What is the Web 3.0 and Why Should You Care?
The first thing you need to know about Web3 is that the definition tends to shift depending on who you’re talking to. Those differences are markedly more dramatic when you’re comparing the opinion of a Web3 advocate, to that of a sceptic.
Web3 is an umbrella term for a diverse set of ideas concerned with eliminating the dominant intermediaries of the internet. Its vision for the internet is a new conceptual era, where navigating the web no longer requires that you log onto the likes of Facebook, Google, or Twitter.
Before we get into it, let’s take a brief look at the history of the internet, and where we are today.
Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0: The Internet Origins
The web we’ve had up until this point can be categorised into two stages.
The first installment, Web 1.0, was invented by Tim Berners-Lee (our collective internet daddy) and is the original world wide web.
During these early, dizzying days of the internet (the roaring 90s) the web was seen as a way to democratise access to information. It was, however, pretty overwhelming and disorganised — and you definitely couldn’t navigate it with the ease we’re accustomed to today.
What followed is Web 2.0, which developed in the wake of the Dot-Com crash during the early 2000s. The term was first coined by Darcy DiNucci in her 1999 article Fragmented Future and was widely popularised by Tim O'Reilly and Dale Dougherty in late 2004. Many readers will recognise Web 2.0 as the web that gave us social media.
It created dramatic improvements in online connections and facilitated an explosion of content that was able to reach an ever-increasing audience of users. This content became centralised on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Google, Facebook and Amazon (remember the days when Amazon was just a place to buy books?!).
These platforms brought order to the internet, making it easy for users to connect with one another online and perform important tasks like wireless transactions. They also amassed a tremendous amount of power.
Flawed Data Collection and Manipulation
Our current dependence on these companies has a bunch of implications. Firstly, when their servers go down, users are left powerless — unable to access content or communicate with one another.
There is also the issue of user data collection and leaks, as well as an overwhelming lack of transparency and regulation when it comes to online privacy protection.
Facebook’s many scandals, from Cambridge Analytica to the most recent whistleblower revelations, demonstrate just how cavalier companies can be when it comes to how they treat our data.
In the end, Web 2.0 has not come to represent the decentralisation that was initially hoped for during the nascent days of Web 1.0. Instead, it has become increasingly centralised through the overwhelming power of a small number of tech companies.
Web3 is a proposition for how to take that power back.
The Concept of Web3
Web3 (which is short for Web 3.0) is a conceptual third iteration of the world wide web. At the core of this concept is a decentralised online ecosystem.
The Web3 movement is to try organise the internet economy around digital assets and give ownership to both builders and searchers. Web3 aims to bring about increased data security and privacy, with the objective to combat the influence of huge corporations that are currently dominating the internet.
The next age of the internet is going to be run by communities rather than a few large companies. For Web3 advocates, blockchain is a way for users to escape the central control of the world’s largest technology corporations.
What a Transition to Web3 Might Look Like
Right now there are a select group of companies that own a tremendous amount of our data. And without the participation of users, they would never have been able to amass the success and power they have today. Yet, despite having been integral to their success, users have nothing to show for their participation.
The power of these companies may feel overwhelming, but new technologies are presenting us with opportunities that offer an alternative to the status quo.
According to advocates of Web3, what is needed is a new iteration of the internet. One where social networks, search engines, and marketplaces can flourish without having any company overlords.
Their proposition? Make them decentralised by building them on the blockchain. After all, blockchain technology already underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
In the proposed Web3 ecosystem, users control their own data, bouncing from social media, to gaming, to shopping — all on one personalised account. While you’re doing this you’d also be creating a public record on the blockchain of all your activities. Your personal data would be stored on the blockchain, rather than with large tech companies.
What Defines Web3?
Currently, there is no standard definition of Web3. But it does have a series of defining features, each of which has the potential to shape the future of the internet and how we interact with it.
This is the defining feature of Web3. Currently, with Web2.0, computers use unique web addresses (HTTP) to locate information. This information is stored in a fixed location, typically on a single server. Things would work differently with Web3. Locating information would be based on its content, giving it the capacity to be stored in multiple locations simultaneously
As a result, the information becomes decentralised. This has potentially significant implications for large tech companies since it would break down their massive databases, surrendering greater control to its users.
Trustless and Permissionless
Web3 will be trustless, meaning the network will allow participants to interact directly with one another, without needing a trusted intermediary to facilitate connections. It will also be permissionless. This means that anyone can participate without authorisation from a governing body.
Consequently, Web3 applications will run on blockchains or decentralised peer-to-peer networks, or perhaps more likely, a combination thereof. Decentralised apps like these are referred to as dApps.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning
Technologies based on Semantic Web concepts and natural language processing are allowing computers to understand information similarly to the way humans do — with varying degrees of success. Web3 is set to utilise these technologies along with machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) that imitates how humans learn, to optimise and gradually improve its accuracy.
These capabilities are expected to enable computers to produce faster and more relevant results in a series of areas, ranging from healthcare to education, to robotics and more. This will also signal an important departure from merely targeting advertising, which defines the majority of current efforts.
