If you’re reading this article, you are a user of the web.
Think about how much the web has changed society and how much it affects your day to day life. Given the dramatic impact the internet has on our world, it only makes sense that we should be curious about where the web is going next.
To understand this, we need to understand the evolution of the web, what it used to be like and how it got to where it is today.
The evolution of the web is often separated into three stages, Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0.
Web 1 is characterized by web participants as consumers of content, and the creators were typically developers who built websites that were mostly static pages served up as text or images. The internet was set up this way from about 1991 to 2004. Sites didn’t have much interactivity — it was as if the web was basically “read-only.”
Web 2 refers to the current iteration of the modern web most of us are experiencing today and is characterized by web participants as creators of content. It is interactive and social, and you don’t have to be a developer to make content for the web.
As companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter began to develop web2 software to facilitate interactions between web users, they saw an opportunity to monetize their user bases through advertisements and the sale of personal data. Thus, data collection and targeted advertising has become a core part of the web2 experience and how it’s engineered to function.
However, frustration towards some of these Big Tech companies has mounted within the general public as information has come out about exploitation of the user data they’ve been collecting.
Enter Web 3.0. You could think of web3 in terms of participants as owners, because the most fundamental difference between web2 and web3 is decentralization. In web2, developers build applications that run on a single server where the data is owned and the app is operated by one central authority. In web3, applications run on decentralized networks of many peer-to-peer servers and leverage a distributed ledger technology known as a blockchain, essentially a decentralized database. Participants are able to host one of these peer-to-peer servers (or nodes); or create, govern, improve and otherwise contribute to the network and be rewarded with cryptocurrency tokens, thus making them owners with a vested interest in the web who stand to directly benefit from its success.
In web2, a developer might pay a cloud service provider like Amazon Web Services to host and provide access to their application on the web. But with web3, instead of going to Amazon that money goes directly to network participants. In web2, companies might pay Youtube or Facebook to show their advertisements in the feeds of targeted users. Once again, with web3, this payment goes directly back to the participants. In other words, imagine earning revenue from the ads you watch online!
Web3 also introduces the opportunity for native payments through cryptocurrency tokens. It’s easy to integrate software wallets like MetaMask into decentralized applications, or dApps, enabling anonymous and secure instant payments, even internationally, without the user having to hand over sensitive personal data. There are also projects in the works to apply this same principle to identity on the web, tying a users’ identity to a wallet address in a way that is seamlessly transferable across apps rather than requiring an email and password with OAuth.
Additionally, tokenization allows anyone to participate in building or investing in the software they use from the beginning. Many web2 software companies sell off percentages of their company in exchange for venture capital in order to become successful, which binds them to the desires of their wealthy shareholders as they grow. A web3 project might instead announce a token release, with a percentage set aside for the early builders and a percentage for sale to the public. People who believe in the project can buy in, and even use their tokens to vote on changes to the project. Because all data recorded on the blockchain is immutable and transparent, everyone will be able to see exactly what happens with the funds.
So when is all this web3 stuff going to happen? Well it’s already happening right now! The internet is going through another paradigm shift right at this very moment, and it’s important to keep an eye on what’s going on with web3 projects if we want to stay on top of where the web is going in the future.