Web 3.0, or Web3, has a lot of people in the tech world buzzing with excitement. Web 3.0 is not a single technology, but rather, a new era of the internet that many tech experts expect or hope to see come to life in the near future. In a nutshell, Web 3.0 is a potential version of the internet where control no longer lies in the hands of a handful of tech giants.
The key principles of Web 3.0 are:
- Self-Sovereign Identity
We’ll dive into these shortly but first, let’s go backwards to explain Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. That way you’ll understand the foundations that Web 3.0 sets out to build upon.
What was Web 1.0?
When most people talk about Web 1.0 they’re referring to the early period of the internet from about 1990 to about 2004. At this time, pages on the internet were static, or ‘read only.’ Users did not interact with web pages as they do today by entering information, customizing content, or contributing to sites owned by other users. Since pages were not interactive or customizable, any two users viewing the same webpage would see the same content before them.
Characteristics of Web 1.0:
What is Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 generally refers to the boom in interactivity, customization, and user-generated content that came about in the 2000’s. Web 2.0 took off around 2004 and is still in place today. While this term was coined in 1999, by Darcy DiNucci, it gained traction in 2004 at the first Web 2.0 Summit.
With Web 2.0, two users may enter the exact same URL but see different content based on their personal information and preferences. A few examples include:
- User A and User B both have Twitter accounts but they follow different Twitter users in accordance with their interests. When User A loads the Twitter news feed they see tweets from Cardi B and Justin Bieber. When User B loads the Twitter news feed they see tweets from CNN and Time Magazine
- User A subscribes to the New York Times, while User B does not. User A loads a digital article on the New York Times website and sees a news story. When User B loads the same page, they instead see a pay wall suggesting that they subscribe to the New York Times.
- User A is a parent of young children and User B is a high school student. When User A loads a webpage they see an ad for children’s vitamins. When User B visits the same page they see an ad for an online tutoring service.
A key component of Web 2.0 is user data. This is the information that allows web pages, digital ads, and social media content to be so specifically tailored to each user. Some user data is actively supplied by the user, like when you ‘like’ a page on Facebook or enter your age on a profile page. Other data is guessed at by algorithms that use your most visited web pages, search queries and location data to make assumptions about what type of person you may be.
The element of Web 2.0 that has received the most back-lash as of late is the consolidation of control in the hands of just a few large tech companies. When users want to enter a search query, more than 90% of them will enter it into Google’s search bar. This means that Google has serious sway over what webpages are delivered to users seeking answers to questions, products for purchase, or access to services.
When a user wants to share an opinion with the world via social media, their options are also limited. The social media platforms with the most users are Facebook (nearly 3 million users), YouTube (about 2.3 million), and Instagram (about 1.4 million). YouTube is owned by Google and Instagram is owned by Facebook, meaning that just two companies are able to control what content millions of users see or don’t see.
The next runner-up is WeChat or Weixin with about 1.25 million users. However, 98.5% of WeChat users are in China, where there is almost no use of the previous three platforms – all three are blocked by the government. This means that WeChat has a similar level of information control except in a different pool of users.
Characteristics of Web 2.0
- Social Media
- User-Generated Content
- Dynamic Content
- Algorithms ‘Decide’ What Content to Serve
- Dominance of Tech Giants
- Collection of User Data
- Content Unique to Each User
What is Web 3.0? Why are people excited about it?
In Web 2.0, companies like Facebook, Google, and WeChat use algorithms and user data to ‘decide’ what content to serve to each user. This is where Web 3.0 comes in. Proponents of Web 3.0 dislike that a small number of companies have influence over the content that more than 90% of web users see. There is some controversy here. Large tech companies say that they don’t use this to their advantage to pick and choose content. However, the fact is that if these companies did want to remove or amplify particular content, they could easily do so. People in the tech community want to develop a Web 3.0 where large companies do not have such power.
However, no one wants to go back to the days of Web 1.0 where the internet was static and content was limited. Ideally, Web 3.0 will be an environment filled with interactivity, communication, transactions, and more but content is not managed by large companies.
How Will Web 3.0 Work?
So, how is this done? Large companies have come to dominate the internet because they are good at what they do and technologically advanced. Does the internet have any future without them?
For most Web 3.0 proponents the answer lies in blockchain. Blockchain is a way of storing data that does not rely on one single entity like Google or Amazon to uphold its infrastructure. Instead, it is stored in a decentralized way across many different users’ storage. Current applications of blockchain today are cryptocurrency and smart contracts. On Web 3.0, blockchains might store data about user identities, content publishing, content preferences, transaction history, and more. You can learn more about how blockchain works from our Beginner’s Guide to Blockchain post.
Web 3.0 Technologies
Blockchain is not the only technology involved in Web 3.0. AI and machine learning are also important elements since they help shift operations away from human decision makers. Tied in with blockchain technology are NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. These act as digital proof of ownership or authenticity that are kept track of using blockchain technology. In an unregulated Web 3.0, NFTs could be used to lend credibility to users and content that are not backed by a third party – kind of like a Twitter blue checkmark, without the need for Twitter.
Decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, also play a role in Web 3.0. DAOs are organizations that use blockchain technology in place of any human management or administration. Even public internet forums have admin members that establish and enforce rules. In DAOs, this work is done by coded programs. DAOs can exist for a range of purposes, from social media to crowdfunding to community groups.
Another core technology that may be used in Web 3.0 is self-sovereign identity. With the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, most of us developed an online identity made up of our social media accounts and user data. These identities are useful because they allow us to interact with others, save our favorite content, and participate in financial transactions. As it stands, our online identities are authenticated by third parties in the form of a username and account. Companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter authenticate our identities. Proponents of Web 3.0 want to use self-sovereign identity as a workaround to eliminate the need for these third parties. A solution is, again, to use blockchain technology to store and authenticate SSI data.
Web 3.0 is still in its infancy, as evidenced by the fact that nearly 100% of the internet is still controlled by a handful of large corporations. However, as more people in the tech world develop an interest in decentralization and democratization of the internet, more technologies will likely be developed to aid in the development of Web 3.0. There’s no telling exactly what’s to come. For now, we’ll be keeping an eye out on developments in the area.