What is Web3?
The internet is a result of humanity’s drive to develop more efficient ways of communicating with each other. What started as a group of universities and governmental agencies experimenting with digital communication, is now a cambrian explosion of different use cases. The internet is many things. It’s a tool for sharing information; it’s a marketplace for commerce; it’s a bastion for artistic and scientific exploration; and in some cases, a den of villainy. Above all, it is has become an indelible part of the human experience.
The development of the internet can be loosely categorized into phases known as Web1, Web2, and Web3. This course will breeze through Web1 and Web2, and take a bit longer to stroll through some of the aspects of Web3.
As the internet has grown into this all-encompassing machine, we see it used as a particularly effective tool for political manipulation and control. Web3 is an attempt to push back against this to some extent; it is an attempt to increase individual sovereignty in an environment of increasingly centralized control.
We call the direction of this movement: “decentralization”; where power is transferred from centralized authorities back to narrower, more localized authorities, ideally back to the individual users themselves.
Although a hopeful goal of some of its early creators, the internet has never been very decentralized. Because it misses some important properties at the root level, it has always been vulnerable to commercial and political exploitation. Centralized providers (like certificate authorities, like ISPs, like social media conglomerates) have stepped in to offer these, and thereby created a very centralized internet.
In the era of Web 1.0, most users were passive consumers of content. It was about the ability to discover and read. Content was static (fixed, unchanging) and fairly difficult to create. It spans roughly 1980s to early 2000s.
Here are a few characteristics found in Web1:
- Pages are static linked via hyperlinks and make heavy use of HTML elements like frames and tables
- Email is primary means of communication
- Server stores content in its filesystem
- Media features GIF buttons and graphics
- Limited search engine capability
- Infrastructure runs directly computers in small data centers.
Here is a delightful example of a still-existing Web1 webpage. It is clickable, but static, only displaying information for reading consumption. There is no way for users to contribute to the site.
Web1 – Space Jam Website
In the current era of Web 2.0, creating content gets a lot easier, and the capabilities of websites enhances significantly. Average users create much of the content, making the internet interactive and social. Blogging, photos, and video production all become accessible and the social media scene explodes. Dominant service providers emerge like Google and Meta. It spans from early 2000s until now.
Here are a few characteristics found in Web1:
- Communication happens directly in web applications
- Back-ends provide APIs and stores dynamic content in databases
- Media is richly enhance through SVG, Canvas, WASM and other hardware-accelerated technologies
- Search engines and social media sites emerge as the dominant gateway to discovery and monetization
- Infrastructure is provided through virtualized cloud services
Web2 – An example social media page
Web 3 refers to the invention and adoption of technologies which allow for the decentralization of the internet. This started with the use of file sharing protocols such as Bit torrent and anonymizers such as TOR, but has expanded into whole self-governing and self-funding ecosystems such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. It includes the use of peer-to-peer communications, decentralized compute and storage, cryptocurrencies, and the concepts of sovereign identity, which are still being worked out. The key innovation of these technologies is the creation of networks that no single entity controls, anyone can join, and yet everyone can still trust.
In order for a system to be truly decentralized, it must provide these properties that are not subject to control by any one authority:
- Discovery: users must be simple to discover and connect with other users freely
- Authentication: users must be able to self-authenticate themselves and verify their communications
- Coordination: users must be able to communicate with each other and form groups
- Openness: must provide useful services with equal access to any user
- Stateful: must be able to retain information and configuration
- Privacy: must be capable of preserving the privacy of its users
In Web3, developers will no longer build and deploy applications that run on a single server or that store their data in a single database (hosted and managed by a single cloud service provider). Web3 applications, aka decentralized apps (dApps), will run on decentralized networks of many peer-to-peer nodes, like blockchains, using a different set of protocols, including crypto-economic models like decentralized finance (DeFi) and governance through decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs).
There is not a good way to represent the look of web3, because it is mostly about transforming the infrastructure to be more decentralized. It’s not just about cryptocurrencies either, but comprises any effort to provide internet services in a decentralized manner, whether money, storage, computation, etc. All of these logos represents groups who are building in the space.