Future Tense

To Be Clear, Web3 Is Not Going Great

A chronicler of cryptocurrency’s failings on the lessons of a very painful week.

The screen of a crypto ATM
A cryptocurrency ATM in a convenience store in Miami on Thursday. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Who could have predicted this week’s crypto crashes, which torched the values of much-used digital currencies like Bitcoin and Luna, halted trade in various blockchain networks, and wiped out some everyday users’ life savings? Well, if you ask observers who’ve long been wary of cryptocurrencies’ promises, it was all only a matter of time. One of the most prominent skeptics these days is Molly White, a software developer who started the blog Web3 Is Going Just Great last December as a “personal project.” The blog has gathered a customizable, searchable timeline of disasters in the world of Web3—i.e., the supposed next stage of the internet meant to revolve around crypto-based systems—from February 2021 through the current day. White says she makes no money from the blog, and merely wishes to chronicle the disasters that befall Web3 systems on a regular basis, from mass monetary theft to collapsed projects to misinformation to scammy platforms with names like “Monkey Jizz.” The site has gotten quite popular among fellow doubters, and White herself has become a go-to voice countering the hype coming from crypto companies and maxis—even collaborating with other crypto watchers on a project fact-checking mainstream publications’ praise of crypto.

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On Thursday, as Bitcoin began a slow, wobbly upswing from its Monday crash, and Luna’s and Terra’s record-low declines persisted, I spoke with White over Zoom about why she started Web3 Is Going Just Great, what she makes of recent events, and how she became so skeptical about the promises of crypto. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nitish Pahwa: You’ve said on your longer-form blog that you reached a moment with crypto when you realized this technology was “so harmful,” and that you had to advocate against it. Was there a specific event that led you to that point?

Molly White: It was a gradual thing, where I was seeing more and more and more of the mainstreaming of the idea that crypto is an investment that average people—not speculative investors or people who deal with risky investments—should be downloading Coinbase and playing with this stuff day to day. There were a handful of projects that pushed me over the edge as far as deciding to create the website. For one: There was a group of young adult fiction authors who all decided to get together and create what was going to be an NFT project, where their fans could buy NFTs with the characters and write fanfiction. I remember being really shocked by that because that was sort of one of the first obvious cases where I saw NFTs being marketed to children, because young adult fiction authors have a fairly young audience. That was this red flag moment for me where I was like, OK, I should probably start talking about this a little bit more.

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When you started the blog, how soon did it take to catch on?

It took off fairly quickly. The website somehow ended up getting listed on Hacker News the same day I launched it. That got a decent amount of eyeballs on it, which was fortunate. People started to share it on crypto-skeptical subreddits. Then, as I started to talk about crypto and my concerns about Web3 more generally, the site started to get linked by news publications.

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With that increased attention, were there a lot of crypto true believers who started coming after you?

I have gotten some of that, but it’s not really been directed at the Web3 Is Going Just Great website. I feel like a lot of true believers have not been as hostile towards that website because when they see entries on that site, they’re often about projects they’re not involved with. So they can be like, Well, that one’s scammy, but my project’s fine. They see it as less of an attack on crypto or Web3 as a whole. But I do get pushback, especially on my blogging and on my general criticisms of crypto and Web3—it’s more directed at my longer-form writing than the website itself.

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What’s your method for keeping track of and aggregating all these news? Especially in weeks like this, when there are new stories and valuations almost every few hours.

It’s kind of a hodgepodge. Early on, I source stuff proactively by looking at various crypto-specific publications. I was looking on subreddits, and there were other crypto skeptics I followed pretty closely. Now, as the site’s become a little more well-known, people will tag me if they see a tweet about a hack or something—which is super convenient, because that takes a lot of the effort out for me. But I do still spend a lot of time reading crypto news and keeping an eye on stuff outside of that as well.

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Have you met anyone who’s been convinced by your work to stay away from crypto altogether, or a former crypto person who now renounces it entirely after reading your stuff?

Yeah, I have actually found a couple of folks like that. I was reading a Reddit post the other day and there was some commenter who specifically mentioned that they were in crypto and that they had read some of my work and decided they didn’t want to be involved with that anymore, which is really cool to see. And I’ve definitely seen people who are involved with crypto or buying NFTs now starting to think a little more critically about it, which is really nice to see.

