Is Web3 the Post-Social Media Future I Wished for?

A comparison between five predictions from 2020 and today's web3 reality.
Hi, I’m Severin Matusek and I’m the founder of co—matter, an agency for research, strategy and collaboration. If this is the first time you hear from me you’ve likely downloaded the Post-Social Media Report and clicked the little box that says “Keep me posted on further research and strategy from co—matter”.

Last year I found myself with a bit of time on my hands. The pandemic came to me like a storm that shook my life into pieces. As I recollected the pieces, deciding what to keep, where to place them and what to let go of, I decided it was time for a break.

I was looking for something new after publishing Post-Social Media in September 2020. It took me two years to write and synthesise my thoughts into five core theses that I believed will define the next era of finding community online. However, instead of getting excited about this new era, I felt I was done with it. The smart thing to do would have been to get it out to as many people as possible, do talks and pitch to potential clients. Instead, I went offline for the last 1 ½ years. 

Photo via Unsplash. Its creator, Claudia Manas, does not own any tokens that let her participate in the potential financial benefit of her image being used in this newsletter.

In the endless quiet of another pandemic summer, I took the “plunge into web3”.

It reminded me of summers as a child. The days were long, the pool was the place to be and there was not much else to do. As you stand on the sidelines, older kids jump in, performing mighty tricks. When it’s finally your turn, all you try to do is keep your head above the surface as you float around. Kind of like spending endless nights in Discord chat rooms, your eyes are red by the end of the day and you wonder if this is really what you wanted yourself to get into.

But after a while you learn the tricks. It takes a few weeks getting lost in chat rooms, Twitter feeds and countless articles until the previously obscure world of NFTs, DAOs, protocols, smart contracts, social tokens, immutable ledgers, cryptography, currencies, coins, airdrops etc. start to tie into each other and make sense.

The shortest explanation of web3 I found so far is this:

Web2 enabled us to publish and communicate through platforms that made profit through ads and data extraction. Web3’s token-based economy will enable users to have ownership of digital assets (their own or those of others) and thereby participate in the financial, social, cultural and political transactions those assets might entail. 

It’s not as easy as that. There’s a lot of criticism around what web3 promises to do and what it will actually do - if it happens at all. But let’s not go into that just yet.

Instead, let’s see if web3 can help us solve the problems of the social media era. Below are the five major shifts I predicted for the post-social media future in 2020. I’ll go into each and try to answer if the tools and technologies that web3 aims to provide can get us there or not.

1. The shift from growth to agency

I predicted a post-growth era where platforms empower users to control their information intake instead of capitalising on their attention through algorithm-based feeds.

Will this happen in web3?
Probably not. Whether you’re into NFTs, DAOs, DeFI or the metaverse, the attention economy still hits heavy. The whole notion of “falling down the web3 rabbit hole
🕳” (a description often used by people who get into web3) is based on an endless stream of information that you’ll never be able to control. The evolution of web3 will make being “extremely online” go from niche status symbol to mainstream mode of existing.

What I'm excited about are projects like The Syllabus or Startupy. Both aim to solve the problems of algorithmic feeds through better knowledge curation and contextualization. 

2. The shift from open to private

I predicted the rise of gated niche communities where people build deeper connections and stronger identities than on the previous era’s open social media platforms.

Will this happen in web3?
Yes. The current wave of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) are the perfect example. Take Channel as an example: the decentralised media organization launched with a limited edition of 666 Founder NFTs that you could acquire for 0.33 ETH (ca 800 USD at that time). The NFTs were sold out within a day and granted owners access to a Discord server which serves as the main platform where founding members can access exclusive content, participate in governance and eventually help building the organisation. 

Channel s0 founder NFT #356 out of 666, created by digital artist Sam Rolfes. Property of myself.

3. The shift from individual to collective experiences

I predicted that we will move from the hyper personalisation of the internet, which resulted in filter bubbles and polarization, to having more collective experiences where a group of people share the same time and space together again. 

Will this happen in web3?
Yes. I do think that web3 will feel like a game. We'll log in and out of virtual worlds that each have their own rules, behaviours and reward systems. We'll be physically isolated but virtually connected, feeling part of a collective through the teams we join and the tasks we accomplish. Station is a hint at that future: it’s a bulletin board where you can find web3 projects to participate in and get rewarded in tokens. In the future we'll see more interfaces like that where we seamlessly transition from our individual selves into virtual collectives to experience play, work and leisure.


4. The shift from ad-based to community-owned platforms

I predicted the rise of platforms that enable people to participate in their value creation, incentivising their creators to optimise for users as the audience that sustains them instead of advertisers. 

Will this happen in web3?
Yes. There are many DAOs that currently practice this: DAOs that are social clubs (Friends with Benefits), DAOs that build cabins in the wood (CabinDAO), DAOs like Protein that are built on previous community interfaces - all of them are structures that unite a group of people with shared values to build something they mutually benefit from. While they still depend on platforms like Discord as essential tools to organise themselves, they are, for the most part, entirely funded through the communities they serve. Currently excited about: Metalabels.


5. The shift from neutral to responsible

I predicted that, on the basis that technology embodies the values of those that build it, tech companies can no longer afford to be neutral in face of today’s societal and planetary challenges.

Will this happen in web3?
No. I mostly see how web3 inherits the same problems we already face in today’s world. The ideological difference between the believers and critics of web3 is how they view technology. One party believes that technology by itself can solve a problem, e.g. a smart contract on the blockchain that has its terms written directly into the code. The other party thinks that the context in which this technology gets applied (e.g. capitalism, culture, ethics) influences how we put it to use. I believe in the latter which is why I see web3 mostly as amplifying existing challenges and making them more obvious.

You can say that web3 is just an idea that’s being pushed by the same elite crowd that already profited from the previous two self-proclaimed eras of the web.

While that might be the case, I believe web3 will become much more than just a next era of the internet. As the lines continue to blur between our physical and digital identities in a post-pandemic world, web3 will be a battleground for the political, economical and social theories of our time.

Thank you for reading. If you are curious to explore this future send me an email at severin@co-matter.com.

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Last updated: May 14, 2024 ■ 17:35pm