Austin, the home of SXSW – a festival of technology, music and film – has the descriptor “keep things weird” and this year’s SXSW didn’t disappoint. Weird, I suppose, to be back in person after a two-year hiatus but that feeling didn’t last too long – I suppose more weird being the varying levels of covid compliance shown by people from different states, countries and demographics. In, all-in, nowhere near being in. 

That aside, and after what seemed like a quieter than normal first day, perhaps coinciding with a much colder than normal climate, soon changed by the second and third day as the crowds came back just as the sun returned in the sky above. 

The event is always a must-attend for people working on the intersection of technology, culture and society. It’s the diversity of attendees, of talks and content that helps one take a prescient view of what might be coming around the corner. 

This year felt very much like an industry corner moment, where the energy of a passionate community, and a set of rapidly developing technologies they opine, enthusiastically seek to take things into a new-direction. Around a new corner. In this case it very much was, for me, the Web3, break out year. If Web 2.0 can be summed up as read and write, Web3 can be summed up as read, write, own.  

If SXSW was where social media once took hold in the last decade (Twitter, Foursquare, Meerkat etc.) and execs once came to preach to their believers, then this was the year we saw a turn to the next, to the Web3 community (movement). Where once it was an application launch, now it was an NFT drop, a POAP collection, a token mint or a DAO formation. 

If you strip back to fundamentals, you can see the appeal of SXSW – an event all about the fusion of technology, music and film.

The technologists behind Web3 have found their people, the creative community. Musicians, artists, film-makers all shared stages or events with developers, miners, data architects. Power back to the creative community! New revenue streams, new ways to connect with audiences and community. Own your content, monetise your creativity (versus the Web 2.0 approach of monetise your audience). NFT this, NFT that, DAO this, DAO that. The energy is palpable, and being on the ground is exciting.  

This is a really interesting time. The potential opportunity for technology like NFT’s (which in essence create property ownership in virtual/online environments) is promising and the tokenisation model a fantastic way to introduce scarcity into an online world of otherwise abundance. We all know the Beeple story. He was in attendance to preach to his people, the north-star for the modern day artist. 

It is, however, still early days. And whilst there is much to love and be excited by (I genuinely am, and a believer, a HODLer). There is also a ton of speculation, yogababble, and as it lacks any form of regulatory protection, fraud. So be curious but cautious.

Also, there is an alarming amount of concentration of power in what’s a decentralisation movement – with many Web3 projects at launch seeing value go to insiders versus community. Case in point the highly concerning recent ApeCoin ICO (or what seems to be an unregulated SPAC that clearly shows why the SEC and others need to pay attention). It’s hardly a “take it the man” more a “take, take, take from the man” – just the capitalism wrongs the movement was trying to right.

As with most technology, the bit we can’t code for, design, is the wet-part. Humans are humans, and we’re driven by urges we’ve had for millennia – often coming down to a need for power and control. Are we ready, and even able, to live in a decentralised world? 

We are all just apes after all.