Read Write Own

Chris Dixon on Building the Next Era of the Internet

Fishy On-Chain
9 min readFeb 4, 2024

Note: This article is a long-form exploration of the discussions and ideas between myself and Chris Dixon, General Partner of a16z and head of a16z crypto on his new book “Read Write Own”, conducted in January 2024.

Full Interview:

Published: Stanford Blockchain Review


The Internet is arguably one of the most important inventions of the post-war era, and a technology that makes much of the comforts of modern life possible. Despite beginning as an open and non-profit network, much of the Internet’s value today is captured by a handful of big tech companies such as Google, Meta, and Amazon. Within “Read Write Own,” however, we present a vision of blockchains as a new turning point in the Internet’s evolution [1].

In this article, we will explore some of the major themes within “Read Write Own,” such as situating blockchains within the broader context of Internet history and network economies, discussing the importance of “tokens” as a new digital primitive, the relationship between “casino culture” and “computer culture” in the crypto space, as well as how blockchains reinvent the idea of digital ownership. In doing so, we will show how by giving value back to users, creators, and entrepreneurs at the “edges” of the network, blockchains represent a technological breakthrough that redefines ownership dynamics to unlock new possibilities for innovation.

Network Economies and the History of the Internet

Network Stack. Source [1].

To understand blockchains’ technological and cultural significance, we need to place them in the context of broader Internet history. Fundamentally, what we call the “Internet” today is an intricate “network of networks,” built up of several layers of network protocol technologies that form the “Internet Protocol Stack” [2]. This reaches from the basic network transfer protocols, such as IP, or the Internet Protocol, to application-layer network protocols such as SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) for email or HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) for the World Wide Web [2], to the even more abstracted social networks within specific applications themselves, such as for Facebook and X (fka. Twitter).

Much of the value of the Internet — such as our social networks, our financial histories, and medical records — are all recorded and captured on these interlocking network structures. Thus, to understand the modern Internet, we need to understand network design, since the way these networks are designed directly affects how money and power flows through the network system.

Before the advent of blockchain technologies, there were two primary designs of network economies: protocol networks and corporate networks.

Protocol and Corporate Networks. Source [1].

A protocol network is defined by a set of open-source rules that describe how different participants in the network interact with each other. As the protocol is completely open-source, any of the participants easily bootstrap applications using this code and all the value accrues to the participants of the protocol, rather than any centralized entity charging exorbitant fees for network use. Like all networks, the value of a protocol increases as more participants enter into the network. One of the most classic examples of protocol networks is RSS, or the Really Simple Syndication protocol, which is an open-source web feed format that allows users to subscribe to content from other users and websites that they follow [3]. This open-source protocol was frequently used to subscribe to content outlets such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcast episodes.

A corporate network, on the other hand, is a closed-source network, such as Facebook or Twitter, where a single company designs, maintains, and distributes the network in order to advance its own corporate interests. Although many of these corporate networks support APIs and an ecosystem of outside developers and creators on their platform, their interests are secondary to the profit-seeking motives of the core company. As such, many of these corporate networks have incredibly high “take rates,” where the vast majority of the value that creators, developers, and other users on the network accrue to the platform, rather than to the users themselves.

As the modern Internet has matured, we’ve systematically seen closed corporate networks, such as Facebook or Twitter outcompete open protocol networks such as RSS. Twitter, for example, actually started out as an easy-to-use front-end built to support RSS, but gradually users began to solely rely on Twitter’s platform and network rather than that of RSS. Eventually, Twitter completely supplanted RSS in popularity, and the company decided to end its support for RSS feeds in 2013.

One of the core reasons why these corporate networks are able to take advantage and supplant these open protocol networks is because they are incredibly well-funded and are well designed to put forward their own strategic interests. Platforms such as Amazon, YouTube, and Uber, for example, are more than happy to initially suffer losses to subsidize their growth and attract users to their platform. Many protocol networks, on the other hand, lack systematic funding for continued development and maintenance of the project because of their decentralized nature, with many developers maintaining the network out of pure goodwill. Thus, these open protocol networks cannot hope to compete with the “war-chest” of a corporate network. All this has greatly undermined the Internet’s founding ethos of being an open, public space to share and advance knowledge for all.

Tokens, Computers, and Casinos

Blockchains, on the other hand, introduce a new form of network economy, one that combines the openness of protocol networks with the funding mechanism that allow them to compete with the teams of corporate networks. This is done so through the introduction of “tokens” as a new primitive to represent both a unit of ownership and a unit of value within a blockchain application.

Consider Bitcoin, the oldest and most well-known blockchain project. The Bitcoin blockchain essentially acts as a massive, decentralized “ledger” (similar to an Excel spreadsheet) that permanently records all financial transactions on the network [4]. This big “ledger” is maintained and replicated on millions of computers around the world called “miners” or “validators” on the network, who are rewarded for their work in maintaining this ledger through Bitcoin “tokens,” with the specific rewards determined through an algorithm known as “Proof of Work”. Essentially, Bitcoin “tokens” (BTC) serve as both a unit of value and a metric of ownership to incentivize participants of the network to act in a particular way, such as maintaining the financial ledger through the “Proof of Work” algorithm [5].

