Investment funds ploughed $27 billion dollars into the development of web3 technology in 2021. Much of that went into blockchain and cryptocurrency, the decentralized foundations which will power the financial incentives to continue the evolution of web3 – or the future of the internet, to give it a more readily recognisable title. But why? What is web 3.0, and why is so much money and coverage being lauded upon it?
Sometimes referred to as web3, internet 3.0 (do you prefer your web with decimals?) or the decentralized web, the term web 3.0 itself was first used by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood in 2014. Being ambiguous (and very much a work in progress), it is hard to define, however, the image above highlights the fundamental difference between web3, web2 and web1 for the average user not interested in the technological layers which make it a reality. (If you are more technically minded and would like to hear what Vitalik Buterin has to say about zero knowledge proof, ZKsnarks, verifying nodes and BLS signature verification, check out this Reddit feed.)
Simply put, web3 is the evolution of the web based services, games, entertainment and administrative infrastructure you use on a daily basis. Only decentralized – which means it bypasses the middlemen, escapes the villainous clutches of the handful of platforms monopolising your data and time.
In other words, web3 will take the current internet model and flip it, (or perhaps, take us back to the original decentralized vision of web1?) It will give users (you) power and ownership of their data, identity, creations and money. By connecting blockchains, protocols and our devices, via a peer-to-peer phenomenon where every access point (pc, laptop, mobile etc…) will be able to communicate directly with another, Web 3 adds a layer of invisible trust (thus becoming trustless) which the current incarnation of the web lacks (unless you trust Facebook…). Everything will be verifiable, secure. Communication without constraint.
This is good news, because without getting too philosophical about it, the future of humanity – for better or worse – is wrapped up in technology. We have become a technological species reliant on our devices and the internet, what happens next will define the future of that relationship. Billions more will on-board, everyone will be connected. How reliable that connection is, who owns it, who builds it, how fast, open, safe, secure and accessible it is are questions web3 still needs to answer.
How did we get here?
What is web 1?
If you remember the 1990’s and the webpages you frequented, you (apart from being middle-aged) will remember them being static, that is, read only. You looked at them, squinted your eyes through an often gregarious mismatch of colours and pixels, and tried to make sense of what you were experiencing. You couldn’t interact with the pages. There were no dynamic links or CSS (used with HTML to change the style of web pages and user interfaces). At the time it probably felt futuristic, the stuff of science fiction. If you’re under 30 and don’t understand what the hell I am talking about, Achive.org stores millions of sites from the internet of your parents and grandparents, if you want to go time travelling.
what is web2
Somewhere around the turn of the century the web started to change. (The internet is the protocols, the web the ‘visual’ interface. The terms have become interchangeable for most.) Web 2 became the social participation web1 never was. What was passive became interactive, what was dull became enlightened, what was read-only became read and write. Angry customers could use Tripadvisor and Amazon to make or break a business or author, friends could cross the annals of time and rekindle old school relationships, post photos, write blogs, change the world.
But there was a price for the dynamic, social interaction of web 2: we gave up control. A handful of hulking great centralized monopolies hoovered everything up, taking ultimate control of your data whilst they were at it. Now it is all stored in one place with that famous ‘singular point of failure’ far from the madding crowd it helped to create. Facebook, Uber, Google, Airbnb, Medium, Twitter, Wikipedia, Flickr, Amazon, Ebay. You know the roll call, you signed up.
Building a new Web3
The web3 vision many anticipate isn’t going to be easy – technologically, culturally, emotionally – the best things often aren’t. There are doubts about data storage, speed, editorial (the lack thereof), power, cost and the reliance on cryptocurrencies. Yet a future without naysayers and competition wouldn’t be worth building.
And now is the time, and the best strategy could be to start from zero. As Discord demonstrated when it contemplated MetaMask and NFT integration, web 2 companies and platforms have a liability: much of the community and many of the users either aren’t ready, or don’t want to embrace decentralization just yet, even if it could improve the experience. In the case of Discord, the backlash was instant. As a result, what you end up with is a web2 / web3 hybrid, neither nor. Not committed publically to web3 for fear of revolt from large swaths of the user-base, but adamant behind the scenes that the future is decentralized.
So whereas web3 may take web2 and build on it, it could very well be a new pantheon of decentralized organisms which create it. And since the term was coined by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood, I’ll leave you with his definition of web3:
“Web 3.0 is an inclusive set of protocols to provide building blocks for application makers. These building blocks take the place of traditional web technologies like HTTP, AJAX and MySQL, but present a whole new way of creating applications. These technologies give the user strong and verifiable guarantees about the information they are receiving, what information they are giving away, and what they are paying and what they are receiving in return. By empowering users to act for themselves within low-barrier markets, we can ensure censorship and monopolization have fewer places to hide. Consider Web 3.0 to be an executable Magna Carta — “the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”