Web 3 — more than just crypto
The Web is constantly evolving. Web 1.0, for the first time, made information available to anyone to access with nothing more than an internet connection. Web 2.0 brought tremendous improvements in usability, the richness of experience, and more importantly, turned everyone into a potential content creator.
Thanks to Web 2.0 platforms, we stayed connected with our friends, even during lockdowns, and could order anything from wall art to hardware wallets from the comfort of our living room — Delivered straight to our door. What's not to love?
The downside of the convenient Web 2.0 we're enjoying is that we're constantly tracked. Google knows our most intimate worries, Instagram (or is it also now Meta?) knows that you've been stalking your ex, and Amazon knows all the things you've ordered. All this information together gives them a reasonably accurate idea of what you might be likely to buy, which is what advertisers pay for.
Our data is harvested and monetized without any benefits to ourselves. Consumers are slowly waking up to the implications; as an IRS survey indicates, only 17% of participants found personalized ads ethical.
In recent weeks, we're seeing Big Tech starting to hijack a term that's been used by crypto enthusiasts for a while: Web 3. Microsoft is planning to establish Excel tribes (VFOOKUP)in it, and Facebook's rebranding is trying to turn it back into a cool, Metaverse company.
Note: Web 3.0 is not the same as Web3. Web 3.0 refers more to the semantic web as envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee, whereas the focus of Web3 really is on building a better, more decentralized version of the internet.
That's not the Web 3 we meant, nor the one we want to see come to fruition.
The Semantic Web
Even before Bitcoin, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, spoke of a new iteration of the Web (3.0), which he coined the Semantic Web. When talking of the Semantic Web, he referred to a version of the Web that is more open, smarter, and more autonomous. All the things that our current Web 2.0 has lost.
Semantic is a term from linguistics that is defined as “relating to the meanings of words or phrases.”
In the semantic Web, machines would process content in humanlike ways and enhance user experience and connectivity. This semantic Web hasn't entirely happened yet. Ten years ago, we might have thought that by now, AI would be able to communicate and completely understand humans, but we're not there yet.
How would a machine know the difference between Jaguar (the car) and Jaguar (the animal)? For us, when used in a conversation, it'll be obvious, but for a machine, it's not. Building AI that grasps these taxonomies and concepts on every word is complicated. Just ask the team at IBM how it's going with their AI assistant Watson.
So if Web 3 is not the semantic Web as envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee, what is it?
Features of Web 3
Web 3, despite having been mentioned over a decade ago, still is not a clearly defined term. Britannica features an article on Web 2.0 that refers to Web 3.0 but lacks an article on it. A pattern repeated across other encyclopedias.
While there might not be a unified definition yet, Web 3 has a set of features that set it apart. Crypto plays a significant role in Web 3 , but it's a lot more than just value transfer.
- Open: The new Web is built from scratch on open-source software. That means anyone can develop on top of it, contribute, propose changes and add new features. The entire development cycle happens in plain sight — a level of transparency unheard of by Web 2.0 companies.
Interesting fact: In 2021 100% of the top 500 supercomputers are running on Linux, an open-source operating system
- Trustless: Web 3 is a network that allows users to interact trustlessly -without a need to disclose their identity. They can choose to interact privately or in public. Instead of trusting one party explicitly, trust is now placed implicitly into all nodes holding up the network.
- Permissionless: In 2020, India shut down access to the internet for millions of its citizens 109 times — despite an increase in demand triggered by the pandemic. Media Outlets such as the New York Times are blocked for Chinese citizens, and Social Media Platforms tend to censor accounts that they find critical. The new Web 3 is the complete opposite. Anyone can participate without any authorization whatsoever from governing bodies or other traditional gatekeepers.
- Ubiquitous connectivity: This is the part where the semantic Web comes into play again. It can be seen as a part of Web 3 — the part in which information is more connected thanks to semantic metadata. Data can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, without relying on centralized cloud providers such as AWS or GCP.
