What is Web3? Understanding how the decentralised web could replace Web2
The world wide web (that’s where “www” comes from), which we commonly call the Web, is one of the most used technologies in the modern world. Through this information system that is distributed all over the world, we can access documents, video, and apps over the Internet to help us with our work, learning, and play.
The web, as we’ve come to know it today with social media sites, email, and streaming, is considered a second generation of services and applications. The old generation was focused very much on reading: text, articles, and search engines that really were just directories and listings of more text.
But today, the web is focused on user experience, getting people to interact, participate, and contribute – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all about users interacting over the web with a rich focus on audio and video.
But as users grapple with issues of content generation (who owns the content we create?), artificial intelligence, and even storage (who keeps our information?), and as new areas of web utility emerge with the metaverse and digital currencies, there now comes a question of whether or not we are about to enter a new generation of web.
This new web is referred to as Web3, which encourages decentralised systems and which pushes for less reliance on giant companies that monopolise web content.
In this article, we look at:
- Issues with the current version of the web
- What Web3 is all about
- How Web3 might displace Web2, changing the way we interact with the Internet
A brief evolution of the web from 1.0 to 2.0
Over the decades since the Internet went online, its applications have changed drastically, particularly with the digitalisation of commerce and communication.
Where in the 1990s the web served chiefly to relay information in a passive way that was faster and cheaper than conventional means, the turn of the century saw a shift towards user interaction.
The Internet has reached more people. Personal computers and mobile devices have become cheaper.
The internet was able to transfer more information faster, so audio and video became accessible and easier to store, to beam to people in their offices and homes.
Suddenly, most of the global population in developed and emerging nations were “surfing the internet” as we spent more and more time browsing online.
With the growing numbers of users, there was the obvious monetisation aspect for businesses. Companies began to sell things online. They advertised their services and products online. And in an effort to market their goods better, they wanted to understand users more and suggest content to them.
They also found that users were interested in creating their own content, and were interested to interact with others. In fact, user-generated content was often better, more relevant, and could be produced faster than any in-house content creation teams.
And so the internet began to allow users to create content. Social activity online gained more significance for more people. Large corporations who understood this built specific platforms to encourage this.
They set up large servers to store information. They built algorithms to understand their users better. They drew up the rules to decide what was deemed appropriate content. They gathered more data about their users, to deliver targeted advertising and promote trends, services, and products that advertisers paid them to do.
Issues with the current Web2
Today, almost any popular service we use on the web is owned and controlled by large corporations and organisations. Whether it’s email, our favourite streaming site, our go-to social app, or our news channel, it is almost surely owned by a giant company or conglomerate.
Monopolies are bad because they prevent diversity and force everyone to follow the rules that they make. If everyone plays by their rules, they don’t have to be transparent with what they do. Without competitors, they don’t have to give the best service – you’re stuck with what you get.
This monopoly of the web essentially means that it is companies and states, not people, who control the web.
Ownership and censorship
Importantly, any content we create on these websites technically belongs to those companies that control them. Your video on YouTube, your selfie on Instagram, your opinion tweet – all of these belong to the platforms you upload them on.
Your personal data is also commercialised. Companies store information on your name, age, location, even the devices you use, and things you like to search. They do this to serve you content you like and advertisements tailored to your shopping behaviour, to sway your opinion. They also decide what information you can access, in effect censoring information that governments and companies don’t want you to see.
You can only use services you are allowed to. Instead of relevant search engine results, you only see what advertisers pay for or what companies are paid to show you. You don’t own the words, pictures, and videos you share. You don’t even get a share of the revenue generated by all the content you upload.
Think of the way Facebook sold user data to Cambridge Analytica for political advertising to understand just how your data can be commercialised.
Companies store all our personal data – trillions and trillions of records created by billions of different owners – in central storage. This is a huge security threat because criminals need only to hack one company to access so much personal information.
Centralised data storage is also expensive. Gartner found that in 2022 alone, companies spent $172 billion on cyber security. Because our data is so valuable, there will be more attempts to steal them so we can only expect this number to grow.
Over the years, there have been many instances of companies getting hacked successfully, exposing millions of customers to identity theft. Yahoo was responsible for two of the largest data breaches in history in 2013 and 2014 – revealed by the company only years later to have affected all 3 billion of its users.
If the web used to be seen as a trove of information when it first entered mainstream consciousness, it is just as responsible today for hosting a lot of misinformation.
Referring to information that has been manipulated by users, companies, and organisations to manipulate users, the web makes incorrect and misleading information so easy to spread.
Over the past few years, there has been a rise in the appearance of unsubstantiated claims on the web about all kinds of public issues including corruption, Covid, the climate crisis, immigration, and crime. The sheer amount of misinformation online has prompted major news outlets like the BBC and al-Jazeera to introduce fact-checking departments.
What is Web3?
In line with the ideals of blockchain technology, Web3 aims to create a decentralised worldwide web where users, not third parties, are in control of their data.
While there is no firm definition of what it is, most proponents agree that Web3 technology will be based on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain. On this assumption, many see Web3 to implement applications that will include cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs), decentralised finance (DeFi) services, the metaverse, and more.
The vision for this new, blockchain-based web includes cryptocurrencies, NFTs, DAOs, decentralised finance, and more. It offers a read/write/own version of the web, in which users have a financial stake in and more control over the web communities they belong to.
Another important component of Web3 is “semantic web”, which is a metaphor for the entire web of information that machines can analyse.
I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A "Semantic Web", which makes this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy, and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The "intelligent agents" people have touted for ages will finally materialize.
– Tim Berners-Lee, 1999
How is Web3 different?
With Web3, there will also be some key differences that will alter the way we use the web.
One of the biggest differences with Web3 is that there will be fewer and fewer central organisations performing operations. This means a more stable web that is less prone to distributed denial of service (DDOS) or other service failures that we’ve become accustomed to. This also means that blockchain ledger records will store public information that cannot be destroyed or altered without people knowing.
Instead of people sending transactions using platforms like banks or fintech, people using Web3 will be transacting with each other using decentralised blockchains like Ethereum.
Secondly, users will be able to control their information, giving specific consent to companies like TikTok or Twitter to use their data. You will own your identity, your data, and your digital assets. In fact, Web3 will also encourage users to monetise their data or earn a share of the revenue gained.
New coding languages that will help machine learning and automated smart contracts to operate the web will come into play. Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain are expected to be the backbone of the Web3.
Nevertheless, this will likely be the least visible change for users. Just as no one needs to understand HTML to read web sites or POP3 to use email in Web2, Web3 users will probably not need to understand blockchain programming languages like Solidity or Rust.
How Web3 might impact your web use
Examining the history of the web tells us that each evolution builds on the limitations of the previous web.
Web2 tackled the static way that Web1 displayed information, turning passive users into active participants. Web3 looks to go a step further, empowering users and giving them back control over the web.
While users of Web2 had to make new accounts and store information on every new platform they used, Web3 users are expected to create a single identity that they retained control over, probably in a crypto wallet or a Web3 wallet that connects to all kinds of different sites and applications.
At Learn Crypto, we see crypto as a necessary component of Web3, and teach users how to begin their Web3 journey by using a Web3 wallet.
In this way, users will realise that they no longer need to trust people, organisations, or companies to keep their data, identities, and assets safe.
Instead, just as Bitcoin introduced a way to be solely responsible for your own money, Web3 introduces a way to be solely responsible for the things you are and the things you own.
The only thing people would trust in Web3 is code. Objective, fair, and free code that cannot be altered or manipulated.