To understand the current state of Web3—that future version of the internet that proponents promise will be decentralized and better—it helps to take a look at Adam Neumann and the “Goddess Nature Token.”
Mr. Neumann is, of course, the former head of WeWork who in 2019 was ousted from the company he co-founded after an epic run of oddball leadership and financial adventurism. The Goddess Nature Token is an effort to marry Web3 technology with environmentalism and is the core product from Mr. Neumann’s newest venture, Flowcarbon. That startup late last month raised $70 million from a long list of investors led by venture-capital giant Andreessen Horowitz.
Flowcarbon’s status as a Web3 darling says a few things about the movement. First, that attaching the word “blockchain” to any startup business plan draws investors. Second, that Web3 doctrine holds that the tech behind blockchains makes any startup better and its goals more attainable—despite there being scant evidence for that, and plenty of informed critics who disagree. And finally, that in an industry where hype can seem the primary currency, even Mr. Neumann’s notoriety doesn’t preclude getting funded.
Web3, for those unfamiliar, is billed as the future of the internet and everything on it. Think of Web 1.0 as relatively basic webpages from the likes of Yahoo and Excite, and Web 2.0 as today’s interactive online services, dominated by Facebook, Google and other tech giants. Web3, according to its proponents, is all of that built with new tools that distribute control and benefits much more broadly.
More specifically, Web3 is the evolution of cryptocurrencies and the blockchains—databases distributed across computers on the internet—on which they are built. Instead of being simply money, like bitcoin, blockchain tokens can also store other data within them. That could be anything from a receipt for a piece of digital art—known as a nonfungible token or NFT—to a “smart contract” conferring ownership of a real-world asset, such as a mortgage or a carbon credit.
In other words, Web3 tokens can represent not just data but ownership and access, and can be traded like money. Web3 has the potential to financialize just about every possible human activity.
For believers in all that Web3 potential, the fact that the value of the world’s crypto has dropped by more than $1 trillion since its peak in November is, while unpleasant, no reason to lose faith.
“The short-term fluctuations [in crypto prices] can be painful in the moment, but frankly in the public markets many companies are also down 70% to 80%,” says Arianna Simpson, a general partner in charge of crypto investment at Andreessen Horowitz. The firm is one of the biggest bettors on crypto, having just announced its third fund dedicated to Web3, this one for $4.5 billion. “What matters at the end of the day are, are there products and services being built that a large number of consumers want to use?”
Among these new products and services that may or may not become real businesses is Flowcarbon and its Goddess Nature Token, or GNT for short. The carbon offsets represented by GNTs are a certificate, verified by a third party, that says that some company or other entity reduced the amount of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere, or prevented it from increasing. Offsets can be created by, for example, growing forests (because trees absorb carbon)—or by declining to cut them down.