Everything You Need to Know About Web3
It’s debatable whether Web3 will actually come to life, but key aspects of it have already changed the internet.
- Proponents of Web3 claim that it will change the internet and put private information back into the hands of users.
- Critics of Web3 have a long list of qualms, from privacy concerns to the rise of e-waste.
- Web3 hasn’t come to life yet, so both positive and negative speculation on its adoption is rampant.
In the 2021 film “Don’t Look Up,” there’s a scene where Randall (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) expresses his concerns about not having technology from the fictitious tech giant, BASH, peer-reviewed by scientists. The CEO of BASH retorts, “Did you know that BASH has over 40 million data points on you and every decision you’ve made since 1994?”
This premise of modern technology companies knowing so much about us from our online contributions is enough to make your skin crawl. For many, using Web3 will remove personal data from private companies and put it back into the hands of users. If you’re still wondering what Web3 is, here’s everything you need to know about its concept, where it came from, what limitations it has, and how it could impact the internet of tomorrow.
What Is Web3?
Web3 is a version of the internet where users — rather than large tech companies — create and own information. Web3 follows both Web1 and Web2 iterations, with the internet as we know it functioning via Web2. Here are a few integral parts of the Web3 infrastructure:
In the Web3 internet, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will semantically organize information. Since those technologies will power search results, the internet will theoretically become more intelligent, more accurate in its search results, and less beholden to private algorithms utilized by tech companies. This shift means Web3 can strip power from a company like Google, and instead decide what to include in its own search results. Therefore, the decision-making process of internet searching will shift to the hands of internet users.
Since Web3 is user-owned and outside of the hands of large corporations, it powers its processes via blockchain — a decentralized ledger system for tracking transactions and assets.
The Inner Workings of Blockchain: Blockchain prompts user machines to solve complex math equations with the promise of cryptocurrency or a non-fungible token (NFT) for their labor. When that equation is solved, the worker has created another “block” in the internet chain and powered an online process that another user is trying to accomplish. Blockchain hinges on solving equations to power tasks for others.
The idea of motivating other users to power the internet through financial transactions differs from today’s internet model. Currently, users must trust tech companies to do what’s best for the public good — even when their business models may depend on going against what’s ethical for profit.
In the age of blockchain, information won’t be housed in one central server, such as that of a private company, but rather in internet architecture around the world, thus spreading ownership beyond the motivations of individual organizations. Web3 could be everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, making it more resilient to disasters or data failures.
Web3 seeks to phase out global currencies, like the U.S. dollar, and shift to the broader use of cryptocurrencies to pay for products and services. The adoption seeks to cut banks and government economics from transactions online.
While Web3 may sound too idealistic or technical for the average person to participate in, it’s a serious endeavor that tech investors wholeheartedly support. In 2021, venture capitalists even visited the U.S. Congress to propose Web3 as a way to mitigate user privacy concerns following personal data scandals by major technology companies.
What About Web1 and Web2?
Web1 was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist from the U.K. He created the first online browser as well as the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). He also crafted the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that created the pathways to upload, transfer, and view personal files online.
Web1 (also known as Web 1.0) consisted of static pages, more or less, with information from private companies. Think of it as an online encyclopedia without the ability for readers to ask questions, leave comments, or provide feedback on materials. Even though documents and pages could speak back and forth to each other, the reader wasn’t a part of the action.
Around the turn of the millennium, programmers began envisioning ways for Web1 (which was retroactively named after the introduction of Web2) to incorporate user participation. The goal was for users themselves to communicate with one another and upload their content online.
While Web2 wasn’t popularized until 2004 by O’Reilly Media at the Web 2.0 Conference that year, the construction of this new infrastructure started in the years prior. As shown by the timeline below, Web2’s official adoption and release was marked by an evolution of internet interaction and the rise of prolific social media networks.
Timeline of Web2 Development
|1997||Shareyourworld.com is one of the first websites to allow users to upload their own clips or videos in different file formats.|
|1999||Darcy DiNucci coins the term Web 2.0 to describe the new internet.|
|2001||The dot-com bubble burst occurs, and many people mark it as the turning point for the web to a new format and standard.|
|2003||Myspace is founded, becoming one of the first major social media organizations.|
|2004||Google gains market share in search engine traffic. Facebook is founded. The Web 2.0 Conference unveils Web2 as the new technology.|
|2005||YouTube is founded by three former PayPal employees.|
|2009||Pinterest is founded.|
|2010||Instagram is founded.|
|2013||Half the United States population has a Facebook profile.|
Web2 connected users worldwide in a way unseen in the internet eras that preceded it. But that degree of connection comes at a cost that we’re still grappling to understand.
Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Reddit don’t directly charge people to use their platforms. Since services are free, these companies make money by compiling and selling user data to advertise products. Your personal information is perfect for delivering targeted ads to increase the likelihood you’ll make a purchase, and companies leverage that information in the Web2 infrastructure.
Collecting Data for Profit: Facebook advertising allows users to buy ad space from them and target potential consumers based on demographic information such as age, location, sex, and interests. User data collection is also visible via sponsored posts at the top of search results from Google. Companies pay heartily to be the top result of as many searches as possible, whether their content is helpful to your inquiry or not.
Web2 functions because of these large, centralized companies that house, organize, and distribute information submitted to them by internet users. Web3 seeks to remove that information from private companies and transition that data into self-governed digital communities.
The jump between Web1 and Web2 was straightforward, seamless, and predictable. On the other hand, the transition to Web3 won’t be so cut and dry. It’s still more philosophical than implementable for the masses.
Differences in Webs: Web1 is read-only, Web2 is read and write, and Web3 will be read, write, and own.
