Will Web3 Repeat the Same Mistakes as Web2?

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As tech leaders conceptualize, design and develop the next iteration of the web, now is the time for diversity, inclusion and accessibility to be built into every aspect of its being.

There is a lot of talk about cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, digital wallets, decentralization and the metaverse, but very little about the diverse voices needed to ensure that Web3 doesn’t end up as just another version of the same old web, complete with unconscious biases, prejudices and inaccessible websites.

How can we design Web3 with diversity, inclusion and accessibility in mind?

How Is Web3 Different From Web1 & Web2?

From 1991 to 2004, Web1, initially known as the “World Wide Web,” was mostly static web pages that presented information.

It used text, images, hit counters and perhaps included the ability to send a message to the website owner. There was a very low level of interaction, and most pages were essentially online versions of brochures.

Some say this iteration of the web is about the centralization of produced content, emphasizing portals such as AOL, Yahoo and Compuserve, web directories such as WebCrawler, Lycos, Dogpile and Altavista and commercial technology companies like IBM, Netscape and Microsoft. It was also the beginning of social media, with sites like GeoCities, which debuted in 1994.

Then came Web2, the internet we know today. It’s characterized by user-generated content that’s then consumed by other users, along with participatory social content.

This version of the web initially began with social media sites like MySpace — which allowed users to create personal profile pages — and continued with blogs, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Vine, Instagram, Wikipedia and many others. Web2 also featured the rise of Google and much more interaction between websites and their visitors.

While Web2 is about reliance on big tech brands, Web3 is a decentralized web, meaning no one entity can control, shut down or censor it. It’s designed around blockchain technology, the same technology used by Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies.

Web3 is all about giving power back to content creators, consumers and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). It does not rely upon trusted authorities, state players or large corporations, and is (or should be) accessible to anyone.

Related Article: How Is Web3 Decentralized?

Why Do Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility Matter for Web3?

While Web3 is still new and largely conceptual, biases already appear to be creeping into the scene.

In December 2021, Bloomberg reported that prices for digital avatars from the popular CryptoPunks NFTs fluctuated based on race, gender and skin color, with mid- and dark-skinned avatars priced lower on average than lighter-skinned NFTs. Bloomberg also cited data from DeGenData, a CryptoPunks sales tracker, which showed lower average prices for female Punks compared to male punks.

With these already emerging signs of coming problems, groups such as Unstoppable Women of Web3 work diligently to build an equal, democratized and decentralized future.

Along with other companies, they pledge to feature work from historically marginalized groups, including (but not limited to) women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA community members and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Another organization, World of Women, hopes “to build an inclusive Web3 through its collection and community.” They plan to actively target diversity in the NFT space, creating equal opportunities for all.

A Focus on Diverse Employees

Meta’s chief diversity officer, Maxine Williams, said in a recent blog post that “we have the opportunity to help build the metaverse with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) from its inception.”

Williams stated that, in the next decade, over a billion people may be in the metaverse. As such, “diverse people shouldn’t just participate in the metaverse as consumers; they should be its architects and builders as well.”

It falls upon brands to make that happen, and Williams suggested that the first step is to increase the diversity of employees that work in the tech industry, specifically in areas that are part of the development process of the metaverse, such as:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Gaming
  • Virtual reality (VR)
  • Augmented reality (AR)

A Continual Accessibility Effort

As Williams reiterated, it’s vital to keep in mind that an inclusive metaverse benefits everyone, including those from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Over the last few years, awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion has grown tremendously, however, accessibility has and continues to be an afterthought for the majority of brands.

According to The World Bank, one billion people — 15% of the global population — live with some form of disability, and one-fifth of those individuals — between 110 and 190 million people — experience significant disabilities.

CMSWire spoke with Josh Basile, disability rights advocate, lawyer, philanthropist, mentor and community relations manager at accessiBe, an automated web accessibility solution provider, about the reasons why accessibility is vital to Web3 while it is still in its early stages.

