The “Web3 for Small Business” Grifters Have Officially Arrived

I can already tell how this article is going to go over in some corners of the Internet so let me just preface this article by saying that my jury is still out on the concept of Web3, though I remain skeptical on how this is anything more than a buzzword.

Part of the problem is that despite the nebulous concept of a new iteration for the Internet based on the blockchain and decentralization, very few people I’ve talked to seem to have a clear understanding of what Web3 is even supposed to be. If you talk to 100 people you’ll come away with 101 different ideas of what Web3 is. People generally just rattle off pre-Web3 concepts like AI, the blockchain, crypto and the much-maligned NFTs.

Back in December of 2021 Jack Dorsey blew up Twitter by dismissing the idea that Web3 involves any ownership at all, saying instead that the Internet is still centralized around specific power brokers, just under a different label. In this case he was going after venture capital funds and firms.

Here’s the thing: He’s got a point.

Dorsey’s arguments – and to a degree Elon Musk’s when he weighed in – lead to a bigger issue with the concept of you, the lay person, “owning” the Internet through Web3. Someone I’m friendly with online who used to work for the telecommunications industry pointed out something equally pertinent to this conversation. No matter what your ownership “stake” is in Web3, the Internet itself is still dominated by small number of telecommunications giants which control the backbone of the Internet.

The issues raised by that are a separate debate entirely, but to claim that you “own” your corner of the Internet while reliant on a major service provider that could shut it off is, to put it bluntly, Alice in Wonderland logic. It would be like renting a parcel of land from a larger holding company and then claiming you own that parcel of land. As far as I’ve been able to tell the promises of Web3 are still reliant on multiple centralized entities that a lot of Web3 proponents either don’t know or just dismiss outright.

Now that I’ve put my cards on the table and probably pissed off a chunk of the venture capital industry, let’s get to the actual topic.

I’ve always kept a sharp eye on grifting trends targeting small businesses. I’ve been running my current business – which works exclusively with small businesses – long enough that I’ve seen a lot of these. As I’ve documented again and again and again, there’s no shortage of unscrupulous, unethical marketing companies that will use whatever is trendy or popular as a FOMO-based selling point. It serves as a kind of buy-in; a way to gain attention by trend-chasing and aggressively targeting small businesses who fear they’re being left behind.

The assumption, like clockwork, is always that this is the THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT YOU NEED TO HAVE OR YOUR SMALL BUSINESS WILL DIE! Oh, and did we mention that we’re the company that has ALL the answers on Facebook pages/mobile websites/mobile apps/video marketing/Pokémon Go? Contact us to learn more, oh and by the way we’ll take over your marketing and website as well!

My suspicions that we were headed this way with Web3 – again, a concept that hasn’t even borne anything tangible yet – was realized when I saw this beaming headline from a marketing company I’m not sending the traffic to: “Why Web 3.0 Is The Future Of Small Business.”

It’s far from an isolated example, and you can find plenty of examples on Google of how marketing companies are working diligently to emphasize how important Web3 supposedly is for small businesses. Except they almost never say why, a problem emphasized in the very same article:

Defining Web 3.0 can be tricky, with different futurists choosing to focus on different factors.

I love how immediately the article points out that that there’s no uniform definition of Web3. Yet we’re supposed to see this as the latest in a long line of small business saviors. Seeing the problem yet?

For the purpose of this discussion, consider Web 3.0 to be made up of these factors. First, Web  3.0 represents the integration of new internet technologies like XHTML and AJAX that allow for better searches and faster web experiences.

XHTML had its initial release in January of 2000. AJAX first appeared in 1999. These technologies technically pre-dated what’s often referred to as Web2, let alone Web3. XHTML in particular was developed to make HTML more extensible and to future-proof it. So if XHTML was was intended as some sort of vanguard for Web3, something that would start to gain traction in 2021, that would be one hell of a time delay. Not to mention single year gaps can mean an eternity in web development and technology. The Internet of 20 years ago is staggeringly different than it is today.

Web3 advocacy often takes a point of pride in cutting out middlemen, an old adage in business itself. The article in question goes on to describe how this will supposedly benefit small business owners while paradoxically relying on…Facebook?

There are also huge benefits for small business owners in the ways of market research and advanced segmentation…an example of this sort of semantic web can be seen in Facebook Open Graph. Graph search feature let’s user find valuable information about what their target audiences like and that information can be used to reach the people who are the target audience for an organization niche. This greatly reduces the startup costs for new businesses. The cost to publish content and advertise in a Web 3.0 environment is significantly lower than trying to have an equal amount of useful reach on traditional media channels.

Let’s cut through a lot of the garbled language here and point out the obvious: This isn’t even an explanation of what Web3 is, let alone what it does for small businesses. This paragraph in supposedly explaining the benefits of Web3 reiterates something that you’ve been able to do for over a decade now on multiple platforms, not just Facebook. Additionally, why would Web3 – ostensibly about cutting out platform holders and giving you ownership – rely on Facebook of all entities?

I don’t want to pick on the article too much but as PR person Ed Zitron put it on Twitter a while ago, the problem is that none of these Web3 explanations make sense. None of them discuss new technology, let alone anything that would let small businesses benefit from this “proof of concept” of Web3, as we’ll call it. Ask any typical small business how they think the blockchain would be beneficial to them and you’re going to get a blank stare.

That’s because ultimately, a lot of trend-chasing media companies just see blood in the water. They’re aware that Web3 is becoming a trend and they’re already getting desperate to mine it for blog clicks and as part of their sales funnel as a “buy-in” to becoming a vendor for small businesses.

Expect lots of aggressive clickbait marketing like the example I highlighted above, which will be thousands of variations of YOUR SMALL BUSINESS NEEDS WEB3 OR IT WILL DIE. Just like:

Just like you needed to pivot to video or your small business would die.
Just like you needed a mobile app or your small business would die.
Just like you needed to use text message marketing or your small business would die.
Just like you needed to use Pokémon Go or your small business would die.

None of us “pivoted” to any of those things and it seems like most of our small businesses survived. If Web3 truly becomes some kind of cornerstone for small business success, that’s fantastic! Except it hasn’t yet. Until it does, let’s make sure we don’t fall for this one.