Rough outline of Proof of Work Algorithm. Source [5].

Tokens provide a flexible framework to coordinate behavior on a mass scale — we can easily switch out Bitcoin’s “Proof of Work” reward algorithm for another algorithm in different applications. Ethereum, for example, uses a “Proof of Stake” algorithm to extend Bitcoin’s Excel-like decentralized ledger into a fully Turing complete global computer. All this creates a new discipline in the blockchain industry known as “tokenomics,” which incorporates elements of computer science, economics, and game theory to design effective token-reward systems for blockchain applications.

Unfortunately, the idea of “coins” and “tokens” in crypto often brings to mind negative connotations and the stereotypical depiction of crypto as nothing more than an unregulated online casino. Although there are many cases of bad actors within the blockchain space, such as Terra founder Do Kwon and FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried who exploit the industry’s novelty to perpetuate fraudulent schemes, this caricature of the crypto space obscures the real innovations and technological advancements in the industry.

Roughly speaking, crypto can be characterized as having two distinct cultures: the “computer” and the “casino.” The “computer culture” represents the developers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries that can situate “crypto” within the broader history of the Internet and understand blockchains’ technological significance in the long run. On the other hand, the “casino” culture is much more focused on short-term gains and profiting from price fluctuations.

It is our hope that with greater regulation and increased legal clarity, it is possible to mitigate the myopic and harmful effects of “casino culture”. One potential solution could be to make great use of vesting schemes and time horizons, locking up tokens for some specified amount of time either through technical means such as staking or through traditional legal means such as contracts. In turn, this could promote more long-term thinking in the space and thus promote blockchain technologies as a force for social good.

Reinventing Digital Ownership

The key to promoting a healthy, vibrant culture in the blockchain industry is to harness the power of “computer culture” within the crypto movement. Fundamentally, tokens allow blockchains to redefine the concept of ownership on digital networks. For many blockchain projects, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, there is no single person or company that “owns” the network, as whoever owns the token of the network, such as ETH or BTC, is the owner of the network, and all the code of the protocol — such as the algorithms determining the distribution of token rewards — is open source.

As such, blockchains are a natural inheritor of the open, collaborative spirit of protocol networks. At the same time, because tokens such as ETH and BTC represent units of value that can be exchanged for real money, participants on blockchain networks are also able to fund project development and maintenance to compete with corporate networks.

Token Incentives and Network Effects. Source [1].

Already, we’ve seen the potential of harnessing “tokens” and other blockchain technologies as a force for social good and giving back to a community. Helium, for example, rewards its users with HNT tokens for setting up wireless hotspot hubs to provide wireless connectivity, allowing communities ignored by traditional internet service providers Internet access [6]. Through the deft use of token incentives, Helium is able to bootstrap an interconnected network of hotspot hubs, to enjoy network effects. This is an exemplary case of how tokens allow much smaller companies to overcome the traditional “cold start problems” and disrupt much larger incumbents, such as traditional Internet service providers. As the project matures, users with HNT tokens are also able to actively participate in the governance of the protocol and allow these early adopters to have a voice in the future directions of the project.

Thus, blockchains structurally redefine the concept of digital ownership, redistributing the profits of a network back to the users and communities that created this value in the first place. Through creating a novel incentive structure for network participants on open protocols, blockchains disrupt the “winner-takes-all” model of “corporate networks”, and return the Internet back to its original free, decentralized, and democratic values.

Protocol, Corporate, and Blockchain Networks. Source [1].

The Future of Blockchains

Today, we’re at an inflection point in the crypto space. Over the past few years, there has been systematic improvement in blockchain infrastructure and technologies on numerous fronts, such as the advance of zero knowledge proofs, modular blockchains, and interoperability solutions. In the same way that underlying improvements in GPUs paved the way for the “killer app” of ChatGPT, we believe that blockchain infrastructure may soon enable the advent of a “killer app” in the crypto space, one that serves as an “iPhone moment” in its significance for wider adoption.

As the crypto industry turns over a new leaf over the previous series of collapses over the past year and a half, we look forward to seeing the diverse array of new blockchain projects that may arise, such as novel social networks, games and the metaverse, open-source financial infrastructure, and a new AI-centric creator economy that will drive forward the next stage of the Internet’s evolution.

Ultimately, blockchains today represent a frontier in computing, just as the Internet once was in the 1990s. Unlike other frontier technologies such as AI and VR/AR, which primarily benefit and sustain the hegemony of big-tech incumbents, crypto represents a true disrupting force that redistributes value back to the edges of a network, empowering the creators, users, and participants of a network to become true owners of a protocol and building a new “Read, Write, Own” economy in the digital realm.


[1] Images and content from the book READ WRITE OWN by Chris Dixon. Copyright © 2024 by Chris Dixon. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Find out more about Read Write Own:



[4] See Bitcoin Whitepaper:





Fishy On-Chain

President of Stanford Blockchain Club. CS + Phil-Lit at Stanford University. Twitter: @0xfishylosopher