Basile, a C4-5 quadriplegic since the age of 18 when a wave slammed him headfirst against the ocean floor, knows very well the difficulties of using websites that are not accessible. He said that less than 3% of websites meet accessibility guidelines, which is 1% more than last year.

“It is key to ensure that people with disabilities have a seat at the decision table to educate and empower website owners from the start that web accessibility should exist from the get-go and continuously throughout the life of a website. This must happen from the beginning with Web3 or we will repeat history,” Basile explained.

Web3’s greatest promise is that it will bring people together in ways that have yet to be seen, eliminating corporate control and censorship, and putting the power back into the users’ hands. Without true accessibility, though, that will never happen.

“It is vital to properly include diversity, inclusion and accessibility within Web3 because without doing so there will be a lack of equitable access to billions of people living with disabilities,” said Basile. “The Web3 must be available to everyone, no matter a person’s standing, abilities or disabilities.”

Related Article: Building Accessible Digital Experiences Is About Doing the Right Thing

Part of the Bottom-Line

Diversity, inclusion and accessibility are not just a part of a brand’s compliance with its corporate social responsibility strategy — they also increase its ROI.

“In the US alone 1 in 4 Americans are living with a disability, with over $490 billion in annual spending,” said Basile. “The disability community is an even larger population including friends, family members, healthcare workers, nonprofits and many more.

“The disability community’s immense spending power should not be overlooked especially because the community encompasses a $1.2 trillion market. Businesses need to be informed that investing in web accessibility is not only about compliance, but that it is a smart business opportunity and the right thing to do.”

We Must Eradicate Unconscious Bias in Web3

Unconscious bias is an underlying stereotype or attitude that is unconsciously attributed to a person or group and affects how they are understood and related to.

Unconscious bias exists because of how we are socialized, said Chris Tompkins, a Los Angeles-based consultant, speaker and life coach at A Road Trip To Love. He is also the author of the book “Raising LGBTQ Allies: A Parent’s Guide to Changing the Messages From the Playground.”

No matter who we are or where we come from, “we all play on the same playground,” Tompkins said. “There are certain collective societal messages…that we absorb by virtue of being socialized in the dominant culture. As a result, we develop certain belief systems that influence our decisions.”

Because applications and technology are conceived and developed by people, their conscious and unconscious beliefs are incorporated into the applications and technology they create.

Problem-Solving Should Start Now

Sharad Varshney, CEO of OvalEdge, a data catalog and governance solution, spoke with CMSWire about unconscious biases and how they must be eliminated from Web3 now — before they become an inherent problem.

Varshney said that AI and machine learning are at the heart of Web3, and it is well known that unconscious biases in AI constitute a serious problem. By recognizing it now, brands will be better positioned to eradicate unconscious biases before they become an ingrained part of Web3.

“As the industry’s understanding of AI bias matures, model developers are getting better at defining and measuring bias, enabling its elimination from the onset,” said Varshney. “Data teams should formulate equity metrics in partnership with stakeholders. Once targets are defined, data professionals can iterate on eliminating bias from machine learning models.

“Armed with a comprehensive set of metrics and target goals, data scientists can address AI bias like other performance requirements, which is going to be crucial in DEI and accessibility in Web3,” Varshney explained.

Because AI bias is a well-known and well-documented problem, developers creating AI models can test them for bias during the pre-deployment stage.

“A Web3 AI model should undergo a battery of equity tests and measurements at every lifecycle stage,” said Varshney. “A quality test suite may enforce equity, like any other quality control measure.”

Brand Roles in a Diverse and Accessible Web3

As Meta’s Williams said, diverse people should not just be Web3 participants — they should be the architects and builders. The problem is that most developers and programmers are still white men.

A 2017 global poll of 11,445 software developers from Stack Overflow indicated that 85.5% of respondents were men — and the majority were white. A more recent 2021 Statista survey of 82,286 global software developers revealed that 91.7% of all respondents were men. Additionally, men fill the majority of senior management positions in the IT industry.

