The middleman is dead, long live the middleman!

People are abandoning plum jobs in Silicon Valley and betting their fortunes on the metaverse. Even senior staff are jumping ship to gain a first-mover advantage in Web3, the latest iteration of the internet fueled by blockchain technology.

At the very core of Web3 is the decentralization of power, enabling users to transact and trade without intermediaries. And indeed available technology affords manufacturers a direct relationship with customers which was previously impossible on a large scale.

Once again, the middleman’s doom is anticipated as a new and convincing tale is spun about the coming virtual universe. Our future, it seems, is destined for a complete digital transformation devoid of Big Brother’s interference.

Traditional traders built business on trust

Our most prominent traders appeared on these shores at about the same time that the railway line snaked its way through to Lake Victoria. With an extensive legacy as merchants, they prospered from their penchant for hard work and by establishing trusting relationships with indigenous communities.

The trains brought goods inland from far and wide these enterprising businessmen filled their warehouses with products in high demand, satisfying the market with a constant supply. And despite trade routes bloated with middlemen of all sorts, they were still able to extend fair prices to their customers.

Online merchants rely on convenience

The internet broke down barriers, dramatically shrinking the distance between producers and their markets. Cheap, omnipresent communication channels and synchronised logistics reduced the storage burden as goods were ordered from the factory on-demand.

I once heard of a smart graduate who became the largest supplier of water tanks in the country, if only for moment. Armed with web development skills and a mobile phone he set up the first online shop for domestic tanks. He acquired catalogues from the manufacturers, listed all their products on his site, prominently displayed his phone number over the ‘order now’ button, and waited.

The online community took notice and called. He fulfilled each order by transporting products directly from the manufacturer to the customer and received payment via the mobile money platform M-PESA.

He did all of this upon a sofa in his mother’s house… such a sweet life is not meant to last. Once the manufactures smelt the coffee, they set up their own websites and snatched away his competitive edge.

Web3 decentralizes trade

The current iteration of the web enables online merchants to be all things to all men. Amazon is an excellent example. However, new mutations of the middleman have been conjured out of virtual air, namely search and social commerce. By laying the pipes through which content and commerce flow, they have effectively wedged themselves in between, becoming indispensable in the process.

Web3 now threatens to dismantle e-commerce as we know it, and reconstruct future trade on user autonomy, transparency and cryptocurrency devoid of government authority and traditional financial intermediaries. Blockchain evangelists are popping up everywhere and they find a world with the sucking reflex of a newborn. It is indeed a world that has the lowest levels ever of public trust and we are looking for alternatives on which to transfer our faith.

Even thought the metaverse presents itself as a viable option and I’m still curious to know why high flying executives are leaving Big Tech jobs for it. Perhaps it is because they have peered into the virtual reality crystal ball and seen a vision of the middleman in the chrysalis?

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