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The next 5000 days of the web

A letter to Chris Dixon & Woj

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A letter to Chris Dixon & Woj

Many of you reading this have probably ordered if not already read Chris Dixon's new book Read Write Own (RWO). It released last week and most people I know in crypto are already flying through the book or listening to one of the many podcasts he's been on recently.

There's a good chunk of us in the ecosystem that probably had our first aha moment on "why crypto" because of a blog post or thread written by Chris. I can personally point to several examples of his writing that influenced my framework on crypto, but if I had to pick one it would definitely be his 2018 post Why decentralization matters. If you haven't read the essay, I highly recommend going through it regardless of how long you've been in crypto.

This week, as I was reading through RWO, I couldn't help but think how much of a coincidence it was that the book launched right in the middle of all the Farcaster craziness after "Frame Friday".

On David Perell's How I Write podcast, Chris mentions the idea of a cannon event.

A canon event is a moment in development that will help shape your life or personality.

Not to get all dramatic, but I feel like these last two weeks were a cannon event for me in the sense that there was a significant shift in my perception of the internet and the tech ecosystem.

At a high level, the epiphany I had was that we're still in the early days of the web.

Kevin Kelly has a brilliant blog post called You are not late he wrote back in August 2014 where he makes the point that this is just the beginning:

But, but…here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet. The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. If we could climb into a time machine and journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2044 were not invented until after 2014. People in the future will...say, oh, you didn’t really have the internet (or whatever they’ll call it) back then.

Now, I know it's been a decade since he wrote that post but the point still applies today.

In today's letter, I'll dive into a couple of things that clicked for me since two Fridays ago. The post is split into 3 sections:

  1. The fall of RSS

  2. The best of both worlds

  3. The next 5000 days

Let's dive in 🚀


The fall of RSS

Chris mentions how each section of the book serves a different audience. For those who are unfamiliar with the concepts of crypto, parts 2 and 3 give a crisp answer to "why blockchains?". And for others who are looking to get involved in the space, parts 4 and 5 provide an awesome gateway to better understand what's next.

For me, however, the most interesting section by far was part 1: "Read Write".

Why? Because I'm a 25 year old who has spent the last four years actively contributing in crypto all day everyday. I feel pretty comfortable explaining how blockchains work, but I realized I didn't know anything about the history of how all this came to be.

In general, much of the crypto crowd skews towards the younger side. Most of us grew up in the Facebook era and didn't actually experience building in the first phase of the web where things looked and felt significantly different.

It turns out that before Facebook and Twitter started taking off from 2005-2010, the tech ecosystem was in fact a positive sum community excited to build an open web.

In Chris's book, the pages that hit me the hardest were 21-26 in which he covers the fall of RSS.

As I mentioned in my Frames post from last week, RSS is an open protocol that allows users to access updates from websites they've subscribed to. It was developed by two Netscape engineers, Ramanathan Guha and Dan Libby back in 1999.

What I didn't realize was how popular of a tool RSS was before the social media companies we know today took over. In fact, for the longest time, many believed that RSS was the final piece of the protocol puzzle, along with SMTP and HTTP, to make the foundation of the web complete.

And to a certain extent, it was! RSS took off in the 2000s and was widely used by people even outside of the tech community. For example, in 2004, even the New York Times published a piece on the growing importance of the RSS standard:

NYT Archive

Additionally, in 2005, Google launched Google Reader which was an RSS feed that became a crucial tool in onboarding people to the personalized feed based web. But as Chris mentions, the tech was never able to go fully mainstream because it "expected too much from its users". The setup process involved registering for domains, redirecting hosting providers, etc. Too much for any average Joe.

Around that time is when Facebook and Twitter launched and provided a much simpler experience to interacting with other people and content on the web. Anyone could make an account for free and start engaging within minutes. Naturally, the mainstream crowd was immediately attracted to the simplicity, aesthetics, and virality of what these platforms had to offer.

But you know what's crazy? Even Twitter itself used RSS in its early days.

Some members of the RSS community thought this was fine, because Twitter had an open API and a stated commitment to continue to interoperate with RSS. To them, Twitter was simply a popular node on the RSS network (page 22)

As growth skyrocketed in the years after, eventually both Facebook and Twitter were looking to IPO and decided to pull the plug on the idea of providing an open developer ecosystem, RSS support, etc. It was time for them to go all in on ads.

And then, in 2013, Google casually killed Google Reader in order to push out Google+ and compete with Facebook in the social networking space.

Two Bit History

Technically, RSS is still around today but has basically been labeled as an archaic tool that no one other than passionate tech geeks use.

But YB...if RSS was that good, then why did it lose?

Well, it wasn't a fair fight. It came down to two things:

  1. You could build 90% of a FB clone but were missing a crucial piece: a decentralized database

  2. It's tough to rally a group of dedicated developers to build for a protocol that can't outcompete big tech salaries

The truth is that RSS never stood a chance against Zuck or well-fed Google engineers. It turns out that without Satoshi's Bitcoin whitepaper, it really wasn't feasible to build a global social network on RSS. The missing piece was how to solve the Byzantine Generals problem.

Now 10 years after Google shut down reader, it's looking like there's a new form of RSS that has a chance to compete with big tech...RSS+.


