Web3 For Product Managers: Expecting The Unexpected

It’s hard to be part of the tech industry without hearing whispers of Web3 everywhere. As with most exciting things in the tech industry, it’s large, looming, and no one has any idea how it’s going to actually turn out!

If you’ve landed here, chances are you’re a bit confused about what it means for Product Managers. Perhaps you’ve had your head buried so deeply in your own product, that you’ve resurfaced to talk of NFTs and blockchain and you’re thinking ‘What?! When did all of this happen?!’

Fear not! We’re here to break it all down, and talk about how aspiring Product Managers can prepare themselves for this new age of the internet.

Web3 In a Nutshell

Web3, in a nutshell, is the next iteration of the internet.

It won’t be the result of one particular piece of technology or of the efforts of a single company. It’ll instead be the evolution of how companies build digital products, how engineers build websites, and how consumers use the internet and its content. New laws and regulations will be needed to ensure that the internet remains as safe as possible, and the potential for new business ventures has investors’ heads spinning!

Much of Web3 is still undecided, and it’s something that many people have different visions for, much like The Metaverse. But the general consensus is that Web3 is all about cutting out middlemen. Through blockchain technology and peer-to-peer networks, power over data, finances, and communication will be redistributed and decentralized.

For Product Managers, it’s hard to predict how Web3 will change their day to day, or if it’ll cause a shift in the hard skills needed to be a PM. Instead, we’ll give you our tips on how to work in the face of the unexpected, and how to make sure you’re adaptable in an ever changing game.

shallow focus photography of person holding camera lens

A Brief History of the Internet: Web1, Web2, and Web3

Although the internet is a collection of technologies, it actually functions more as a civilization. Cultures and tools change over time, and moments in its history can be collectively grouped together.

Web1, from the early nineties to 2004, was the earliest form of the internet known to the average consumer. While pretty much everyone today is a contributor to the internet (mainly through social media posts), the vast majority of internet users in Web1 were simply visitors.

Like all periods of history, this era also had its wars. The First Browser War of 1995 saw Internet Explorer, Firefox, Netscape Classic, and others including an emerging Safari, fighting for dominance of the market share.

Web1 was a primarily text-based experience, with static pages and very simple GIFs. To take a trip down memory lane, check out the site for Space Jam, which is frozen in time in 1996. What a gem of the internet.

Web2, our current era, is mostly characterized by the shift in consumer behavior. The internet evolved from a place where the few would broadcast to the many, to a hub of collective intelligence and user generated content.

As social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook became more popular, and video content became the Next Big Thing, internet visitors became content creators. The rise of smartphones with rapidly improving cameras turned everyone into photographers and videographers. Blogging sites and forums turned everyone into writers. Online communities began to use Wikis, Tumblr, and Discord to build vast libraries of knowledge. Every time you post to Instagram, leave a comment on a TikTok video, or chat with your gaming buddies in a forum, you’re contributing to Web2.

So what’s next for the internet in Web3? The truth is that we don’t know for sure.

Web3 will purportedly be based on blockchain technology. The idea is that instead of selling your soul (your data) to a platform in order to use it, the internet will be built on a foundation of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs). The dominance of Big Tech has become a concern to many, and some versions of Web3 see a version of the internet where FAANG companies and their ilk have less power.

Web3 is said to be a continuation of the shift in power between companies and consumers. Currently creators contribute to the content produced on a platform, but they must bend to the will of that platform. If they make money through the platform, the platform controls how much of a cut they receive. Their algorithms can make it difficult for creators to find their audience in the first place.

To use gambling terms, the house always wins. Web3 enthusiasts think that all that is about to change.

While all the details of Web3 are still unknown, very little is set in stone, the internet has started experimenting with a few key elements:

Elements of Web3

NFTs

There’s absolutely no way that you’ve escaped the world of NFTs, even if you’ve only heard of them in passing.

NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens) are unique, and can’t be traded for their like anywhere else. If you have a ten dollar bill, you can trade it for another ten dollar bill just like it. But if you have the actual Mona Lisa in your possession, you can’t swap it for another Mona Lisa. There is only one. You have to swap it for money, or another work of art of similar value.

NFTs are the same concept, but with digital art. (Well, anything digital really, but the focus at the moment seems to be on creating a Fine Art market in the digital world.)

Let’s look at an example. Nyan Cat, a viral video animation from 2011, sold at auction for 300.00 ETH ($982,311.00). Although everyone on the internet can look at Nyan Cat, and can download and make copies of it, only the ‘owner’ owns the original file.

…but the creator can still hold the copyright. Yeah, it’s all still a bit of a mess.

If you own the Mona Lisa, people can take photos of it, they can make prints of it, and they can screen print it onto t-shirts. But only you have the original. If you can imagine that the Mona Lisa isn’t made out of oil and canvas, but pixels, you’ve cracked NFTs!

Some find the idea of NFTs and digital fine art collecting very exciting. (Though ‘fine’ may be a bit of a stretch considering some of what’s on offer! Perhaps ‘expensive’ is a better word for it.) Others find the whole thing to be ridiculous.

