From Gutenberg to Blockchain, Part 2

Abraham George Macro Musings


I bet if I took the name of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, 98% of my readers may draw a blank stare. He is an Oxford-educated British scientist who is credited as the creator of the World Wide Web. He created the web browser, HTML and the hypertext transfer protocol (http:) which has had such a ginormous impact on society and civilization. They constituted the fundamental building blocks for the internet we use today.

While he is not poor, he is not a billionaire either. That is because he gave his invention to the world for free sans patents, sans royalties. Many others who built applications on top of his base layer technology became spectacularly rich - multi-billionaires. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Tesla, Apple - just to name a few.

Sir Berners-Lee created the technological superhighway for free for everyone else to ride and piggyback on. That was Web 1 for you.

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Based on that foundation, we are in Web 2 era now. In the late 90’s and early 2000s, companies built on the foundational protocols to offer products and services that had never been used or seen before. Amazon, Netflix, Google and Facebook are some of the most successful Web 2 companies.

They disrupted legacy industries and offered new and efficient ways to shop, entertain, search and connect. Unfortunately Web 2 is centralized, controlled and increasingly prone to censorship, derisively called ‘walled gardens’. The above mentioned companies became too big for their shoes. I don’t think that was Dr Lee’s idea when he created the superhighway and donated it generously to the world.

The internet was meant to be decentralized, open, free and importantly censorship-resistant. But that did not happen. Instead, the above mentioned companies grew like the fabled bean stalk with an insatiable appetite wielding near-infinite power and money. They developed proprietary technology, centralized control, and overreaching influence. They capitalized on something called ‘surveillance capital’ for free. These companies monetize that troves of personal data without any direct monetary benefit trickling down to us consumers.

The internet was also meant to democratize economic power and influence. The goal was to provide everyone equal access to information. Again, that was not what has happened so far. Quite the opposite, power and influence gravitated towards a few super-powered tech giants.

Whether you like it or not, they have your information. It is an inescapable fact of life. They are still coming out with many new initiatives to harvest even more granular data from you. Let me give you small example. When Amazon’s drone delivery goes mainstream, I bet Amazon will have more information about your house, your surroundings, purchasing habits and tastes of people in your locality - things you would never find out.

So, what is different now? It is gradual transition to Web 3. More on that in my next report.

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Abraham George is a seasoned investment manager with more than 40 years of experience in trading & investment and portfolio management spanning diverse environments like banks (HSBC, ADCB), sovereign wealth fund (ADIA), a royal family office and a hedge fund.