This is a kind-of, sort-of follow-up to “Why I don’t believe in the Web3 narrative” and “Why I don’t believe in the Blockchain technology narrative.”
Now Meta came out with a series of feature announcements and people started going wild how this is validating Web3 and blockchains:
Well. No. Even if Meta believes in this blockchain future for creators, there is just one minor problem.
Like, really SLOW. The issue is the way Blockchains achieve a distributed system without central authority: Consensus Mechanisms.
These are the mechanisms by which all participating nodes in the blockchain network look at each other and go: “I want to add these transactions to the database. Do you all agree? Yeah? We all agree? Great — it’s added now”. They periodically stop to have these discussions, then continue.
It’s a little bit more complicated, but technically speaking all nodes in the blockchain must be synchronized to have the same state and verify the state together. This implies that blockchains are operating synchronously and blocking, meaning their speed is limited by the “tick” of that consensus mechanism.
This “waiting” makes them horrendously slow compared to regular databases, to the point where it’s mathematically provable that they cannot scale.
What scale are we talking about? Well, Meta has this to say:
As we celebrate Creator Week at Meta, I’m sharing why we think the increasing adoption of web3 tech, like blockchain, is beneficial for the 300 million people around the world who now identify as creators, and anyone who aspires to join the burgeoning creator economy.
Great, so they want to enable three hundred million people via Blockchain. More specifically the Polygon blockchain.
According to their own blog post, Polygon has a theoretical limit of 7.200 transactions per second (TPS).
What happens if all 300 million content creators want to create just one single item, roughly at the same time?
300.000.000 / 7.200 = 41.667 seconds = 694 minutes = 11 1/2 hours
So, they all press the button to create their content thing and the last one will see their content go up 11something hours later.
But wait, that’s only the theoretical maximum — why don’t we look at the actual performance? Even Polygon themselves admit that the more realistic number is around 1.000 TPS (or 3 1/2 days to settle all transactions). Meanwhile Polygon Scan reveals that the actual TPS of Polygon right now is around 40 (or 12 weeks to settle all transactions).
Let me repeat that:
Meta built a feature that, when their entire target audience uses it, takes between 11 hours (best case) and 12 weeks (worst case) to react to a single input.
It won’t work to add more blockchains and to distribute the load over multiple blockchain networks. Polygon is actually one of the faster ones. The mighty Ethereum taps out at around 24 TPS and if you include all side chains it’s a couple dozen TPS. Yes, really.
Well, the entire thing is primarily good marketing: Release a couple of flashy articles and news, give the feature to some influencers, ride the thing as long as they can and then quietly bury it. It’s not a bad strategy to cash in on the current Web3 / NFT / Metaverse hype.
But let’s say the feature does get wide adoption. The only way to make this feature scale to all potential users is… to not use a blockchain. To remove the consensus mechanism and replace it with something simpler: A network of trust. Where Meta will emerge as a “trusted entity”, running “their own blockchain” with “their own special wallets” that is “totally open through these APIs”.
In other words: A traditional database with Meta as the main controlling entity.
Make no mistake, when Meta states their goal is to “help creators reach an audience, grow their communities and earn a living”, what they mean is: “own the audience data, segment them for targeting, sell ads and also make money by taking a cut of all other platform creators.” Because that model works. They want an App Store for people.
That’s why the Meta announcements don’t change anything fundamentally for Web3 or blockchains. Blockchains can be useful for extremely specific, highly niche things, but they are not a scale technology, let alone a revolutionary paradigm shift.