Definition of Web3.0 and looking back at the Internet of the past
For a full understanding of Web3, let’s look back a few decades, and get a high-level view of the Internet’s history. A key aspect of analyzing web generation history is understanding the generations before (Web2 & Web1), and what they brought to the table.
With these foundations in place, not only can we more clearly understand what Web3 is, but we can also see how we got to where we are today. We must also have a clear understanding of why we need to overcome the limitations of Web 1 and Web 2 and redesign them for Web 3.
Understanding Web1 (Web 1.0) And How The Internet Started
In general, Web1 is the term that is commonly used to refer to the earliest versions of the internet. From its origins at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to the inter-connected global network linking every entity on earth, Web1 was the first iteration of the internet as we know it today.
For those who were around during the days of grunge rock, big hair, and the first wireless cellular phone, you may remember that your first experience on the internet required a dial-up connection – leveraging a modem with a speed of 56kbit/s (which you can basically simplify as – very, very, slow). If you were lucky, you were able to go online from the comfort of your home – but most likely, it cost your family the only phone line available in the house, meaning that no phone calls in or out could be connected while someone was online.
Once online, the experience was relatively uninteresting (especially compared to today’s standards). Web1 web pages were static, and hosted on web servers run by Internet Service Providers or free web hosting services. By and large, internet users could not interact with any of the content which was viewed online. Participants could only read what was being displayed, and nothing more. For this characteristic alone, Web1 is sometimes referred to as the “read-only” web – succinctly summarizing the limitations and characteristics that this first version of the internet brought to the people.
Looking back at Web1 webpages now (which is possible, by the way, via the Internet Archive – Wayback Machine), and it quickly becomes obvious that most pages were nothing more than some text and a few images – made possible by very simple HTML code by today’s standards.
As we all know, this time-period in the world’s digital history did not last long, and technology soon enabled us to evolve from Web1 to Web2. While there isn’t much to say these days about Web1, it did raise the first generation of internet adopters – and it did provide the foundational blocks for what the internet would eventually become.
Like most big changes in history, this process was gradual. Exactly where Web1 ends and where Web2 begins cannot be narrowed down to a single day – as the evolution of the changes occurred over an extended period of time. It is though, generally accepted that Web2 more or less came to life at the turn of the century (around 1999) and from there, evolved into the internet that we know and use today.
The Power Of Web2 (Web 2.0) – YouTube, Facebook, Instagram etc.
Web2 is what we know as today’s internet. It is the online space that the entire world has grown up in, regardless of age, geography, or social class. “Born” around 1999, Web2 has brought us some of our favorite services – which with each subsequent year, we begin to view less and less favorably. When history reflects on the companies and services that defined the Web2 era, they will undoubtedly think of Facebook, Amazon, Google, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and more.
Web2 moved the internet from a read-only digital world to an interactive one – or what can be somewhat simplified by the expression “read/write” internet. After Y2K, internet users slowly began to find that not only could they receive information on the web pages which they were viewing, but they could also send information to the web servers in an effort to obtain more targeted information which were suitable for their needs.
As an example, in the Web1 world, a user might have been able to find a map of their country on the internet. If they were lucky, perhaps there would also be a map of the city which they lived in – which could be referenced when that person wanted to find the shortest route to get between Point A and Point B. In the Web2 world, users would discover Google Maps – which has singlehandedly made obsolete the requirement for anyone to have any sort of directional sense. With Google Maps, users could enter the address for Point A, enter the address for Point B, send a request to the Maps server to obtain the best route to take – and receive a customized route from Google to navigate to the desired destination.
In another scenario, Web1 enabled the encyclopedia company Britannica to make available their entire database of encyclopedic information on the internet. However, this information quickly became outdated (even within the year). When we consider events like covid-19, which would not have existed as an entry in a 2019 encyclopedia, we likely would have needed to wait nine months before we could find any information on it in the 2020 encyclopedia. With Wikipedia – which serves as Web2’s encyclopedia, an entry for covid-19 was created on February 5th, 2020 – and has been updated more than 500 times since the initial entry.
It is easy to see how dynamic the web has become since the days of Web1. Instead of only being able to absorb information, the internet became interaction based. Users could interact via search queries, comments, posts, and more. As a result, Web2 is often referred to as the “Social Web”, allowing for a level of socialization and interaction which simply did not exist before in the online world.
Web2 has been a revolutionary technological step forward. It has brought connectivity unimaginable from only a few decades ago, it has spawned new opportunities for people and businesses alike, it has given information access like never before, and it has turbocharged the global economy by facilitating cross-border interactions – from political to trade.
