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WorkMatters

Week 5, 2022—Issue #189

Web 1–2–3: Decentralized, Consolidated, and Democratized

Photo by Lucas Hoang on Unsplash

Each week: three ideas on the future of work and organization. This week: three ideas that define Web 1, 2, and 3. (Originally published in the WorkMatters newsletter on Feb 4, 2022).

I don’t know about you but I’ve found this whole Web3 thing to be more than a little confusing.

There’s no agreed-upon definition, meaning there are as many takes on the subject as there are takers.

But there is a cohesive narrative to be had. Seeing it requires that we take a step back to discern the forest from the trees:

Web 1.0: Static, Decentralized

The Internet — Web 1.0 — dates back to the 1990s. It had a compelling vision. Defined by openness and decentralization, the Internet promised to place the world’s information at our fingertips. And for the most part, it did — at least in the developed world. It was static and read-only, but services like Altavista and Geocities allowed anyone to search and share information more or less freely.

2. Web 2.0: Dynamic, Consolidated

The next evolution of the Internet arrived 20 years later — in the early-2000s. Web 2.0 introduced the ability to not just search and share, but also to interact. User-generated content arrived, and with it a completely new publishing dynamic. Web 2.0 consolidated power in the hands of a few so-called platform businesses — companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon who now dominate the web.

Web 3: Semantic, Democratized

Fast forward another 20 years and we’ve reached another milestone. Web3 represents the next evolution of the Internet, but it’s still unclear exactly what that entails. Ask 10 people and you’ll get 11 answers that all make reference to the Semantic Web, IoT, blockchain and crypto, and/or the metaverse. But it’s all noise. Fundamentally, Web3 is about democratization and a return to the ideals of Web 1.0. Technology is just a means to that end.

Web 2.0 has defined much of my professional life and it’s… interesting, if a bit disconcerting, to think about it as a temporary glitch — a diversion that would take 20+ years to correct. The Web was always meant to be open, transparent, and decentralized. Power was never meant to be consolidated in the hands of the few. It was meant to be democratized. And that is what Web3 is all about: a decentralized Internet where users become owners.

That’s all for this week.
Until next time: Make it matter.

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