The Internet is an important part of modern life. Indeed, it would be difficult to understand our lives without it, especially in recent times when a global pandemic has forced most of us to use the online world, perhaps more urgently than ever before, to meet our professional, communication, educational, financial, and recreational needs. Just as our dependence on the Web has grown over the past 30 years, the Web itself has undergone a series of dramatic changes during that time. And now the next stage of its evolution is clearly visible.
To date, we’ve seen two major iterations of the Web. The first, Web 1.0, emerged in the early days of the Internet in the late 1980s and consisted of static, read-only Web pages created by relatively few actors. It was undoubtedly a major step forward in allowing anyone in the world to access published content. Users could read and browse these websites, but could not interact with them further. In the absence of search tools, navigating the World Wide Web (WWW) was not as easy as we know it today.
However, since about 2010, the newest paradigm of the Internet, Web 3.0, has been steadily developing. Web 3.0, also known as the decentralized web, is the latest generation of web applications and services based on distributed ledger technology, the most popular of which is blockchain. However, it is not a new concept. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, predicted that this version of the Internet, which he called the Semantic Web, would be more open, more intelligent and more autonomous.
In fact, Web 3.0 focuses on connecting data in a decentralized way rather than storing it in central repositories, and computers can interpret information as intelligently as humans. This means that artificial intelligence (AI) will play a key role in making this version of the Internet smarter and more efficient in terms of information processing. Ultimately, this will allow machines to more accurately interpret the meaning or semantics of data to provide users with a more intelligent experience.
The development of Web 3.0 was at least partially influenced by the shortcomings of Web 2.0 and Web 1.0. The accumulation of power and control in centralized institutions was perhaps the most glaring example of these shortcomings, and remains so today. “The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 had far-reaching consequences. It led to a collapse of confidence in many institutions: commercial banks whose business practices caused the crisis, central banks that failed to anticipate it, and governments that failed to effectively manage the crisis or hold the most irresponsible and negligent people accountable.” – wrote MakerDAO, creator of the popular stablecoin instrument DAI, in April 2020. “The disadvantages of centralized power were becoming increasingly obvious, as were the possibilities of technology.”
The decentralized architecture of Web 3.0 seeks to address these concerns by addressing issues arising from such problems, such as user trust, privacy and transparency. By using decentralized blockchain networks of nodes capable of validating cryptographically secure transactions, there is no need for a single central entity as the source of truth. Instead, self-executing smart contracts can be used that eliminate the need for third-party involvement.
Of course, recognizing the urgent need for Web 3.0 also means recognizing how important decentralization has become. “Since Web 3.0 networks will operate through decentralized protocols – the cornerstones of blockchain and cryptocurrency technology – we can expect strong convergence and symbiosis between these three technologies and other areas,” said popular cryptocurrency site CoinMarketCap. “They will be interoperable, seamlessly integrated, automated through smart contracts, and transform everything from microtransactions in Africa to uncensored P2P data storage and sharing, to applications like Filecoin, to the complete transformation of any business doing and running its business.”
Many expect that in Web 2.0, large centralized organizations that provide services and access to their platforms in exchange for monetizing users’ personal data and the profits they make from it, will move to decentralized applications that allow users to participate without monetizing their data in Web 3.0. Instead of owning the data, it is shared, with different applications and services displaying different views of the same data. And perhaps most importantly, users regain ownership and control of their personal data.
These user benefits will have a significant impact in areas such as social networking, where control of personal data has been repeatedly compromised. “Today’s Internet is an oligopolistic market. The existing social networking giants are not only making huge profits by monopolizing users’ social identities and social data, but they are also changing the rules of the game, losing the openness that the Internet was originally design for,” Carl Huang, a member of the autonomous, decentralize organization Follow – the first decentralize community protocol designed for Web 3.0 – recently told blockchain and cryptocurrency publication Coin Telegraph. Follow’s blockchain-based community protocol aims to give users full control over their own identity and community data. “Openness and sharing are fundamental principles of the Internet. Whether building Web 3.0 or creating a large-scale maker economy in the metaverse, we need new social infrastructures that embody the fundamental requirements of the Internet. The creation of the Follow protocol is an effort based on this call.”
Three-dimensional (3D) graphics will also be a key component of Web 3.0, and many predict that this version of the Internet will be a “spatial” network in which digital information exists in space and is inextricably link to the physical world. The convergence of key technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, 5G networks, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain will lay the foundation for a 3D web that will eventually blur the boundaries between digital content and the physical world. We are already seeing the first successful 3D designs on websites and in applications such as online games, museum guides and real estate tours.
The Internet of Things will also be key to the ubiquity of Web 3.0, as many new smart devices will connect to the web and access content in this way. This could mean that with this vast network of Internet-connected devices, anyone will eventually be able to access the Internet at any time.
Of course, we have not yet reached the stage of full implementation of this new generation of the Internet, although it has been in development for more than 10 years. The limitations that still exist, particularly in terms of data storage and computing power, mean that scalability is a major challenge for Web 3.0. Indeed, blockchain technology is still struggling with scalability issues, although it increasingly seems that it will be a question of when, rather than if, it will be able to overcome these current obstacles.
Furthermore, it seems highly unlikely that these massive centralized entities, such as governments and multinational corporations, will simply relinquish control of the data that generates their profits. In some cases, this data is their lifeblood and therefore gaining control over it will not be easy.
However, with the colossus of decentralization in full swing, the opportunity for individuals to take control of the few corporate giants that control the Internet seems closer than ever. And a fairer and more transparent online world awaits us all.