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What have you been making of the whole shitshow this week, with all the price crashes and blockchain holdups and stablecoins going haywire?

I think it’s what a lot of us have been worried was going to happen. We’ve seen Bitcoin and some of the bigger cryptocurrencies do this before—this isn’t the first time that Bitcoin has tanked, it sort of happens on a cycle at this point. If cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum start to drop … there are a lot of projects that are heavily dependent on their prices either staying fairly stable or continuing to go up. A lot of projects said they were doing great the past six months because they hadn’t been tested by market uncertainty or drops in major players. So as we see things like Bitcoin start to come down, a lot of other stuff starts to tumble down with it.

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When the Terra stablecoin de-pegged from the dollar, the sad side of it is that it had this period of time where people became overconfident in it and over-reliant on it. People were saying, “You can put your savings in these stablecoins and they’ll be safe. That’s where you can put them for low risk.” It’s like, no, this isn’t like a bank account where if the bank goes under, you have FDIC insurance. There is nothing there if Terra falls apart.

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I actually saw a post on one of the crypto subreddits this morning saying to people, “Don’t you dare use your emergency funds for this dip.” Seems like good advice.

It’s so bizarre to see people who have been talking up the Terra stablecoin, and then it totally falls apart and people are like, “Buy the dip.” What? It’s not supposed to have a dip. What are you talking about?

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I think some people see this dramatic price volatility and think this is the time to buy in without considering the fact that this whole thing could be gone tomorrow, Terra could be at zero and there’s no coming back from that. I’m just so baffled by the idea of buying a dip in a stablecoin.

I’ve been writing about Bitcoin for a while—I’ve never owned any—but from very early on, I remember it was supposed to be an alternative currency, a parallel network to the normal economy. But as we’ve seen, especially this week, there are so many crypto companies tied to the stock market. There are two country governments that have adopted Bitcoin as legal tender, even though it was supposed to be outside government grabs. I wonder if you have thoughts on that.

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I think Bitcoin had these strong ideals from the beginning around working completely outside of government control, being this totally separate economy. I don’t personally think Bitcoin ever really had the promise a lot of people believed it did as far as anti-surveillance and privacy and freedom from government intervention. A lot of people started out thinking that this could be a way to pay dissidents outside of government control.

The reasonable people in there have been like, no, that’s not at all what happened. The things Bitcoin promised early on have just not come to be, and it’s basically become the worst version of the traditional financial market in a lot of ways. But there are a lot of people who hold onto that ideology as though it is still achievable, which seems really confusing to me.

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A big Web3 trend over the past few years has been the emergence of decentralized autonomous organizations, which use blockchain tech and networks and tokens to support virtual communities. Some spring from there into virtual reality. I know a few people say, “I don’t like crypto, but there’s this DAO that’s really cool,” or vice versa. I’m wondering how much you think the DAO concept can be separated from the crypto crashes and controversies.

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The idealist in me would like to think that even if crypto crashes and burns and there’s not a whole lot of monetary incentives to try to invest in it, people will maintain interest in these sort of democratic, self-governing online communities based around whatever their particular interest might be. DAOs have emerged around everything, and people might continue to interact the line in these tightknit ways without the addition of the currency.

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I love communities like that, and I think there should be far more of those. But I do think that the addition of a crypto token to a DAO has a very negative impact, where there’s suddenly this huge financial aspect to everyone’s participation. So people have to weigh their decisions against the likelihood that they will cause the token price to increase, or that they have to try to engage in this sort of multilevel marketing to bring more people into the DAO.

I have my doubts around how popular things will realistically continue to be if the actual monetary incentive isn’t there. I think that is a huge part of why a lot of people have engaged in this, but I would love to see that kind of community organizing continue on. I think voting is great. We can vote without crypto and keep doing this sort of democratic self-governance and community gathering, forming these small bubbles around whatever it is you’re interested in. I just hope that the crypto piece sort of becomes less of a factor.

Have you enjoyed maintaining these blogs, and do you see yourself doing that more for a while yet?

I do enjoy it. This kind of research and documentation is my hobby and has been for a long time. It feels important to me and it feels like it’s made an impact on people who might otherwise be tempted to put money into crypto or to try to chase down the idea of building a new web on top of the blockchain. So it feels like fulfilling work in that sense.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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