Why academics want to unlock Web3’s secrets


What Web3 makes possible is for people to have property rights in digital objects or assets, and therefore create a different kind of value economy around digital objects. That economic side of it is one aspect that I am particularly interested in. Also, for me, where the space is really becoming interesting is around that sense of creating vibrant, immersive environments, which is linked to the development of the metaverse.

The reports – written by my colleagues in the Digital CBD project – are also looking at blockchain and supply chains, along with decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) and their potential application for governing city data.

Researchers at RMIT’s Blockchain Hub are investigating how Web3 tech could revitalise Melbourne’s inner city.Credit:Luis Ascui

We’re also looking at a very entrepreneurial and emerging space, so what’s the entrepreneurial environment like for Web3 startups? How are we thinking about who owns the metaverse? How do we want to see its function? Just big questions like that.

Is the goal of this research to isolate what might be some real-world use cases for Web3?

I work from the real use cases to go to the question of what do they mean for us, and how are they providing some kind of critique on our existing digital practices? And what kind of solutions people are putting forward?


A lot of the blockchain solutions that we see are around supporting the digitisation of organisations – for example, moving contractual work onto the blockchain, and the movement of information across multiple stakeholders. There are also solutions looking at our digital identity and whether we can actually achieve that anonymously, but still credential ourselves lawfully.

Web3 critics regularly say that the technology isn’t actually solving any real-world problems. Do you see many projects in your research that you question the use of? Or is that just par for the course with emerging technology?

A bit of both. Where I am most interested in, and I’ve made this very clear to my colleagues, is the question of can this technology contribute knowledge, experimentation, and opportunities for us to think and rethink how to create sustainable technology systems that we can live in and with. Where Web3 is focused on creating a hospitable environment for ourselves, or where it’s focused on social inclusion, those are the areas that most interest me.

That’s not to say that it’s a perfect space free of hacks and scams and half-baked projects that don’t necessarily have a clear plan. It’s like a bubbling cauldron of experimentation, and it’s definitely a place that you need to spend time in and get exposure to before you make any real moves.

Do you sense that there’s any pushback, or scepticism, from the community in terms of acceptance of Web3? Anecdotally, it seems like your everyday Australian either doesn’t understand it or thinks it’s a bit of a scam. Does that make it harder to do your research?

Working at the Blockchain Innovation Hub, I’m in a ‘pro-blockchain’ environment. Working with this technology, however, you’re reminded about the higher volatility and all those projects that go to zero, either through a hack or a leak or just an unintended design problem. And that sort of discussion is really prominent within the Hub. We are working out where the risks emerge and how these can be addressed in future developments.

I also work with other colleagues of mine outside the Hub, and they’re always saying ‘that’s a really risk-heavy space to be working in, why do you do it?’ So, my colleagues keep me honest. You need to have that broader conversation.

I’ve always seen Web3 as a niche or emerging space, but what has really become clear to me over the last year is that it’s starting to hit a certain level of critical mass where it’s not going away. There are situations in other countries where these technologies are providing solutions by leapfrogging over the lack of existing infrastructure, so it’s definitely finding its niche.

We’re starting to see it take shape, there’s more institutional buy-in, and while it’s definitely an experimental space, it’s not going away.

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