The emergence of blockchain-based technologies such as cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the metaverse, blockchain, and distributed ledger technology seems to herald a new era of the Internet. A more transparent and open version of the Internet is collectively controlled by users rather than technological monopolies like Google and Facebook.
Some experts believe that the decentralized web, also known as Web 3.0, will enhance transparency and democratization in the digital world. Web 3.0 could create a decentralized digital ecosystem where users could own and control every aspect of their digital presence. Some believe it will put an end to existing centralized systems that encourage the exploitation of personal data and privacy violations.
The Concepts and Conflicts that Gave Birth to Web 3.0
Tim Berners-Lee coined the term ‘Semantic Web’ in 1999 to describe an evolved version of the existing internet that would be primarily controlled by ‘intelligent agents,’ which are machines capable of processing content in a human-like manner. In the May 2001 article in Scientific American titled ‘The Semantic Web,’ Berners-Lee and others describe this vision as ‘an extension of the current Web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation.’
Recent developments indicate that Web 3.0 might not be identical to the Semantic Web proposed by Tim Berners-Lee, but it has been described as a step forward towards open, trustless, and permissionless networks.
When Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web, he envisioned it as an open information hub, a universal space not controlled by any central authority, so that anyone could access it without any permission. Some experts suggest that Web 3.0 is a return to the original idea of the internet imagined by Tim Berners-Lee.
More than 30 years have passed since the emergence of the World Wide Web, and the internet has gone through various stages of development during this period. There isn’t a classical definition of Web 3.0, but by tracing these stages, you can get an idea of how Web 3.0 could shape the future of the internet experience.
Web 1.0 – The Era of Read-Only
This is the first version of the internet, which was created in 1989. This initial Internet was primarily composed of web pages connected by hyperlinks. It was also known as the ‘read-only web’ as it wasn’t significantly interactive, and most user input was done offline. Individual web pages were static pages hosted by Internet service providers on web servers. People mainly used Web 1.0 to read information, get updates, and engage in linear text-based chat. Surprisingly, running ads was prohibited.
Web 2.0 emerged around 1999, following the rise of social media platforms, digital advertising, blogs, and other services that allowed users to interact with the internet. Web 2.0 refers to a shift in how the internet is used rather than specific technical improvements to the internet. The internet transitioned from a read-only platform to a content creation and interactive experience platform.
The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 popularized mobile internet access, enabling us to stay connected at all times. Web 2.0, on the other hand, means that in addition to allowing us to add information to the web, the web also collects information about us. It can track our location, shopping habits, financial transactions, and more.
There’s no doubt that during this period, the internet became more useful, interactive, and integral to our lives, but it also led to centralization of the web.
It facilitated new modes of organization and connection with others, as well as increased collaboration. However, it created new opportunities for online harassment, cyberbullying, doxing, spreading misinformation, identity theft, and other crimes.
Some attribute this phenomenon to the fact that the majority of internet services we use today are owned by tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook. Users have little control over how their data is used, and many allegations have been made against these multibillion-dollar companies, as well as numerous smaller internet-based companies, claiming they manipulate users, profit from their data, and pose a serious threat to democracy and freedom of expression.
While Facebook has contested Ms. Haugen’s claims, it’s not the first time big tech companies have been held accountable for their actions. Several reports have surfaced about Amazon’s overly aggressive business practices, privacy violations by Facebook, and Google’s use of artificial intelligence, all raising serious concerns about the security of Web 2.0.
This is also why many blockchain technology experts believe that Web 3.0 will be a safer and more essential version of the internet.
Web 3.0 : The Internet Of Tomorrow
In 2006, New York Times journalist John Markoff coined the term ‘Web 3.0’. Web 3.0 is, in many ways, a return to the concept of Berners-Lee’s Semantic Web, in which no permission from a central authority is required, and no central control nodes exist.
While Web 2.0 was fueled by the advancements of mobile internet, social networks, and cloud computing, Web 3.0 will be fueled by new types of technological innovation such as edge computing, decentralized data networks, blockchain, and artificial intelligence.
Though we haven’t yet witnessed a complete transition to Web 3.0, tech experts and blockchain enthusiasts have made promising predictions about what the future of the internet could look like. Here are a few examples of these intriguing hypotheses:
Web 3.0 might be seen as an extension of various aspects of Web 2.0. Just as developers can now combine two or more applications, users will be able to combine different programs and services in Web 3.0 to customize their web usage.
Currently, a user obtains information from various servers and databases located in different parts of the world via the internet. Surprisingly, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft collectively own over half of these data centers. In Web 3.0, data will be stored on decentralized cloud networks and self-storage units. Therefore, Web 3.0 won’t rely on centralized data centers to provide information to users. However, developing such a powerful decentralized data storage system is a significant challenge in itself.
Web 3.0 will also have a different approach to internet search. Similar to the personalized ads and feeds you see on Facebook and YouTube, the Web 3.0 search engine will offer personalized results for each user based on their preferences and needs, thanks to advanced AI. So, if a meat eater and a vegetarian both type ‘Best nearby restaurants’ in the search bar, they’ll get different results based on their preferences. Of course, this implies that algorithms will learn even more about us.
As a user of Web 3.0, you’ll have a unique identity that enables you to access all your assets, data, and services and control them without having to log into a platform or seek permission from a specific service provider. You’ll have free internet access wherever you are and be the sole owner of your digital assets.
Users will be able to engage with a broader range of 3D environments in addition to experiencing the internet on a 2D screen. You could visit the VR 3D version of any historical place you’ve searched for from anywhere, play games while being in the game as a 3D player, and try on clothes on your virtual self before purchasing. Web 3.0 would also allow you to spend time in an immersive 3D metaverse where you could collect or buy virtual goods. In short, by combining VR, AR, the Semantic Web, and AI, Web 3.0 could offer you more opportunities for interaction with the virtual world than Web 2.0.
No one knows when we’ll see a true Web 3.0, but some online communities, such as the Web3 Foundation, Ethereum Network, Polkadot, and others, are currently working on various projects to bring Web 3.0 to life.
However, experts believe that the architecture of Web 3.0 will require significant additional resources and infrastructure, and creating an ecosystem that could end the monopoly of big tech companies or expecting them to simply step aside won’t be easy. If we consider recent announcements from Facebook about transitioning its operations to the metaverse, we might reach Web 3.0 and find it’s also controlled by the same players as Web 2.0.