The following is the beginning of a recent journal article, published in Big Data & Society.
The full article is available at: Nabben, K. (2023). Web3 as ‘self-infrastructuring’: The challenge is how. Big Data & Society, 10(1). https://doi-org.10.1177/20539517231159002
The term ‘Web3’ refers to the practices of participating in digital infrastructures through the ability to read, write and coordinate digital assets. Web3 is hailed as an alternative to the failings of big tech, offering a participatory mode of digital self-organizing and shared ownership of digital infrastructure through software-encoded governance rules and participatory practices. Yet, very few analytical frameworks have been presented in academic literature by which to approach Web3. This piece draws on the theoretical lens of infrastructure studies to offer an analytical framework to approach the emergent field of Web3 as an exploration in ‘how to infrastructure’ through prefigurative self-infrastructuring. Drawing on qualitative examples from digital ethnographic methods, I demonstrate how the origins of Web3 reveal the intentions of its creators as a political tool of prefiguration, yet its practices reveal the inherent tension of expressing these ideals in coherent technical and institutional infrastructure. Thus, I argue that one of the fundamental challenges Web3 is negotiating through technical and governance experiments is ‘how to self-infrastructure?’.
The field of emerging technologies and cultural expression known as ‘Web3’ promises a means for people to participate in provable ownership of digital assets. While many early conceptions of Web3 focus on ‘ownership’ of digital assets, Web3 is actually about creating the enabling infrastructure for the coordination of resources, beyond the concept of ownership. Based on qualitative insights drawn from digital ethnographic methods of observation of online forums and social media channels, participation in Web3 communities, and interviews, this commentary argues that Web3 is a collective exploration in ‘self-infrastructuring’. The verb ‘to infrastructure’ denotes the activities, processes of integrated materials, tools, methods and practices that make up and change an infrastructure (Star and Bowker, 2010). Thus, infrastructuring is an ongoing process of doing, and these processes are incremental, iterative, and long-term (Karasti et al., 2010). Web3 originates from anti-establishment ideals, and aims to provide the prefigurative means to build new structures for decentralized, self-governance from within the prevailing power structures of society. Yet, in viewing Web3 as infrastructure, the process of infrastructuring demands the coordination of people, processes, operation, governance, and maintenance of infrastructure. The fundamental technical and institutional challenge that Web3 communities now need to collectively determine is how to self-infrastructure. This research offers a contribution to the literature on Big Data and Society by providing a theoretical framework grounded in infrastructure studies that invites further scholarship on Web3 as a site of digital organization, algorithmic governance, and data governance.
Read the full article at: Nabben, K. (2023). Web3 as ‘self-infrastructuring’: The challenge is how. Big Data & Society, 10(1). https://doi-org.10.1177/20539517231159002