Technology, like history, is always changing. This is one of the few things we are certain of. The technologies that powered the industrial revolution, while having been successful at the time, don’t work in the modern era. Technology changes society which in turn demands better technology.
The internet perhaps illustrates best this phenomenon. The internet that we use today is quite different from what inventor Tim Berners Lee had intended it to be. It has undergone a lot of change in such a short time and continues to adapt to the environment it creates in every step. Today we are on the brink of another drastic revolution of the web.
The Evolution of the Web
The internet is a fairly new invention, having been in existence for just about 32 years. It has however undergone radical change and is today almost unrecognisable from what its inventor Tim Burners Lee created.
The history of the web can be divided into three distinct stages: Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0.
This was the first iteration of the web lasting from around 1991 to 2004. Web 1.0 was internet at its most basic form; information was served up in mainly text or image format. Sites served static content and did not have dynamic HTML, with a static file instead of a database and virtually no video. Websites did not have the capacity to interact at all with users.
More importantly, Web 1.0’s main participants were consumers of content on one end, with independent developers creating the backend.
It is now referred to as an era of ‘the read-only’ web.
This is the web that most of us experience. It is an era of the interactive and social web.
Web 2.0 moved from the era of static web pages to interactive websites and media that allows every user to generate content. It is this structure that has given rise to our most beloved apps and platforms… in particular, social media.
On platforms such as Google, Facebook, Uber and Twitter one does not have to be a developer to generate or even use content. Applications like the ones listed above allow for even the most basic users to interact with the web. It is therefore how more and more people are becoming creators.
Web 2.0 is undeniably an upgrade to its predecessor. It has resulted in a structure that has facilitated the free exchange of information, ideas and even money for billions of people all around the globe.
However, with all the new opportunities given to independent creators, Web 2.0 is not exactly equal.
Platforms like Twitter and Facebook are not entirely free and independent spaces for users. There is a reason they are among the largest companies in the world.
There is a saying in the tech world. “If you are not paying for it then you are the product.” This is the model that these platforms work under. They do not exactly grant you free access to their products, rather they want to trade in your attention and data in exchange for billions worth of ad revenue.
Charles Silver, council member at Forbes explains this well by saying: “Indeed, the internet has become a massive app store, dominated by centralized apps from Google, Facebook and Amazon, where everyone is trying to build an audience, collect data and monetize that data through targeted advertising.”
There are many issues that come with this model but they all arise from one principle: centralization.
Apps like Google, Facebook and Twitter are essentially middlemen that benefit massively from connecting users with each other. Think about it… they are platforms that rent out space for users to share content with each other all the while collecting all this data for personalized advertisement.
In an age of increased demand for data privacy and control, web 2.0 is ripe for an overhaul. This is in the form of Web 3.0.
So What is Web 3.0?
It was Tim Berners Lee who would first be the one to coin the term the ‘Semantic Web’ to describe “a web in which machines would process content in a human-like way (i.e., a “Global Brain” where all data would be connected and understood both contextually and conceptually).”
While this vision is yet to be fully realized due to technological challenges, Tim Berner’s Semantic Web is a vision reminiscent of his original idea of what the web should be; “no permission is needed from a central authority to post anything … there is no central controlling node, and so no single point of failure … and no “kill switch”!
This is essentially the mantra or the vision of Web 3.0 a network that is truly decentralized.
Web3 encompasses three main principles:
The network is built using open-source software by a community of developers in full view of the world.
Participants can interact with each other privately or publicly without the need of a ‘trusted third party.’
Anyone can participate in the network without requiring authorisation from a governing body.
In Web3, applications will run on decentralised networks of numerous peer-to-peer nodes, utilise blockchain technology or a combination of the two. Dapps (decentralised apps) like Yearn, Uniswap and Audius give control and ownership of user data to the owner and no one else.
With no central server, users need no permission to participate in the network. It is a system that encourages equal ownership of the network.
Web3 is however best captured by cryptocurrencies. These digital tokens are one of the best representations of a departure from a central controlling authority that is the central banks.
Cryptocurrencies will be essential in creating financial incentives for anyone willing to contribute to or improve upon a project.
With this kind of decentralization, you will see many intermediaries cut off.
This does not spell doom for today’s tech giants. They will still have a role to play in improving technology. However, these companies will have to adapt to the new structure to give more power to their users. Twitter, for instance, has recognised the importance some of its users are to its survival and will start paying them accordingly. It also is a lot more pro-crypto currency and has begun to enable payments of its ‘Tips’ features with Bitcoin and is thus closer to being Web3-ready.
More importantly, Web3 will connect users like never before, returning the power of the internet to its true owners; the people.