What Are the Pros of Web3?
While some internet users already work with cryptocurrency and blockchain, the core vision of Web3 remains theoretical, since it hasn’t officially debuted. But some of the key arguments for it are:
- User privacy: Populations without a high degree of digital literacy, like older adults and minors, are vulnerable to nefarious users online who want to take advantage of their personal information or naiveté. Web3 would create a blockade to protect private information from being monetized to advertisers.
- Global internet equality: Cryptocurrency was largely invented to protect people worldwide with assets in volatile currencies. Adopters envision Web3 will coincide with the adoption of cryptocurrency, which would cut out individual dependence on global governments and banking institutions.
- Open participation: Right now, social media companies have the right to create, manage, and moderate content internally through their employees. Web3 removes barriers to entry and allows any internet user to solve blockchain equations, earn money, and contribute to helping the internet operate.
- Clear records: Since Web3 is a distributed ledger without a center of communications, all information submitted onto Web3 is publicly available and cannot be modified once published. This process would create more clarity in all types of communications.
What Are the Cons of Web3?
While there’s niche excitement in the tech community regarding Web3, many critics are skeptical that it will fundamentally improve the lives of everyday people. Some of the cons of Web3 include:
- Marketing difficulties: Small businesses will have a harder time advertising their product or services to applicable consumers without the option to buy personal data. Users may also find connecting to the businesses that offer them benefits more challenging.
- Security concerns: Since Web3 is not the property of a company or government, no one has the authority to regulate it. Imagine that someone released the medical records of hundreds of thousands of people via Web3 in a data breach. There would be no moderator to remove content and secure the privacy of innocent people.
- Private interests: Web3 has a glossy veneer, but many private companies like Alchemy, Infura, OpenSea, and Binance power blockchain and cryptocurrency. Investors in the space are wealthy venture capitalists. To many, modern tech companies owning user information and Web3 startups privately owning the processes behind Web3 are two sides of the same coin. To others, it’s just an attempt to make cryptocurrency more practical and less speculative.
- Learning curve: People who understand NFTs, cryptocurrency, and blockchain are a tiny minority of the general population, so it’s likely that they would be the sole financial beneficiaries of solving blockchain. Web3 doesn’t do anything to help your grandmother, who can’t log into a doctor’s appointment on Zoom. It would likely make everyday processes even more difficult.
- Environmental impacts: Blockchain and cryptocurrency are awful for the environment because they need servers around the world and immense amounts of electricity. Supercomputers can only solve so many equations before they’re trash. Some experts say that per crypto transaction, one MacBook becomes e-waste. With a changing climate already, that trade-off may not be worth it.
Will We Ever Fully Transition to Web3?
While the bones of Web3 are accessible today via blockchain, NFTs, and cryptocurrency, we’re still culturally a long way from everyday Web3 access. However, many companies are launching Web3 initiatives that take certain pieces of the concept under their wing. Large technology companies like Google, Meta, and Microsoft have rolled out blockchain features and deemed them “Web3,” though that’s not exactly accurate, since there isn’t a full Web3 implementation yet. Most branded Web3 initiatives are simply capitalizing on market excitement.
The NFT craze over the past few years has resulted in major companies, like Starbucks and the NBA, and major celebrities, like Paris Hilton, selling their own NFTs. The more commonplace NFTs become, the less intimidating Web3’s economics may seem for the general public.
The fact of the matter is that countries like China, Morocco, and Qatar have already banned cryptocurrencies. Nations in Europe are working to regulate the industry mainly on environmental grounds. Meanwhile, the United States is seeking ways to regulate the field to ensure that crypto isn’t used for nefarious purposes. Without cryptocurrency, it’s hard to see how Web3 could ever really happen in the way that idealists say it will.
Realistically, companies will likely keep their Web2 interfaces right now and slowly begin to develop Web3-like functions. Even so, there’s no clear evidence that Web3 will make the internet any more accessible for people who aren’t already in these niche spaces. No one likes the idea of tech companies holding such a large amount of private information, but Web3’s steep barrier of entry more than likely won’t be the answer for the average person to feel safer and more secure online.
Frequently Asked Questions About Web3
Is Web3 free to use?
Theoretically, Web3 would be free to use, but since it hasn’t rolled out en masse yet, it’s hard to say. To participate in transactions without your country’s currency, you would have to invest in cryptocurrency before even making an online purchase.
How can I start using Web3 today?
You can start utilizing Web3 by participating in some of the larger tasks that underpin the technology, like creating blockchain, buying and selling NFTs, and investing in cryptocurrency. Since Web3 hinges on crypto as its main currency, buying your own could be a positive investment.
Where can I learn how to use Web3?
Start with learning some of the core tasks that Web3 utilizes, like ethereum for a blockchain platform and general front-end development skills. Chainstack and Alchemy are other tools to develop cryptocurrency wallets and NFTs. If you understand a few of the main processes, it’ll be easier to get started when Web3 is available.
Does Web3 protect my privacy?
Web3 is a distributed autonomous organization (DAO), meaning that information submitted to it doesn’t reside with any one company or platform. Just as cryptocurrency doesn’t require two people initiating a transaction to know anything about each other, Web3 would theoretically offer the same option. If you’re concerned about tech companies having your personal information as their property, Web3 aims to solve that.
Can I monetize my online contributions with Web3?
If you learn how to mine and create blockchain, you could earn NFTs and cryptocurrency as a reward for solving equations and powering online spaces. Beyond that, Web3 isn’t exactly built to pay you for writing or sharing your personal data online in the way a conventional Web2 platform, such as YouTube, is.