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Will Boston be a leader in the next Internet revolution?

A panel at the Imagination in Action Web3 Summit, held at the MIT Media Lab on June 30.Courtesy of John Werner

In a back room inside Boston’s social club the ‘Quin House, venture capitalist John Werner made a statement that evoked cheers and a round of applause.

Stanford University (and Silicon Valley) might have won “web2,” he said, referring to companies like Google and Facebook, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (and Boston) would win “web3.”

If Werner said that anywhere else in the city, he might have been met with puzzled looks. What is web3, anyway? (Hold that thought.)

But the managing director of Cambridge-based Link Ventures was surrounded by a group of entrepreneurs, investors, and thought leaders who believe we are on the brink of a tech revolution. And they were gathering the night before a conference designed to cement Boston’s place in a new industry based on crypto tech.

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The event was called the Imagination in Action Web3 Summit. It took over the top floor of the MIT Media Lab last week and was the first of six similar events set to take place over the next two years, in Boston, San Francisco, and Davos, Switzerland. Werner, who convened the guest list, said multiple times throughout the day that people who travel to every location at least once will receive a chia pet.

“Web3 ... there’s a lot we have to figure out,” he said during his opening remarks. “Is it hype? Is it real? Is it a mirage? We’re here to examine the possibilities.”

An image from the Imagination in Action Web3 Summit, held at the MIT Media Lab on June 30.Courtesy of John Werner

He said his web3 summits would be much different than crypto conferences like Consensus, which he said drew “snake-oil kind of sales people” to Austin, Texas, last month.

“We don’t want to be known as that place,” Werner said.

In fact, the summit was more Allen & Co Sun Valley Conference-esque. But while that conference, hosted by an investment bank, convenes Internet moguls like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, Werner wants his summit to draw the top people building web3, a future version of the web based on blockchain technologies and principles.

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The high-level difference between web2 and web3 is who owns — and profits from — data. Proponents of web3 want to build an Internet where individuals have more control over their own data and how it is used.

“We think the next Google or Amazon could be two people who met here today,” Werner said.

The vibe of this summit was different, compared to other crypto-related gatherings that tend to be dominated by young guys in t-shirts, hoodies, and baseball caps. This one felt a bit more conservative and included older men wearing dress shirts and khakis.

A photo from the Imagination in Action Web3 Summit at the MIT Media Lab on June 30.Courtesy of John Werner

And whereas other conferences are known for parties that last until the early hours of the morning, the event at MIT started before 9 a.m. and concluded around 6 p.m.

“I didn’t meet a single crypto bro, and for that I am grateful,” one person wrote in a post-event feedback form.

At this point, no one knows where web3 will go — or what role MIT or Boston will play in its future. But at least some people might walk away with a chia pet.


Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.