The best of both worlds

As I mentioned above, it's so wild that I read those pages in RWO the same week I see Dan (co-founder of Farcaster) mention that his initial thesis for Farcaster was an idea he called RSS+.

RSS+

You can go read the post in your own time, but the key thing I wanted to share was how the one pager feels like the best of both web1 and web2.

RSS+ takes the open web principles that comes with web1 protocols and merges it with pragmatic product development founders implemented in web2.

Dan, Varun, and the rest of the Farcaster team are writing the playbook for how the next decade of founders will approach entrepreneurship. How can you build a protocol that attracts and reliably supports a rich developer ecosystem while bootstrapping a successful first client?

After frame Friday, the Farcaster DAU growth went bezerk.

Because of the sudden wave of newcomers, Warpcast was down several times due to server overload. In the web2 world, this would have meant a complete halt on all services the company offers. If Slack is down, no one gets access. If Twitter is down, no one gets access. If AWS is down, no one gets access.

But! In this hybrid approach, we saw the Warpcast team encouraging others to go use Supercast, a client built by Woj (active Farcaster developer). For those of us in this niche Farcaster community, it may not seem like a big thing. But if you take a step back and think about it, when has a founder of a company ever actively encouraged his users to go try out a "competitors" app?

The incredible part about these past two weeks is we are seeing in real time the original vision of RSS come to fruition with the support of Ethereum as a decentralized database (the missing 10%).


The next 5000 days

For many developers in the tech ecosystem, the past 15 years of big tech warped the perception of what it meant to build on the web.

Remember, in the early days of Twitter and FB, these platforms encouraged developers to come and build in their ecosystems. But a few years later, they killed the spirits of many hopeful entrepreneurs and hackers. Just for fun, I asked the Farcaster community if they had been screwed over by a big tech company changing their API policies.

Because of this betrayal, the next logical thing was for these builders to take their scraps and go join the big tech companies themselves.

In fact, ask anyone who went to college and studied CS in the last 10 years. The meta game was to aggressively interview at the top companies such as Google and Facebook and land a job there by graduation. And that's exactly what ended up happening. Why? Because the only other "tier 1" opportunity was to take huge leap of faith and try building a company the YC route.

The game basically became...build the next multi-billion dollar company like Airbnb, Uber, Coinbase, etc. or go work at them as an employee. For the most part, there was no in between.

However, I believe that in the next decade of the web, we'll see a resurgence in indie hackers that can build reliable businesses in the ecosystems of their choice.

In the section above, I mentioned Woj who is a young developer that single-handedly built an entire Twitter like client for the Farcaster ecosystem that countless folks started paying $10 to use in the past month.

In fact, the growth got so crazy for Supercast that Woj started facing scaling issues of his own 😂

The point I'm trying to make here is that developers now have the option to build a niche product that serves power users for a specific protocol. It's like a developer finding their 1000 true fans. Continuing with Woj's example - let's say 1000 users pay the $10 / month then he is making $10k / month or ~$120,000 from his side project. Probably enough for him to say "screw my job", I'm going to go embrace being a full time Farcaster ecosystem developer. And he can do that without worrying about the Warpcast team acting maliciously. Because even if Dan and Varun start to hate on Supercast for capturing client market share, it doesn't matter because Woj still has permissionless access to the Farcaster hubs.

Just as Dan, Varun, and the Farcaster team are showing us what it means to build an attractive developer community, Woj is showing us what it means to be a high value contributor in a strong ecosystem. Btw, go check out Supercast if you haven't already!

I know it seems weird to say right now, but I do believe that as the Farcaster protocol and others like it start to grow momentum, it won't be crazy for the next wave of "tier 1 developers" to become indie hackers and run lean businesses for one or maybe even multiple protocols.

Okay, I know this letter is getting long so I wanted to wrap up by closing the loop on the title of this post and section: the next 5000 days of the web.

In 2007, Kevin Kelly gave a talk that talked about how crazy the period of web was from 1997-2007. In that decade of tech, the web took the world by storm. And he was telling the audience that it's only going to get crazier in the next 5000 days (~10 years). He talks about many of the concepts in crypto we discuss today (data porting, interoperability, etc.) before the Bitcoin whitepaper was even out!

Here's the thing though, he was right in the sense that the web truly did become crazier in the 10 years after his talk...but was directionally wrong. In the 2010s, we saw billions of more people come online, use apps to rent homes and order cars, play extravagant online games, etc. But the value and data was kept in large fortified castles that a few modern day kings ruled.

So, now in 2024, two weeks after the Farcaster frames launch and Chris Dixon's book release, I would like to restate Kelly's grand quote..."the next 5000 days of the web are going to be crazy". We're still so early and it's going to be wild to see what online onchain looks like in just a few years.

Hopefully, many of us younger folks get to see the spirit of the early internet days but this time with the pragmatism of what it means to build products at scale for billions of people with a positive sum developer community.

In a few years, we'll see countless creative hackers build not for a 75,000 person company but rather for their true fans on open protocols that they are value aligned with.

I'll leave you all with a quote from Chris Dixon:

I believe this is the beginning, not the end, of internet innovation.


That's all for today's letter - I hope you all have a great weekend!

- YB

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