Whether NFTs are here to stay and will form an important part of Web3 remains to be seen. While we may eventually stop paying thousands of dollars for a PNG of a pixel art ape, the theory behind NFTs will likely have some as yet undiscovered use in the future of the internet.

assorted paintings on white painted wall

Cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency is hardly big news at this point, though it certainly is a headline generator. But we’ve come a long way from the first days of Bitcoin, and cryptocurrency has a longer way to go still.

Many are excited about the role crypto will potentially play in the future of Web3. With financial inequality growing worldwide, fans claim that crypto takes power away from larger, traditional institutions and re-distributes it among the people. Authority over tender is taken away from banks and the government, and given back to the general public. It’ll also be more widely available to those who are currently unable to access traditional financial services. In theory, anyone with access to the internet should be able to make and receive money via cryptocurrency.

However, the volatility of cryptocurrencies in terms of their value has given many people pause. With money being the undercurrent of almost every human endeavor, it’s hard to imagine revolutionizing the same system we’ve been using for hundreds of years. As far as the general public are concerned, the dollar, the euro, and the rupee have nothing to worry about just yet.

Data

Data has been a central element of the internet since its inception. But its uses and concerns around it have evolved in Web2, leading to calls for change from lawmakers and the general public.

Data privacy and protection is one of the major areas that fans of Web3 are focusing on, and are heralding as one of the major upsides. Trust is a hard thing to come by online, and even those who believe that Big Tech companies misuse their data are still reliant upon their services.

With Web3, it is believed that we’ll see a shift from ‘data monarchy to data democracy’ with data operating via peer-to-peer networks, rather than being owned by a single company.

Web3 Pros and Cons: Utopia, or Wild Wild West?

While it’s difficult to say for sure what the pros and cons of Web3 will be, since it hasn’t arrived yet, some of the visions for the future of the internet have thrown up some concerns. Optimists see Web3 as a shining era of supreme data privacy, with more power being given to the user than to Big Tech. 

But will Web3 be a glorious, decentralized, democratized future? Or will it be an ungoverned mess?

Pros:

With new tech comes new opportunities, and with new opportunities comes innovation! The problems facing the tech industry (data concerns, the monopoly held by Big Tech, etc) aren’t easy to solve, and Web3 has professionals and enthusiasts thinking about radical change that’ll hopefully provide new solutions.

Providing alternatives to the ‘walled gardens’ of Big Tech will go some way in redistributing who has power over user’s online experiences. Individual creators and communities will have more say in how they operate, and they’ll be able to cut the middleman out of their transactions.

In the utopia of Web3, huge outages at Meta or Google will no longer stop the online world in its tracks. In a decentralized model there is no one single point of failure, making systems more secure.

Cons:

De-centralization of content will likely make content policing more difficult. With individual communities in charge of their own guidelines, and without a Big Tech company and all of its policy makers to watch over them, there are concerns that we’ll see a rise in harmful/illegal content. Freedom may come at a price, as many alternative platforms have become a kind of breeding ground for hate speech and dangerous propaganda.

Much of the technology that Web3 will seemingly be built on is still little understood by the population, and is still experimental. Basing whole economies off of a currency that crashes as frequently as Bitcoin has seems a little far off. Hackers have always plagued online banks, but the customers (usually) have the peace of mind of knowing that the bank will be able to refund their stolen cash. If an exchange is hacked and you lose your Bitcoins…bad luck.

How Product Managers Should Prepare for Web3

So now we know that Web3 will change the way users explore and experience the internet…but we’re still not entirely sure how.

One theory is that whatever Web3 brings, it’ll work alongside Web2, rather than replacing it. So it’s unlikely that the elements of Web3 will vastly disrupt your industry in the near future.

It’s hard to talk about the skills that Product Managers will need to pick up in order to deal with this ebb and flow of tech. When you don’t know the size of the waves it’s hard to know whether you need a surfboard or a submarine.

However, what is clear is that all Product People need to stay informed about the potential trends coming their way. If you have a leadership team that is quick to want to jump on any headline-worthy bandwagon, you’ll need to be adept in stakeholder management. You might find yourself in the future having tough conversations about why it’s not a good idea to accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment in your app. Or why it might be fun for the product marketing team to get involved in NFTs, but that’s not what they should be focusing on right now. 

Perhaps you’ll actually be having conversations about why your company should be jumping on Bitcoin and NFTs, who knows! That’s the exciting thing about the tech industry, you truly never know what kind of arguments you’ll need to make in the future. 

As well as staying informed, Product Managers of the future will need to stay agile. But keep in mind that being quick to react shouldn’t replace making carefully considered decisions. If you haven’t already, consider finding the frameworks that help you to weigh up your options in a way that’s clearly communicable to leadership.

The internet may be changing, but the core principles of Product Management will stay the same. When it feels like the tech industry is changing so fast that it makes your head spin, these principles will be Product Management’s port in the storm.

TLDR:

  • Web3 isn’t going to change your world in the immediate future
  • Stay educated and informed all the same
  • Stick to the core principles of Product Management
  • Expect the unexpected, nothing stays the same in tech for long

What do you think about Web3? Is it truly the next era of the internet, or is something even bigger (or smaller!) coming for us all? Join in the conversation on our Slack community, and keep up to date on all the industry goings-on!

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