How I Predict Shared Identity Could Play out in Web3
Expressing one’s identity has always been a basic human desire. As human beings, belonging to a community is interwoven with our need for survival as a species. In ancient days, being part of a larger group of humans was critical to avoid being eaten by wild predators. While the chances of that happening today are rather slim, we never quite lost that vestigial survival instinct. We still don’t want to be an outcast or shunned; we want to be part of the tribe, and shared identity continues to be a driving force in doing so.
As technology continues to evolve, so does the way we build and express our identities online. For the last decade or so, Millennials and older generations have done so in a Web2 world. But as we accelerate toward the decentralized world of Web3, how we build our identities online could become less about having an identity for each unique platform and much more about consistency, transparency and ownership.
Based on my experience leading a mobile publishing and tech company creating digital experiences, I’d like to share why business leaders and entrepreneurs in the space should think about the role identity plays in Web3.
Identity in a Web2 World
Thanks to America’s sweetheart, Dolly Parton, a hilarious four-panel meme spread like a wildfire in 2020, lighting up all of our social media feeds for weeks until Tiger King came along. The meme showcased four different headshots, which were very different depending on the social media platform.
But what was at the heart of this meme? Is it true that we really have a different identity on each platform we use? The short answer is yes. In Web2, at least.
The reason for this is two-fold. On a superficial level, it has to do with the fact that each platform has its own purpose, and as such, we shape our identity to meet that. Obviously, on Tinder, one’s identity is going to be centered around dating, whereas on Linkedin, it will be much more around one’s profession.
But diving deeper, it actually has much more to do with the fact that what you build in Web2 stays in the ecosystem in which you built it. The tech behind Web2 does not grant one the ability to transfer, display or share their identity across different platforms. So if you build out your identity in Roblox, you are not going to be able to carry your identity over to another ecosystem, as it is owned by and lives entirely in that closed system.
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What Gen Z Values Most About Identity
Gen Z values digital communication. According to Snap Inc.’s “The Snapchat Generation” report released in 2022, today “visual messages are a much more personal and expressive way of communicating.” Because everything is shown to users in the conversation, including when images are saved, Snapchat offers transparency — something else that Gen Z values. TikTok has similarities, as well, as it is all about a platform to promote genuine entertainment rather than just looking good. (Full disclosure: Author’s company is an official partner with TikTok’s Creative Exchange and is one of TikTok’s Creator Networks.)
What Gen Z also highly values is its ability to provide the most genuine form of non-face-to-face communication. This is due to both communicants always being aware of each other’s intentions based on a number of factors, including getting notifications when the other person is typing or if they capture a screenshot of your conversation or save it, making it as close to in-person communication as technologically possible.
Lastly, the concept of community is important to Gen Z. Gen Zers leverage their digital identity to show which groups they belong to. While teens have always wanted to “have their own thing,” it seems vanity has taken a backseat with Gen Z and authenticity has taken the driver’s seat.
Web3 and Authentic Identity
For the last decade or more, much of social media has leaned on vanity as the primary builder of one’s identity. With data, primarily views and likes, being monetized in Web2, platforms could make money off triggering users’ desires for validation. In doing so, many users learned to adapt their identities online simply to drive more followers and engagement, making it highly unlikely their followers could ever really get to know the true person behind the profile.
What’s so exciting and transformative about Web3 is that it could enable us to build and display our truest identity at any given moment because the data surrounding us isn’t owned by anybody. Right now, however, if you build your identity in Web2, your data is collected by the entity that is also monetizing it. When it’s fully decentralized in Web3, that would likely no longer be a concern.
When you think about the concept of PFP (picture for proof), many Gen Zers don’t even use an avatar that is a picture of themselves. Instead, many display avatars they believe more precisely show off how they see themselves internally without societal stigma or limitations.
As we enter into a multi-chain state, I predict, like many in the space, that we’ll be able to carry our PFPs across platforms. And if this means you see yourself as a pink-haired mermaid or a 9-foot-tall lumberjack, you have the ability to establish that identity, display it and share it across each platform because you own it.
In Web3, identity is set to center around ownership and authenticity, making your identity a much more real reflection because of the level of transparency around the ownership component — and also because of your ability to decide to display who you are by what you own.