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Web3 First Impressions by Moxie Marlinspike (was: Re: Ideals meet Implementations - Blockchains, NFTs, Decentralization, Oh My!)

From: Manu Sporny <msporny@digitalbazaar.com>
Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2022 11:54:14 -0500
To: public-credentials@w3.org
Message-ID: <e7089769-6f25-ccde-561b-16d1c481e7d7@digitalbazaar.com>
On 1/18/22 12:06 PM, John, Anil wrote:
> Given the continuous discussions around centralization/de-centralization in
> our community, I found this essay by Moxie Marlinspike …
> 
> https://moxie.org/2022/01/07/web3-first-impressions.html

Given that the original thread seems to have been re-directed to a discussion
about delegation, I'm re-titling the thread to focus on Moxie's article as it
relates to DIDs and VCs.

For the record, I share much of Moxie's scepticism, but don't let it get in
the way of important nuance (which he does) or trying to fix the known and
emerging problems (which we've known about for years).

Just a few thoughts off of the top of my head:

NFTs are an Easy Target
-----------------------

Picking something that has appeared in the last 2 years and then talking about
all the ways it is flawed might be a personally rewarding rant, but it's just
as easy as picking on "going to mars", "speech to text", and "air taxis" was
when those initiatives were in their infancy.

For example, Moxie writes: "What surprised me about the standards was that
there’s no hash commitment for the data located at the URL."

Yeah, that's clearly bad and has to be fixed... also, the industry has known
about this issue for over a decade and technical solutions exist to address it:

https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/html/draft-sporny-hashlink-07

https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/Security/Subresource_Integrity

Expert Writes Scathing Review of Hello World Example
----------------------------------------------------

There seems to be a trend lately where it's popular for technologists that
built systems for Web 2.0 to criticize web3 (a term which I find just as
useful as "Web 2.0", which is to say: not very useful at all). Here's another
one about how terrible web3 is from Alex Russell:

https://infrequently.org/2022/01/washed-up/

Both of them have relevant opinions, but their commentary is very much from a:
"I read about/wrote a Hello World example, and based on that, here's where I
think that entire industry is going."

In other words, I take those sorts of articles for what they are: the writings
of someone that's technically competent in their area of expertise commenting
on an area that they don't have much expertise in. Sure, they may have some
useful insights, and Moxie does, but they're not the folks working on the
day-to-day problems to improve the state of an emerging industry. Their
opinions tend to lack the sort of nuance that come from folks like Vitalik:

https://www.reddit.com/r/ethereum/comments/ryk3it/my_first_impressions_of_web3/hrrz15r/

In other words, their commentary on web3 is about as useful as my commentary
on browser engine architecture... which is: not very useful.

How This Relates to DIDs and VCs
--------------------------------

Ultimately, Moxie ends with two take-aways, only one of which applies to DIDs
and VCs:

1. We should accept the premise that people will not run their own servers by
designing systems that can distribute trust without having to distribute
infrastructure.

This is why we're putting effort into things like data models that distribute
trust and the VC API, which can be used by making calls against a centralized
service provider, or against your own servers. That Moxie isn't aware that
there is "client-server interface work" going on is too bad, but that's the
reality; he's just not aware of it.

DIDs are largely about using cryptography to distribute trust; they are a way
of publishing your public keys regardless of which network you're on (which
allows us to temporarily avoid the useless debate over which network is better
until the useful ones gain traction in the market).

VCs are largely about using cryptography to distribute trust; they are a way
of consuming statements made by an issuer that you trust for the purposes of
the statements that they're making. You don't need a blockchain or web3 for
them to work. If web3 provides advantages to DIDs and VCs, they're additive
instead of either/or zero-sum benefits. You can run DIDs and VCs on
centralized and decentralized infrastructure, no need to run your own server
(unless you are in the small minority of people that want to).

2. We should try to reduce the burden of building software.

*laughs in Software Engineering*

Having started my "career" as a teenager crawling through buildings pulling
power and hand-terminating both power and network cabling for local area
networks while not brushing up against the asbestos in the ceiling, hand
building server clusters, designing battery backup systems, and then writing
software for said clusters all the way to helping to design, build, and then
manage the software infrastructure for multiple organizations... I feel safe
saying that the entire IT industry seems to be dedicated to this principle,
and things are way better than they were two decades ago, and better than they
were a decade ago.

I find that Moxie felt the need to point it out just as amusing as if someone
were to point out that "As humans, we need to focus on breathing if we are to
survive."

In any case, just my $0.02. This recent round of web3 bashing by "experts"
feels more like a platform that people are using to either virtue signal (at
worst), or make a general point they've been wanting to make for a while (at
best). I'm not sure that they're really helping to move any particular
industry forward.

-- manu

-- 
Manu Sporny - https://www.linkedin.com/in/manusporny/
Founder/CEO - Digital Bazaar, Inc.
News: Digital Bazaar Announces New Case Studies (2021)
https://www.digitalbazaar.com/
Received on Sunday, 23 January 2022 16:54:34 UTC

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