The 20th century was so incredibly rich in inventions that changed the world forever and made human life easier that your head might go spinning: radio, television, airplanes, penicillin, nuclear power, computers, and, of course, the internet. However, nothing is constant, and all these inventions have evolved significantly since the day of their foundation, including the internet. It started from static web content known as Web 1.0 and is currently evolving into something that is known as Web 3.0. So, what exactly is Web 3.0, and why might it be the next big thing? Let’s find out!
History breakdown. Web 1.0 & Web 2.0
Before trying to grasp the notion of Web 3.0, it is vital to understand what came before. There is a common misconception that the internet as we all know it today was the same back in the days when it was created. In reality, the first generation of the World Wide Web (WWW) was rather primitive technology with static web content, and was far from today’s complexity and simplicity at the same time. So, what was Web 1.0 after all?
Web 1.0. Read-Only (1989 – 2004)
Web 1.0 was created in 1989 by CERN engineer Tim Berners-Lee, and it primarily consisted of static websites, mostly owned by corporations, until its transition to Web 2.0. Very few people had access to creating web pages, and thus the overwhelming majority of internet users could only do this one thing back then: read these pages. Not much else. That is why Web 1.0 is called a “Read-Only” Web, since its main purpose back then was to provide data and information to website visitors. There were little to no visuals, no interactivity nor controls, and there was no user-generated content (UGC). Here are the typical characteristics of Web 1.0:
- Static pages. Web pages did not include interactive elements that could change in response to website visitors’ actions.
- Webpage content stored in files: Nowadays, websites use databases to store the most of their website content there. During the Web 1.0 era, the data and content was coming from a static file system, not in a database.
- Simplistic layout, lack of visuals. Modern websites are developed with the best design and user experience in mind. Back in the Web 1.0 era, web pages had primitive layout, frequently overloaded with HTML components like tables and hyperlinks.
- HTML tags & browser incompatibility. Back then, it was also common for some browsers to have proprietary HTML web tags support, and these were causing serious compatibility issues between websites using these tags and users with unsupported browsers.
- Emailing of HTML forms. There was no other way to provide feedback for users other than by sending a mailto form. A web site visitor had to fill in a form, and upon clicking the form’s submit button, their email client would launch an attempt to send an email containing the form’s details. Because of this complex approach to feedback, some browser developers were forced to include email clients in their browsers.
Web 2.0. Read-Write (2004 – nowadays)
The term “Web 2.0” appeared years before the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 actually happened. In 1999, web designer Darcy DiNucci wrote an article titled “Fragmented Future” that was published in Print Magazine, where he managed to grasp most of the Web 2.0 features known today, such as interactivity, more visual content, more speedy connection technologies, and the internet’s infiltration into mobile phones and TV. However, the term “Web 2.0” gained its popularity only in late 2004, after the first “Web 2.0 Conference”-an invitation-only event that featured many of the most prominent entrepreneurs in the web community – was held in San-Francisco.
Web 2.0 is a better, more enhanced version of its predecessor, and it is referred to as “the participative social Web,” whereas Web 1.0 was known as “the read-only Web.” Web 2.0 is the current generation of the internet as we know it today, where users are not merely consumers, but also creators of content. Web 2.0 made community building, communication, and the rise of social media possible. These are the typical characteristics of Web 2.0:
- Dynamic content. Unlike Web 1.0, where content was static and simply could not respond to user’s input, Web 2.0 has dynamic content, and allows all sorts of interactions, such as blogging, commenting, voting and so on.
- User participation. The distinctive feature of Web 2.0 is an opportunity to create all sorts of content by users themselves: podcasting, memes, vlogging, etc.
- Folksonomy. Web 2.0 offers free information sorting: users can collectively classify and find information and data.
- Software as a service (SaaS). Web 2.0 websites utilize APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to allow automated usage, such as by a Web “app” (software application) or a mashup.
- Accessibility. Web 2.0, unlike Web 1.0, is much more accessible to the general public, and it’s not limited to specific communities.
Web 3.0 explained. The vision & core ideas
Thanks to Web 2.0, users could finally participate and create their own content, and that was achieved mostly due to the bloom of social media, such as Facebook and Youtube. However, the general public is getting more and more concerned about their personal data being harvested and stored by tech giants like Meta or Amazon. Occasional data leaks from these tech giants also do not add optimism. For example, Facebook has gained so much attention due to breaching data privacy laws that it was hit with a $5 billion fine in 2019 – the largest penalty ever issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
So it looks like nowadays the internet, just like during the Web 1.0 days, is mostly controlled by the corporations, and thus we’re facing the tech giants monopoly over the internet. And that is where Web 3.0 marches in, with its next stage of internet evolution, known as “Read-Write-Own”.
