speak to the “novel user experiences” li mentions –which sound a bit like when enough discord users boost a server and get new emojis, or like when insta only allowed people with 10k followers to have links on swipe up – but what I can say is:

Before we posted all our content for free on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, insta, TikTok, medium, and substack, people did own their content.

You paid for webhosting, you installed blog software on your server, and you owned your own domain and pop email account tied to it.

No one could de-platform anyone, because email list data was (and still is) ours by law. Freely transferable to any new email service.

You could (and still can) export your blog content and reimport to a new blog platform or to a new host without issue if you posted content that was somehow against your web hosting t&c’s.

The reason we gave up ownership was for attention, to put it bluntly. Before “for you” pages and discover pages, you had to either rely on people searching for your content (and that created the culture of awful click bait headlines we know and loath), or you had to network. You got followers by following other blogs and building real relationships with their owners.

You chatted on message boards and subreddits about whatever niche interest brought you there and if you so happened to blog about it and you were more or less liked, then maybe you got followers there.

You counted success as when someone new added your blog to their blog roll (RIP) : a list of links in the sidebar of their site for their followers to follow. A smaller success was a link in a blog post.

People kept up to date with all these different sites with an RSS reader.

It took graft and time and as close as real person to person contact as is possible with online experiences. It was slow.

Social media came along and boosted the early adopters to the top of the attention pile. Making others think “oh, it’s so easy. I can do that”.

As the platforms grew and more creators arrived, it was careful to mete out that every new creator would get a slice of attention early on, to help keep them hooked.

Yeah, the algorithms had a favoured content style you had to learn after a while. And each seems skewed to an idea of what “good content” is that can be manipulated. But it allowed people to grow faster than before with much less two way interaction.

And that how the culture of internet idols was born. How it set the stage for them to shill everything from “slimming tea” to cheap swimsuits to disinformation, unquestioned.

When we gave our content and data away for attention and greater discoverability, we gave these platforms power to influence us in ways that people who work in behaviour studies are still trying to understand.

My chat app is connected to the app I scroll each morning and the ads and new accounts it shows me, and that’s connected to my music app and the playlists and podcasts it suggests- all of which work in the background to create my current state of mind, form my opinions, and how I see myself.

“In a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers have found that aside from enabling you to reach a more targeted audience, behavioral marketing may also have the capacity to alter a users’ perception of themselves

Social media today: new study shoes targeted ads change self perception, boost interest

If I believed that I was immune while others might be influenced, I would be delusional. And so would you.

Monopolies didn’t break the internet– greed did: greed from companies trying to squeeze as much money out of our data and attention as possible, and creators who wanted to squeeze as much revenue out of their followers by giving the illusion that – for example- their lip kit was the reason their mouth suddenly looked like it had fillers in it. Or that they didn’t need to be vaccinated because of this vitamin they sell.

Adding more businesses and more creators with the same mindset that broke the web 2 isn’t going to make web 3 any better.

You can’t fix something with the same mindset that broke it.

Am I excited about designing new, unique experiences with VR and AR?


Do I think this is the cure to what the current state of affairs is?

Absolutely not.

It doesn’t matter if no one company has all our data. Companies sell user data to each other, to political actors, and to governments – domestic and foreign. Increasingly, it’s the last two who value this data the most.


That may not sound scary to you, but it is scary for the most marginalised people in societies.

Creators are about the maintaining aspirational illusions that appeal to their audience: whether it’s an illusion of health, relation or business expertise, beauty, or finding spiritual peace.

Web 3 is simply adding an additional “finders fee” for bringing those servers more user data and keeping it topped up with a fresh supply of fresh souls new visitors.

While that might translate into fewer online courses and paid partnerships being shilled from creators, it doesn’t de-incentivise them for wanting to appeal to the broadest possible base by any means necessary – deception included. And I don’t believe anyone would give up those extra revenue channels once they’ve got them set up.

Finally, giving those people payment/ownership in a currency that can be destabilised by a tweet, feels like being paid in beanie babies*.

It could be worth something down the line. or the bubble could burst and it might not.

By all means, get excited about the new experiences web3 will bring us.

But you can and should take back your web presence and content right now.

* Beanie babes: plushy collectables from around web 2 era that people scrambled to buy because it was an investment, and later it turned out the whole thing was a hyped up stunt and then the bubble burst. Seemed like that might ring some bells.


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