These surveys reveal a glaring discrepancy in the IT world, one that is changing slowly. It’s up to brands to build a workforce representative of society as a whole, which goes a long way towards eliminating unconscious biases that come with a male-dominated field. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as looking for diverse faces and enlisting them to be a part of a brand’s Web3 project.

Designers, programmers and developers require extensive training and experience. People of diverse backgrounds should be encouraged and supported in their choice of a career in technology from a young age.

Brands must seek out and encourage a diverse group of people to apply for open positions. They should also provide education for those already in the company who wish to expand their tech knowledge.

The proverb, “It takes a village,” is correct — to overcome the lack of diversity in the IT industry, it will take support from family, teachers, business leaders, department managers and friends.

Web3 Must Be Available to All — But Challenges Persist

Despite good intentions, there are several barriers to the widespread acceptance and general adoption of Web3. 

The Wallet Requirement

When someone decides to participate in Web3, it means using a Web3 app, be it a game, virtual world, social media, financial exchange or something else entirely. What most have in common is that they require the user to have a cryptocurrency (crypto) wallet. Some go further and require users to have cryptocurrency in that wallet.

While no definitive number exists for the amount of people in the US with crypto wallets, data from the Pew Research Center shows that 16% of the country’s population are crypto users. And we can assume some of these users have more than one wallet for different currencies.

That leaves more than 80% of the country without crypto wallets, blocking them from accessing Web3 due to technical limitations. And of those who own crypto wallets,  the majority (70%) are men who are primarily (62%) white, according to Morning Consult

Know Your Customer Regulations

Crypto wallets come as smartphone apps and web browser extensions and are relatively easy to install. However, most require users to upload a picture of a government-issued ID for identity verifications purposes and a photo of the user themselves.

Referred to as KYC (Know Your Customer), this process is meant to stop fraud and is based on banking laws established in 2001. European Parliament also recently proposed legislation to require that all crypto transactions include information on the parties involved, essentially outlawing anonymity.

While the process involved in KYC is not especially difficult for those with an ID, more than 3 million people in the US lack a government-issued ID (NPR).

With the most common form of government ID being a driver’s license, it’s not unusual for certain people who wouldn’t usually drive not to have an ID, such as older people, the poor, those in big cities and even people in rural areas who don’t live close to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

NPR’s Corey Dade explained that many elderly people, for example, never had a birth certificate to begin with or, if they did, their names were incorrectly typed on the documents. In these cases, if there’s a discrepancy between your birth certificate and other forms of ID, you won’t be able to get an ID.

While there are certainly ways around these obstacles, each problem that arises will dissuade more people from accessing and taking advantage of Web3. 

The Accessibility Problem

Another barrier to Web3 is one that’s been present since the first iteration of the web — lack of accessibility.

As mentioned above by accessiBe’s Basile, around 97% of all websites are still not accessible to those with disabilities. And the idea of fixing the problem one day almost seems unfathomable.

Some of the major barriers to the web for those with disabilities are:

  • Low color contrast on text or hard to read text
  • Missing alternative text for images
  • Forms that lack labels and instructions
  • Missing text for a hyperlink (i.e., only using an image or button)
  • Session time-outs with no countdown or way to extend the time

Basile believes brands must be proactive and build accessibility into Web3 now, while it is still in development.

“The powers that be that have influence over Web3 must be educated and empowered to not repeat the past,” he said. “Web accessibility within Web3 cannot be an afterthought once again or people with disabilities will continue to be left out.”

Related Article: Web3 and the Barriers to General Adoption and Acceptance

Final Thoughts

If Web3 is going to be more than just a buzzword and actually change the way we live, work and relate to one another, it must be designed from the ground up with diversity, inclusion and accessibility in mind.

Brands must ensure that diverse voices play a pivotal role in the development process, that unconscious biases are eliminated and continually monitored for and that Web3 is accessible to all people.

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