Web 3.0 according to Berners-Lee
To put it simply, Web 3.0 is essentially the next generation of the internet. We’re still getting to its fruition, let alone domination, so for now Web 3.0 should be seen more like a vision of a new, more advanced version of the internet where power and control will be transferred from corporations and big tech companies into users’ hands.
It is expected that rather than using web platforms such as social media in exchange for privacy and personal data, users will be able to participate in the operation and governance of these platforms.
Tim Berners-Lee, a pioneer of internet and a CERN engineer whom we’ve already mentioned above, had already discussed some of the key features of Web 3.0 back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, although he never referred to it as “Web 3.0”, but rather as the “Semantic Web”. So the two key features Berners-Lee highlighted back then and which are still applicable today are these ones:
- Decentralization. As Berners-Lee puts it, Web 3.0 will be a place where “no permission is needed from a central authority to post anything on the web, there is no central controlling node, and so no single point of failure and no ‘kill switch’!”
- Open-source and governance. Unlike Web 2.0, Web 3.0, according to Berners-Lee, will have a completely different approach to code and its control: “Instead of code being written and controlled by a small group of experts, it was developed in full view of everyone, encouraging maximum participation and experimentation.”
- Machine learning & AI. Berners-Lee believed that human language would be converted into a format that would be understood by computers, and the future computer programs would be able to perform complex tasks for users. In his vision, the future internet would be a symbiosis of machine learning and artificial intelligence, a “global brain” of some sort that would be completely autonomous and open for everybody.
Web 3.0 according to Gavin Wood
Tim Berners-Lee was not the only one who tried to visualize the next step in the internet’s evolution. Gavin Wood, co-founder of Ethereum and founder of Polkadot coined the premise of Web 3.0 (or Web3) back in 2014, right after Ethereum launch.
Wood believes that modern internet users face a huge problem of “placing all your eggs in one basket”, meaning that modern internet is centralized due to big tech corporations building infrastructure the internet and users rely on, and in case something goes wrong, the service can become unavailable for millions of people.
Another problem is trust. Modern users have to trust the people behind these infrastructures and services, as well as the owners of these services. According to Wood, we have all somewhat “architected the dystopian version of what the world could be”.
What Wood offers is a new step in the internet’s evolution — Web 3.0 — a more democratic and fully decentralized version of the current internet, and blockchain to play a major role in its evolution.
Web3 is supposed to operate as a “trustless” model, meaning you do not put trust in a single third party entity that ensures operability and controls the web service, but rather only in the underlying algorithm. Certainly, that does not fully exclude all the risks, but can presumably minimize them.
Since Web3 is not here yet, there are no standards nor specific characteristics. However, there are some core ideas that have been highlighted by Wood and other crypto experts so far. Let’s take a look at them:
- Decentralization. Most important tenet of Web3 is decentralization. Control of data can be expected to shift from centralized entities and brought back to users of the internet using blockchain technology. For instance, decentralized public ledgers that are managed by the users operating within a particular protocol (e.g. Ethereum or Cardano).
- Trustless & permissionless. Within Web3, participants would be able to interact directly with each other without the need for authorization or permission from the third party that plays the role of the guarantor of the transaction fulfillment. Since there is no middleman between users, Web3 apps are expected to operate on a decentralized peer-to-peer network.
- Native payment. In Web3, cryptocurrency would replace the modern payment processors and obsolete banking infrastructure.
Moreover, the Web3 apps that operate on a specific blockchain might utilize its coin. For instance, apps and services that run on Binance Smart Chain may require BNB currency for users to run these services and apps. However, according to Wood, this might not be forever, and the need for digital currencies might be temporary, and later on the services will be delivered without any payment.
- Equality. Unlike Web 2.0, where a user can be excluded from getting access to content creation and consumption, within Web3 everyone will have an equal access to it regardless.
There is a misconception, however, that during the Wb 1.0 era the internet was a somewhat permissionless and anonymous place with no rules whatsoever. The problem is that there has never been so called Net Neutrality, even during the Web 1.0 phase. The Internet has always had rules, regulations, laws and ownerships. Web3, however, can in theory change the tide and make the internet a truly neutral, anonymous and decentralized place.
Why is Web 3.0 important?
In case you’re still wondering why Web3 is a major milestone in the internet era, here are some of the reasons:
More power to consumers
No permission nor authorization from third parties is needed for consumers to communicate and interact with each other. Thus, community members will be the ones who own and control these communities.
Information exchange, financial transactions, content ownership—all of that will not need a centralized authority. Hence, the users are the ones who are in control and take all the responsibilities for their actions, as well as any consequences.
