Why academics want to unlock the secrets of Web3

Web3 enables people to own digital objects or assets, creating a different economy of value around digital objects. The economic aspect of it is one that I’m particularly interested in. Also, for me, where space really gets interesting is the feeling of creating a vibrant, immersive environment, which has to do with the development of the metaverse.

These reports — written by my colleagues in the Digital CBD Project — are also looking at blockchain and supply chains, as well as Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) and their potential applications in managing urban data.

Researchers at the RMIT Blockchain Centre are investigating how Web3 technology could revitalise Melbourne's city centre.

Researchers at the RMIT Blockchain Centre are investigating how Web3 technology could revitalise Melbourne’s city centre.Credit:Luis Askui

We’re also looking at a very entrepreneurial and emerging space, so what’s the startup environment like for Web3 startups? How do we think about who owns the metaverse? How would we like to see its functionality? Just such a big question.

Is the goal of this research to isolate some practical use cases for Web3?

I start by looking at the question of what do they mean to us and how do they provide some sort of critique of our existing digital practices, starting with real use cases? What solutions have people come up with?

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Many of the blockchain solutions we see revolve around enabling the digitization of organizations – for example, moving contract work onto the blockchain and moving information between multiple stakeholders. There are also solutions that look at our digital identities and whether we can actually achieve this anonymously but still legally identify ourselves.

Web3 critics often say that the technology doesn’t actually solve any real-world problems. Did you see many items in your research that you questioned using? Or is this just the norm for emerging technology courses?

Both. What interests me the most, and I’ve made it very clear to my colleagues, is whether this technology can give us the knowledge, the experimentation, and the opportunity to think and rethink how we create the things we can live in. Sustainable Technology Systems vs. Web3’s focus on creating a hospitable environment for ourselves, or it’s focus on social inclusion, these are the areas I’m most interested in.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect space, free of hacks and scams and half-baked projects that don’t necessarily have clear plans. It’s like a bubbling cauldron of experimentation, and it’s definitely something you need to take the time to get in and touch with before you take any real action.

Do you feel any resistance or skepticism in the community to embrace Web3? Funny how your everyday Aussies either don’t seem to understand it or think it’s a bit of a hoax. Will this make your research harder?

Working at the Blockchain Innovation Center, I am in a “blockchain-enabled” environment. However, when using this technology, you are reminded of the higher volatility and all those items that go to zero, whether through a hack or a leak or just an accidental design issue. This type of discussion is very prominent in the Hub. We are looking at where the risks are and how they can be addressed in future developments.

I also work with my other colleagues outside the Hub and they always say ‘that’s a very dangerous workspace, why are you doing this? So, my colleagues keep me honest. You need to have a broader conversation.

I’ve always seen Web3 as a niche or emerging field, but what I’ve really been aware of over the past year is that it’s starting to reach a certain critical mass, and it’s not going away. In other countries, these technologies provide solutions by leapfrogging the lack of existing infrastructure, so it has definitely found its niche.

We’re starting to see it take shape, with more institutional support, and while it’s definitely an experimental space, it’s not going away.

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