One of the big early claims of the world wide web was it would be an open and democratic platform for all. Thirty years on, and that original idea has taken one hell of a battering.

Regulators, particularly in Europe, have put Big Tech under increasing scrutiny and pressure to protect the rights of citizens in recent years, as the exponential growth of data use encroaches on all aspects of our lives.

But to truly repair the democratic ideal, it may take a large-scale move from Web 2.0 to Web3, built on decentralised blockchain public ledger technology.

Cryptocurrency prices, the meteoric rise of NFTs and increasing chatter about the metaverse tend to dominate the headlines. All the while, in the background, developers the world over are putting the building blocks in place for the third generation of the internet.

“The internet has quickly evolved to the walled gardens of Web 2.0, with monolithic web giants acting as the gatekeepers of all commerce, content and information exchange,” Justin Floyd, CEO of RedCloud, tells BusinessCloud. “Their influence and reach is now so strong that even governments appear powerless before them, let alone individual users.

“The economic impact of this shift has been catastrophic. A handful of Big Tech players own the digital infrastructure and – in partnership with financial giants such as Visa and Mastercard – control the payment channels, to the detriment of hundreds of millions of merchants worldwide.”

Bill Gates once argued that a platform ought to be defined as something that creates greater economic value for those using it than for the platform owner themselves. Floyd describes Big Tech as the ‘antithesis’ of this idea. 

“Today’s world-dominating online platforms aren’t really platforms at all, intent as they are on hoovering up all of the value – not to mention our data – at everyone else’s expense,” he says.

“In particular, Amazon bestrides online commerce like a behemoth. 93% of independent retailers claim their revenues have been negatively impacted by Amazon while, in the last quarter of 2021, Amazon’s own revenue was $137.4 billion – that’s over $1 million a minute.

“Amazon overshadows its competitors to such an extent that it completely deprives them of oxygen, while rigidly enforcing punitive terms with every business that it allows into its marketplace. 

“Just one in 10 sellers experiences success on Amazon, which is no surprise given that, in addition to the costs of listing and selling on its platform, they also face direct competition from Amazon itself.”

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The Web3 model enables financial transactions to take place securely online without the need for centralised intermediaries or gatekeepers. Floyd says that the real prize is the creation of easily accessible ‘open commerce’ platforms that empower users to generate income and sell online directly to customers, without having to pass through the machinery of a centralised arbiter dictating the terms of every trade. 

“The platform creators might take a small cut, but they’re not interested in controlling the process, just in letting transactions flow as freely as possible,” he explains.

“How does this work in the real world? For individual content creators, one example is a new publishing platform called Mirror that enables writers to earn directly from the content they produce via auctioning, crowdfunding, and tipping work using cryptocurrency tokens. 

“But more radical than this are the blockchain-enabled eCommerce platforms that are helping merchants and small businesses in emerging markets to have a remunerative web presence for the very first time.”

For instance, London-based RedCloud provides an open commerce platform across Argentina, Nigeria, Mexico, Peru and Brazil, and enables both buyers and sellers to access an online marketplace of locally available products via a simple phone app. 

Crucially, it enables merchants to make and receive payments digitally, which in traditional, cash-based economies is a real game changer, removing the friction and risk created by handling cash and speeding up the distribution process.

The platform already has 110,000+ retailers onboard, with more than 100 distributors signing up every month. It plans to be live in at least 12 markets by the end of 2022.

“By using an open commerce platform, merchants can trade online with a broader range of brands and bring new FMCGs to local consumers for the first time. This is a fantastic way to break the stranglehold that big Western brands often have in emerging markets while opening up access to a cornucopia of smaller specialist brands and local suppliers,” says Floyd.

“The decentralised infrastructure of Web3 offers a route back to that original vision of the web where individuals and small enterprises are empowered to have full control over their online presence, unencumbered by Big Tech or traditional payment channels. 

“It may still be in its early stages, but already Web3 is enabling the creation of a new online ecosystem that offers a brave new world of open commerce, free from corporate gatekeepers.”