The Web2 Failures With Centralization And Control
While the outputs of Web2 have been amazing, its adoption has led to users realizing that inputs into this online world are centralizing into the hands of a few. Over time, it has become clear that the internet – once viewed as an online space owned by no one, has in fact become a space where the digital world is owned by a few.
By this point, many readers are aware that free services are not actually free – and that the expression “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product” has never been more true. The truth is, Web2 behemoths like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, among others, are among the prized few which own much of a Web2 user’s data. Furthermore, not only do companies such as these own the user’s data, but the user’s routines in their daily life places great reliance on the services being provided by these companies. Imagine a world where Google was not available, where WhatsApp was not accessible, and where orders on Amazon were not placeable – and you will quickly see how big of an impact just these three companies can have in your day-to-day life.
To be fair, companies are in business to make money. And to make money, you need to be competitive. Competition in Web2 means optimizing experiences for its users. The best way to do this is through data. Because of this, tech goliaths have been slowly gathering an individual user’s data, analyzing that data, and then leveraging that data to provide content and information that is tailored toward the individual’s preferences. The results are obvious – compare the accounts of two individuals across their social media, content streaming, and other news-oriented platforms, and you will quickly see that none of them are “the same.” Each platform has optimized what is being displayed towards the known preferences of the user which it is serving.
As individuals enjoy their tailored experience more and more, the company providing the experience earns more money (it understands you!). Eventually, user data is packaged up and sold to third parties, who may want to understand the behavior and preferences of a particular set of consumers. This vicious cycle repeats constantly – preventing users from truly having control over their own information, how it is shared, and how it is used. Herein lies the issue.
While Web2 did not start this way, it has evolved into an internet which is dominated and centralized by companies which provide services in exchange for your personal data and your dependency. What started as a digital world where there was no centralization of user power has evolved into one where power is concentrated in the hands of a few. Should the internet continue down this path, power and reliance in these hands will only increase, and concentrate further.
The Birth Of Web3 (Web 3.0) And How It Will Create A Better World
Similar to how the shift from Web1 to Web2 was a gradual one, so too will the shift from Web2 to Web3. At a high level, Web3 is a decentralized internet. For users, this means that online connections will be made on decentralized, peer-to-peer networks, instead of more centralized ones (like those of Google and Facebook).
Web3 is also often referred to as the “Semantic Web” – a term coined by Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who is largely credited as having invented the world wide web in 1989. The semantic web hints at the idea that this new era of the internet will be more autonomous, intelligent, and open. While we will not cover in-depth the automation aspect of Web3 here, the next generation of the internet will be one where humans and machines (e.g. artificial intelligence, etc) are able to connect seamlessly with each other and to communicate.
In Web3, data will be interconnected in a decentralized way, instead of all being stored in the hands of a few entities. These connections are made possible through decentralized protocols, which are the very foundations of blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies.
In the centralized Web2 world, the central authority can often be viewed as the law – determining the validity of transactions, what can and cannot be done on a platform, and more. As an example, when sending money from one bank account to another, the bank ultimately approves whether that transaction gets processed and goes through. The bank determines whether the sender has sufficient funds to send, among other criteria, and then ultimately approves the transfer.
In a decentralized Web3 world, there is no central authority, and code (how the decentralized blockchain network is constructed) is law. The network makes the determination of whether the sender has sufficient funds to send, and ultimately approves a transfer of funds once the checks have been passed.
Other forms of decentralized governance, such as Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), and smart contracts, among other means – will usher in a new era of oversight managed by the decentralized network and its participants.
On the front end, things will likely continue to look the same for internet users. Applications will continue to work as they have been over the last decade. However, a Web3 backend will look considerably different. Imagining Web3 versions of the world’s most popular use cases for the internet and it will not be difficult to see how decentralization of these services can alter the digital landscape quite significantly. As some examples:
- Centralized social media platforms vs decentralized social media
- Centralized banking institutions vs decentralized finance
- Centralized communications platforms (e.g. email, texting) vs decentralized communications
- And more
If it’s not clear by now, Web3 is an internet which is owned by its builders and its users (instead of the tech giants of today). Its lack of centralization means that control of the internet shifts to the individual user, and that the valuable data and privacy that goes along with it, can finally stay under the control of every person who participates in the Web3 economy. This, along with other factors, will unlock entirely new economies, further level the playing field for all internet participants, and create new levels of value which may not be imaginable (or feasible) in today’s Web2 world.