In mid-2021, the term “Web3” suddenly exploded into the public consciousness. As people scrambled to figure out what it was—cryptocurrencies? blockchain? nonfungible tokens?—venture capital firms were pouring money into new startups, over US $30 billion before the year was out.
Meanwhile, Molly White, a software engineer, started reading up on the tech in case that was the direction her career would be heading in. But she found herself taking a different direction: She launched the website Web3 Is Going Just Great, with the aim of tracking the scams and fraud in the cryptocurrency world. So far, she’s tallied $11.8 billion in money lost on the website’s Grift Counter. White answered five rapid-fire questions on the Web3 phenomenon and why she’s still not impressed.
Molly White is a software engineer and the creator of the Web3 Is Going Just Great website. She is also a fellow at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab.
How did you end up running a site like Web3 Is Going Just Great?
Molly White: When I started researching the topic, I was just seeing a lack of reporting on some of the downsides—you know, the hacks, the scams, the fraud. And so I decided I could do my part to try and fill that void to some extent, because I feel like it’s important that people get the full picture.
A lot of the projects you’re tracking involve cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies. Is that what “Web3” means? Are all of these terms synonymous?
White: It’s primarily a marketing term. And I think the industry benefits from how nebulous it is because it can mean whatever is most useful at that time. But broadly speaking, Web3 refers to blockchains underpinning everything you do online.
The crypto industry seemed like it might collapse when the cryptocurrency exchange FTX went bankrupt in November 2022, but you’re still updating the site with new projects. Is the industry still just trucking along, or has it changed after that event?
White: I think that FTX and the related collapses have been a really big hit to the crypto “brand,” but I think that the crypto industry is constantly working on finding the next big thing that they can sell retail investors on. And so that is very much underway at this point.
You can sort of see what’s happening as people start distancing themselves from FTX and saying that the FTX collapse wasn’t a flaw of crypto—it was a flaw of centralization or fraudulent actors. So I get the sense that people are going to be moving toward selling people on more decentralized finance products. That’s my guess of what the next big thing is going to be. It’s either that or crypto meets AI. We’ll see.
Have you ever come across a project that made you think, “Oh, maybe there’s a worthwhile reason for adding a blockchain to this”? Or are you still waiting for that project?
White: I’m mostly still waiting. Every once in a while there’s something where I can understand what they’re going for, but I don’t understand why they’ve picked a blockchain over a more efficient or less expensive solution. And sometimes there’s individual cases where people have benefited from crypto, but I don’t necessarily see that as scalable, or a strong argument for the technology itself.
Do you think you’re more skeptical about crypto and Web3 than when you started Web3 Is Going Just Great?
White: Well, I still have an open mind. I still tell people that I’m open to there being some killer use case that I just haven’t thought about. But seeing the constant fraud and how motivated people are by the economic forces in crypto to take advantage of people has really made me very skeptical and cynical about the industry.
This article appears in the April 2023 print issue as “5 Questions for Molly White.”
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