Every few years, some new terms come around associated with tech due to the continuous technological advancements and innovations. About a decade ago, it was the Cloud and Big Data; Suddenly, everything was on the Cloud, and everyone was doing whatever they were doing with Big Data. Then, with Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning came along to dominate the discussions. After AI and ML, Data Science and Business Intelligence became two dominant words in every debate. More recently, starting from early 2021, although this term was coined long ago with many different interpretations, we started hearing more about the terms Blockchain, Metaverse, and Web 3.0. I will leave the Metaverse Buzzword for another article. So, What is Web 3.0?
Up until a few days ago, I thought that I had a reasonable understanding of what Web 3.0 entails. After doing some research to get some ideas to prepare for this article, I realized that there are way too many different definitions, and the more I read, the more confused I became. Of course, you will not find an official report of this term in any encyclopedia. In this article, I will focus on the term as was coined by Polkadot Founder and Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood.
Many of the different definitions may include Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning, Ubiquity in Spatial Web, and 3D Graphics. All these technologies will play a significant role in the future. I am not going to argue against the criticality and importance of these technologies or doubt their presence in the future of the Web. I would instead focus on what will cause a paradigm shift in how we, as users or actors, are interacting with the Web. What will change our role in the future highly integrated Web – the Decentralized Web.
Before jumping into Web 3.0, let’s see what the other two Webs are defined and why we need the third iteration.
Web 1.0 – Static Web
The Web was initially conceived and developed to make information-sharing more automated between scientists across universities and institutes worldwide. Certainly, with time, more and more ordinary people like you and I could access the Web. However, the capabilities were minimal.
For many years, the initial version of the Web was just about something like the Wikipedia we have today. People could go online to read information and navigate from page to page. It was not as easy to search for information or interact with others online as we can today. The users were passively engaged with the Web, the information was static, and the users were Consumers of information.
Web 2.0 – Interactive Web
As the technology evolved, it gave us the tools and infrastructure that we could use to build more advanced tools accessible from the Web. Online Marketplaces allow us to sell and buy goods to/from all around the world. Advancements in search engines allowed us to access and find information quickly. Social Media networks allow us to talk with our loved ones instantly, even if we are in different parts of the globe. We stopped being passive consumers of information but rather had a more interactive relationship with the Web.
Content creators came along, and everyone has been creating content, sharing his expertise, and even building businesses online. Users as content creators, coupled with the many internet-enabled devices, and the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), created an enormous amount of data. A massive amount of data and considerable opportunities for new businesses and experiences. Even if you are not a content creator, as we know the term today, you are still contributing to the Web with any actions that you take. With the searches you make, with the pictures you like, all the way with your every movement (from smart devices).
So, why do we need another Web? Isn’t it great to have all these incredible “free” services? We gave up our privacy at the expense of getting “free” services, and we all became the product. “If you are not paying for the product, you are the product”; have you heard that before? We get “free” services in exchange for our data. This allowed the centralization of power to a few big organizations which are using our data to influence our decisions. With our data, some organizations were even able to influence the national elections of some very powerful nations.
All these Smart devices you are using are giving away data, most of the time without even your consent. Have you ever gotten out of the bus and then suddenly your “free” maps navigation tool asked you, “How was your ride with bus 13? Was it crowded?”. Maybe not, if there are no buses in your area. How about chatting with your friend about your plans on traveling to Asia, and after a few seconds, you get an Advertisement on your screen about the great offers a company X offers for Asia?
That’s Web 2.0. The Web, which dramatically improved our quality of life, gave us great tools, services, and made our relationship with the Web more interactive. For this, in exchange for our privacy, and centralization of power.
What is Web 3.0? – The Decentralized Web
Web 3.0 is the Web envisioned to solve the shortcomings of Web 2.0. The Web will give us our privacy back, give us control of what we are supposed to own. Let us choose when and how someone should use our data. Web 3.0 is making a shift away from Centralization to Decentralization.
Decentralization will allow us to collectively create and use the technology the way we want to. Actively participate in the decision-making processes associated with the direction the technology may take; through the Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO) and Decentralized Governance. Make the Web more open and transparent, through open source technology and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT).
Let’s see some examples. Think about Social Media. Today, you need to provide your personal information to create an account. If you choose not to, most likely, the company will decide to block your account. Then you start using the platform by creating content and sharing your experience with your friends and family. The Social Media platform owns all this information and data that you produce. Subsequently, they use your data to create Advertisements targeting you. The platform decides how to visualize the data, what new features to add or remove, and whether to block your account or not. If you are making a living out of it (like some do), then your future and your life’s work depend on this one centralized organization.
Then how would that work in Web 3.0? You won’t necessarily have to give your personal information to start using a decentralized social media platform. You will plug in your wallet and start using it. No one can prevent you from doing so. The data generated from your interactions with the platform are recorded in an encrypted format on a distributed ledger technology (like a blockchain). Only you can decide to whom to give access to your data. You may choose to donate your data to a project (that you share the same values), or even monetize your data by providing them to the advertisement agencies. You will also be able to actively participate in the decentralized governance that decides the platform’s future direction. You can have a say on what feature is added or removed from the platform. No one can block your account.
Similarly, Decentralization can be applicable in many industries. It may sound like a fairytale in theory, and time will tell whether this is the right direction and what is envisioned for Web 3.0 can be applicable and sustainable in practice. In any case, you are the owner of your data, and you choose if you want to donate them, monetize them or let someone have access to them.
Web 3.0 is a term used today, with a vague interpretation that changes meaning depending on who uses it and in which context. Due to the rise in popularity of Blockchain Technology and Cryptocurrencies, this term became more and more associated with these technologies and Decentralization.
These technologies are still in a very early stage, and even at an earlier stage are the decentralized applications built on top of them. Blockchain and Decentralization are not a silver bullet to every problem we face. We have already started seeing a lot of misuses of these technologies, with billions of funds being stolen and with no controls in place to identify the suspects.
The Decentralized Web – Web 3.0 – as envisioned, with a lot of work and positive will, can help us get our identity back and allow us to trade and interact with each other in a rather trustless world.