- 3D graphics: Three-dimensional designs will create a more realistic engaging cyber-world (also dubbed the Metaverse) that creates new business opportunities and could blur the lines between the real and the digital world.
Trustless, permissionless, open — sounds like Blockchain? Yes, it is. Blockchain will be the backbone of Web 3, among other technological components.
What powers Web 3?
Chris Dixon, General Partner at az16, believes that Web 3 is just around the corner (Source). This is primarily down to the technological advancements we've made in the last few years. Web 3 relies heavily on Edge Computing, Blockchain, and AI & Machine Learning.
In 2019, every second, 127 new devices were connected to the internet for the first time. We don't just have smartphones anymore. We have entire smart homes now. All these devices create a tremendous amount of data. The traditional approach to analyzing such data would be to send it to a centralized data center. However, Web 3 is pushing computing to the edge of the network.
Edge Computing works on a decentralized approach by processing data closer to the point where it's generated. Already by 2025, 75% of data will be processed outside the traditional data center or cloud, according to Gartner's estimates.
Processing data on your device is great but even more vital in combination with the next component of Web 3: Blockchain & tokens.
Blockchain & Tokenization
Public, permissionless blockchains underpin Web 3 and enable data generators for the first time to be fully in control over the data. Similar to how edge computing pushes the act of computing to the edge of the network, tokenization empowers participants at the margin.
Suddenly, it's not the Big Tech platforms in control anymore, but all the individuals making up the network. With Tokens, every user gains property rights to the things they purchase and create online. Non-fungible tokens are a perfect fit for unique assets and IDs.
Cryptocurrencies, as natively digital currencies that function without a central entity controlling their supply, are the payment network for Web 3. With cryptocurrencies, users can transfer value without the need for middlemen, often at a fraction of the cost of using centralized institutions.
AI & Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are already employed by most Web 2.0 platforms today. Just think of the LinkedIn chat that suggests answers to your messages. These are generated based on machine learning, AI use in everyday life. While sometimes far off, at times it’s quite convenient to be able to just click on “Thanks, you too”, instead of typing it all out.
On Web 3 AI will play a role in making this version of the web more intelligent, and powerful in regards to processing information. It will enable machines to better interpret what the meaning behind data is, and deliver a smarter user experience. Accessing data on top of decentralized structures could provide powerful predictions on things that go way beyond targeted advertising into areas like drug design and climate modeling. We already see companies like Ocean protocol explore ways to train AI without exposing the underlying data owner’s privacy.
Together, these technologies build the backbone of Web 3. At this point, we’re just scratching the surface of Web 3, but it could bring vast improvements once truly established.
Why we want Web 3
So far you might wonder, what the benefits are that Web 3 will bring along, and why we should care.
- Disintermediation: no more paying to rent-seeking middlemen, no more reliance on Big Tech for your livelihood, or even just your social life
- Resilience: A truly decentralized Web 3 built on the back of blockchain can’t be shut down.
- Access: Regardless of gender, income, and demographics, anyone will be able to access Web 3. You won’t need a government-issued ID to access Web 3 services. Your decentralized ID (your history on Web 3.0) becomes your ID.
- Power to the people: your data is going to be yours on Web 3. Instead of being tracked down, organizations will come to you and offer to pay you to access your data. You will be able to monetize assets you previously couldn’t. With Brave, we already see how this could play out in advertising. You get paid to watch ads; your attention is valuable.
Overall, Web 3 tackles many of the problems we face when interacting with Web 2.0, where we’re often the product and not in control of what happens with our data. Web 3 will entirely shift how we think and interact with web services. It’s a more human-centric Web, with native money that enables anyone to start entering transactional relationships with others all over the world.
For Web 3 to deliver on the above benefits, we must build it on truly decentralized networks. Networks in which everyone is equal, and no one player has the power to shut others down. There is no space for big conglomerates in Web 3 unless they give up control.
Web 3, when done correctly, could be a return to the original web. A web where “no permission is needed from a central authority to post anything…there is no central controlling node, and so no single point of failure…and no “kill switch” (Tim Berners-Lee, 2021).