Guest column: New Orleans well-positioned to ride the internet’s next wave | Opinion

As the board chair of an early adopter of blockchain technologies and the head of entrepreneurship and innovation for Tulane’s Freeman School of Business, I’ve become a cynical idealist about the potential of “web3.”

What is web3? That depends on whom you ask. But, fundamentally, web3 is a new vision for the future of the internet. It’s built on blockchain, the same technology that makes cryptocurrency possible. Understanding web3 is important because it could decide what comes next to our phones and other devices.

The internet has evolved before, and it is doing so again. During web1 (around 1990 to 2005), tech-savvy pioneers built simple, text-based websites. Data was sparse, and the systems they used were unsophisticated.

Next, during web2 (around 2005 to 2016), ambitious entrepreneurs drove the sleek corporatization of the internet. These ventures gave us products “for free” and then made money on our data and attention. Companies like Facebook (now Meta) invested billions to make our experience online more addictive. Today, Meta owns four of the top five most popular social networks worldwide (the other one is YouTube, owned by Google). Meta profited immensely during web2; in fact, they now make six times more off of each of us than they did in 2011.

Meta is worth over $850 billion, all for services we get “for free.” The truth is, our time and data are valuable. But in exchange, we get meaningless points on a made-up scoreboard.

Wouldn’t it be nice to share in the value of all that content you create? That’s the potential of web3. While web2 mostly benefited a few ultrarich, these new technologies are decentralized by design and could create a far more democratic and open internet experience — with freer and fairer economic systems.

What if, rather than lagging behind the tech hubs on the coasts, New Orleans led in a people-first tech revolution? I think we’re positioned to do so.

Why? Creativity and community.

Entrepreneurship is about the creative arts as much as it is about business. The next successful startups will be scrappy, inventive and visionary. They’ll maneuver this new environment more nimbly than massive incumbents — and outpace Big Tech’s seemingly limitless resources and outthink its high-paid talent.

We live in an incomparable place that’s brimming with creativity, where our gumbos are perfectly recipe-less and our music is often improvised. New Orleans truly is the “Land of Dreams,” for so many innovators of so many kinds: a wondrous, diverse mix of imperfect people. Our community can set us apart in web3.

Web3 is all about people, with a spirit of rebelliousness that defies the web2 status quo that allowed corporations to harvest most of the value.

Instead, web3’s essence is that these technologies should empower the many, not the few, with more people prospering in our digital economy. To borrow an acronym that crypto-enthusiasts love: WAGMI, We’re All Gonna Make It.

That credo is deep down in the soul of this city. Join any parade and you’ll be immersed in it. We know we’re in this crazy thing together; From the king cakes we share and the costumes we wear during carnival season, to every second line’s soul-stirring homegoing, both life and death are communal here.

Creativity and community: It’s who we are.

Today, the largest investors in web3 companies are in Silicon Valley, and the new mayor of New York has declared his city the global home to web3 with plans to launch a citywide cryptocurrency. Miami’s mayor is beating them all in the race to become the most “crypto-friendly city.” He takes his entire paycheck in Bitcoin and debuted MiamiCoin this fall, which earned $21 million in its first three months. He has dreams that it could pay for the entire tax revenue from his city.

But new innovations will come from our entrepreneurs, not the government.

It’ll be up to us. So, let’s get to work. WAGMI.

Rob Lalka is the Albert R. Lepage Professor in Business at Tulane’s AB Freeman School of Business and the Executive Director of the Albert Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

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