Once upon a time—that is, in 2011—the company then known as Facebook launched Open Graph, a way for users to carry their Facebook identities from app to app, thereby enabling developers to give them a personalized experience wherever they went. Rather than recreating an identity each time you went to a new app, you could leverage the identity you had already built through Facebook and—at least in theory—the sum total of Open Graph developers leveraging the platform.
Sub “crypto wallet” for “Facebook account” and the goals of Web3 are shockingly similar. Both Open Graph and the decentralized web constitute attempts to address the same deep gaps around identity and memory in the internet as it was originally conceived. Both aim to enable portable identity across digital ecosystems, including data, assets and relationships. And hard as it may be to believe given the tenor of today’s discourse, even the idea of personal data sovereignty that’s so central to the crypto world was baked into the Open Graph vision.
Despite the company’s high-minded aspirations, Facebook’s Open Graph efforts didn’t work. This was for a handful of reasons, some of which could have been anticipated, others of which were more subtle, and none of which had to do with the fact that Facebook was a centralized entity. That’s not to say that the difference between a single company providing this cross-platform service versus a decentralized, blockchain-based approach isn’t consequential—just that it’s not determinative on its own. The new crop of technologists building Web3 still has a lot to learn from the problems with Facebook’s Open Graph.