Moreover, the fact that consumers are the ones who have access to information eliminates the problem of data being transferred and stored by third parties, like today’s Meta, Google, or Amazon, and these tech giants have already gained the reputation of breaching data privacy laws.
We all know that companies like Meta or Google monitor your actions and content and tend to censor users in case their behavior violates the rules that these companies set. So you are obliged to follow the rules, and in the event you don’t, your account and all your created content can be banned, in some cases permanently.
Since Web3 will be built and fully operate on blockchain, it will be you who decides what to create, where to post it, and whether you want to remove your content.
In addition to user accounts, it will be virtually impossible to delete a whole dApp from the blockchain with the same ease as Google or Apple delete apps from their stores.
Just like owning your data in Web3, you can also own a community or a platform as a collective, by utilizing tokens that will act like shares in a company, and thus you can make decisions about their future development. This kind of entity running a community or any other project is called a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization). DAOs will be run by users themselves, and a group of governance token holders will determine how the DAO operates, how funds are used, etc.
Crypto as payment
Monetary transactions all across the internet will be supplemented by cryptocurrency, thus displacing the current homogeneous payment system with banks and various third parties. In the Web 2.0 system, payment infrastructure excludes people who have no bank accounts, or those who are unlucky enough to live within the borders of sanctioned countries. Thus, Web3 can deal with such discrimination and make everyone equal in terms of payment and money transfer.
Another significant advantage of Web3 is the potential for increased user privacy. One of the cornerstone principles of blockchain technology is anonymity, and thanks to this, crypto users can successfully conceal their identities from the general public. Although public addresses are visible on blockchain explorers, it’s not always easy for anyone to identify the wallet owner, aside from government agencies and skilled hackers.
In addition, there are already privacy-focused blockchains like the Secret Network and privacy-focused cryptocurrencies like ZCash, Monero, or Dash that can offer even more discreet payment and communication networks, making it nearly impossible for anyone to define the identities of users.
Criticism of Web3
Just like any other technology, the current state of Web3 has its own share of limitations and risks. Let’s take a look at the most vivid and important ones:
Not yet as user-friendly
Modern Web 2.0 is simple and easy to use. The Web3 might not be as user-friendly at the moment since the technical barrier to entry might be quite high for a general everyday user, and the newcomers will be overwhelmed with not-so-intuitive interfaces, security steps, and so forth.
Certainly, a decentralized internet where users are the ones in control sounds appealing, but this decentralization can work both ways. Since there is no single entity that has authority and control, Web3 might face legal and regulatory risks. In the event that cybercrime happens or hate speech is spread, who will take action and how will it be regulated? Even now, cases of hacking, data theft, and disinformation are difficult to control and resolve, and decentralization will make it even more difficult.
In addition, we still live in a world with borders and countries with various laws, and thus a question arises: which country’s laws would be applicable to a particular website whose content is decentralized?
High volatility of crypto
The crypto world is still far from being at least as stable as the market for bonds and shares. If Web3 plans to utilize cryptocurrencies at their fullest, i.e., use them to replace payment systems or utilize them like shares in the case of DAOs, then there is another problem we’re facing here, and that is crypto volatility. We all witnessed the downfall of Terra’s Luna and UST, and no one can guarantee that something like that will not happen during the Web3 era: what should you do if the tokens you own that serve as a share in the DAO lose value due to depegging or FUD?
Another question is how the current payment systems will be replaced with cryptocurrency. It is hard to believe that bank giants will just silently leave the internet.
Illusion of decentralization
If centralization can be governed and controlled, then who will control the decentralization process, i.e., who will make sure that this process actually works?
There is an opinion that Web3 will only have the “facade” of decentralization and instead will be largely owned by the hedge funds that own large amounts of tokens in the blockchains that sustain it. Furthermore, some experts claim that Web3 is already highly centralized. For instance, research shows that just 0.01% of bitcoin holders control 27% of the currency in circulation.
The same question goes for DAO. For now, it looks like the ownership will belong to those early adopters who will be the first ones to buy large amounts of tokens, and these very few users will be the ones making the calls. That leaves the majority of community members behind, and thus we’ll be facing another type of centralization, which on paper will be described as decentralization.
Web3, in theory, might become an improved version of the internet that aims to make the web space more accessible and decentralized. However, there are still serious challenges with this technology that require figuring out before we can speak of its domination.
Since Gavin Wood first mentioned the term in 2014, we’ve seen a massive increase in interest in the crypto space, advancements in layer 2 scaling solutions, never-ending DeFi experiments, an NFT boom, and so much more.
We are only at the beginning of creating a potentially better and more upstanding internet with Web3, and for now, it looks like we still have a long way to go. Still, as we continue to improve the current crypto and blockchain infrastructures and work on their weak spots, the future of Web3 looks promising. And hey, evolution is inevitable!