Years ago, society envisioned a future with flying cars, robot pets, and tons of other gizmos and gadgets that seemed like science fiction. As creators and inventors continue to deliver on these visions, much of what we imagined is coming to fruition.
Yet while the first flying car is getting ready to hit the sky, there's another technological advancement that has the potential to change society: Web3.
Cool! What's Web3 again
You've probably heard plenty of chatter recently about Web3, but if you're still confused about what it exactly is, don't worry because a lot of people are still trying to define it clearly. However, in very high-level terms, Web3 – the latest internet iteration – is a decentralized online network built and established through the blockchain
With Web3, there's no central authority or governing bodies controlling the platforms or apps. Put another way, corporations aren't collecting, hoarding, and monetizing the data of a user who wants to participate in a Web3 service or app. Users can instead engage and interact on Web3 platforms without exchanging their data for access. Additionally, complete transparency and trust are built into the services, with all data and updates stored on the blockchain.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for explaining Web3. Looking at what came before Web3 is the best way to understand this new phase of the internet.
Before Web3, there was Web2... and Web1
Web 1, or the first version of the World Wide Web, appeared on our computers during the 90s. Compared to what we are used to today, it was a primitive form of the internet comprised of old-school landing pages that seemed to take forever to load (dial tones, anyone?).
Another defining factor of the original internet was the lack of an engaging user experience; reading text and viewing static images was essentially all that was available for people browsing the internet.
The three stages of the web so far.
What came along next was Web2, or the internet as we know it today. It's the internet where we give up our data to major corporations to use their services.
It's a centralized web, meaning that a large portion of online activity occurs on closed platforms run by these monopolistic corporations like Snapchat, Meta, Alphabet Inc., which the federal government regulates.
Of course, Web2 isn't all bad (where would we be without TikTok and Tinder?), but much of the public is suspect of the data collection carried out by these tech overlords, and there's a growing movement of people looking to reclaim control of their online experience.
More on what makes Web3 different
Web3 is ushering in an entirely new way people participate on the internet. There are many surface-level differences plus more nuanced distinctions compared to the previous versions of the internet.
Still, one of the main reasons for this revolutionary shift to Web3 is building a new internet that focuses on decentralization. It's here where the different forms of the web start to branch out and where Web3 can potentially change the structure of the internet.
Centralized vs. decentralized vs. distributed
More on decentralization
According to a very enlightening article by Vitalik Buterin, there are three "axis" of decentralization that comprise Web3 technologies and platforms:
- Architectural decentralization - the number of physical computers running the system. In the case of decentralization, there's a vast network of computers rather than a centralized server.
- Political decentralization - the number of individuals controlling the computers and the platforms. Again, with Web3, control is not relegated to one governing body but distributed amongst users.
- Logical decentralization - "Does the interface and data structures that the system presents look more like a single monolithic object, or an amorphous swarm?"
These components of a decentralized Web3 are supposed to create a more egalitarian online experience controlled by peer-to-peer networks. This new structure will, in theory, redistribute control of data that corporations and governing bodies have on Web 2.
What this means for Web3
Without the gatekeepers and big businesses, another essential factor about decentralization and Web3 is that users play a significant role in creating protocol and determining the direction of platforms and apps. While this can be a huge advantage in some ways, it can also be costly in others, but we'll touch more on that later.
A decentralized network run on peer-to-peer interactions also produces transactions that don't require an intermediary. The lack of a middleman combined with user ownership of data and content creates the ideal environment for users to monetize their data and content.
In many ways, crypto and NFT enthusiasts have Web3 and decentralization to thank because digital ownership may not have ever been possible without it. Yet despite these seemingly endless advantages to Web 1, Web 2, and a centralized network, Web3 still isn't perfect.
Issues with Web3 and decentralization
Web3 and decentralization aren't without their faults and criticisms. Plus, there are some advantages that Web 2 currently has on the existing Web3 infrastructure.
For one, the centralized networks of Web 2 processes code changes and transactions faster than Web3 does. As Ethereum puts it, "Changes to state, like a payment, need to be processed by a miner and propagated throughout the network." A centralized platform can spread information to the entire network rapidly, whereas decentralization may require significant time for data to reach all parts of the network.
A slow network can range from being annoying to disastrous at times. Take hackers robbing a DAO, for example. Internet thieves can hack into a DAOs treasury and start funneling money out of the collective account. All DAO members need to agree on the code change to stop the hack, which can be slow and extremely costly.
A typical model that's seen throughout society.
Another criticism that's often attached to Web3 and decentralized platforms is that they are centralized and have hierarchies. In other words, while a Web3 platform may say that everyone has an equal voice in governance, there is often someone who has the final say over others.
Apart from this, perhaps the most significant hurdle Web3 faces is the learning curve. From understanding the vocabulary to using the actual software, the newness of the technology is evident, and people are still working on adapting to the changes.
Critiques aside, investors are still dumping money into Web3 related projects, and enthusiasm for its potential is only growing.
Where will Web3 take us?
While Web3 has been instrumental in developing NFTs, the metaverse, and even cryptocurrencies, it's still hard to determine how far this new phase of the internet can go.
What is guaranteed is that energy and resources will continue to pour into developing Web3 technologies. You can bet your favorite NFT that significant advancements are right around the corner.