Connectivity and Ubiquity
The Internet of Things, which includes items like Amazon’s Alexa and the innovative biometrics device Oura Ring, has meant that companies have slowly gained increasingly intimate degrees of access to our personal data.
For better or worse, with Web3, information and content will be more connected and ubiquitous than ever before. It will be accessed by multiple applications, bringing with it an ever-increasing number of everyday devices connected to the web.
The IRL Impact of Blockchain Technology and Web3
One of the most significant real-world applications of blockchain technology that we’ve seen to date has been in autocratic states where citizens lack free speech and human rights protections.
Because Web 2.0 gives users little to no control over how their data is stored (with companies often tracking and saving data without the user’s active consent) it leaves users vulnerable to unforeseen repercussions, especially when an unscrupulous government disagrees with their views.
In 2021, Bitcoin donations played a key role in supporting groups who were protesting police violence in Minsk, Belarus. Citizens of the country have lived under an oppressive government for over two decades, and the country is commonly known as Europe’s last dictatorship.
Another example comes from Nigeria when, in 2020, protests against the government broke out across the country. Citizens were outraged at the illegal and brutal acts of a unit within the police force called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Within a matter of days, protesters had their bank accounts frozen by the government. Bitcoin enabled them to raise funds that helped them sustain the movement.
Web3 didn’t solve these issues. But it created an opportunity for people across the world to support and empower pockets of resistance against the crushing power of an oppressive state.
Further Use Cases and User Experience
One of the most well-known use cases for Web3 technology is in the way it can benefit content creators and artists. By using NFT smart contracts to sell their work, they ensure that creators, rather than intermediaries, are paid based on the contract terms that they’ve stipulated themselves.
Another essential expectation of Web3 is a faster and more personalised user experience, thanks in large part to machine learning.
These developments aspire to replace the idea of static websites with hyper-personalised experiences. Apps will be considerably more dynamic, changing up their messaging and media formats depending on the visitor.
One can easily imagine the implications this has for marketing and advertising. Users can expect ads to become even more targeted to the individual — although your mileage may vary as to whether this is a welcome development.
Web3 technology has also been a conduit to developments in the gaming world. Pay-to-earn games using NFTs provide a means for users to earn an income. Some have even resulted in non-profit organisations, one of which is leveraging gaming proceeds to fund scholarships for underprivileged users.
The Role of NFTs, Cryptocurrency, and DAOs in the Web3 Movement
Much of the technology that underpins Web3 has been around for some time now. Bitcoin was launched in 2009 (over ten years ago!) with the first iteration of blockchain technology, which was developed alongside this prominent cryptocurrency.
Yet, it’s only over the past two years that the term Web3 has gained considerable traction and gained mainstream attention. The Web3 movement owes much of its current prominence to the rise of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which can be bought and sold using cryptocurrency. Facebook’s rebrand as Meta has also catapulted Web3 into the mainstream.
The increased coverage also goes hand in hand with the relatively new proliferation of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs). This essentially refers to an online collective assembling together within a group that is governed by blockchains, smart contracts, and tokens. When you think about it it’s probably one of the most quintessentially Web3 things out there!
Some Security Considerations
One of the most empowering things about blockchain — its anonymity — can be used for both noble and nefarious purposes.
As we discussed earlier in this article, it can be used to support citizens living under the oppression of autocratic regimes, or as a conduit to facilitating important social causes like funding education for underprivileged youths.
But the anonymity that blockchain provides also allows for bad actors to proliferate and commit crimes (like money laundering) undetected. One of its most notable malicious applications is ransomware, where tech-savvy criminals gain access to personal data and effectively hold it hostage until the owner pays for it in untraceable cryptocurrency.
Ransomware saw a considerable spike in 2021, and the trend is expected to continue in 2022 as we move deeper into Web3.
Other security concerns that accompany Web3 are based on the decentralised nature of networks. In these instances, data exists outside of a more secure centralised service, where only one point of entry exists.
Cybersecurity professionals will need to adapt to these new challenges and examine their role in defending against potential threats in the emerging Web3 internet.
Web3 and Beyond
The promise of Web3 is ambitious, primarily because it aspires to redefine the internet based on the principle of decentralisation. In many ways, it resembles the original vision for the internet, but with a fresh wave of technology to help forge a new path (or rather, paths) forward.
It’s easy to dismiss Web3 and how it’s being marketed as hype, driven by individuals with agendas trying to enrich themselves, especially when you consider past tech bubbles.
But that does not mean there isn’t value in the underlying technologies that are driving it. In fact tech bubbles have facilitated some pretty cool and interesting things, including the browser you’re using to read this article.
The idea of the entire internet being reinvented and replaced may sound like a far-away digital utopia, but it’s undeniable that this technology is driving innovative and important new conversations on what the internet could and should be.
Blockchain technology has already proven its usefulness, with its potential applications continuing to be explored by individuals and tech companies alike. And while it’s too early to tell what exactly the future of the internet will look like, it’s undeniable that Web3 will form some part of it. How integral a part remains to be seen. We look forward to being along for the ride!