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The next phase of the internet is coming – here’s what you need to know about Web3

The rapid growth of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible virtual tokens has dominated the news headlines in recent years. But not many can see how these trendy applications tie together into a larger idea touted by some as the next iteration of the Web3 Internet.

There are many misconceptions surrounding this buzzy (and, frankly, fuzzy) term, including the conflation of Web3 with Web 3.0. Here’s what you need to know about these terms.

What is Web3?

Since Web3 is still a developing movement, there is no universal agreement among experts on its definition. Simply put, Web3 is designed as a decentralized web ecosystem, allowing users to bypass Internet gatekeepers and maintain ownership of their data.

This would be done via blockchain; rather than relying on single servers and centralized databases, Web3 would escape public ledgers where data is stored on interconnected computer networks.

A decentralized Web3 would fundamentally change the way the internet operates, financial institutions and technology companies would no longer need to be intermediaries for our online experiences.

As one business journalist put it:

In a Web3 world, people control their data and bounce from social media to email to shopping using a single personalized account, creating a public ledger on the blockchain of all that activity.

Web3’s blockchain-based infrastructure would open up intriguing possibilities ushering in the era of the token economy. The token economy would allow users to monetize their data by providing them with tokens for their online interactions. These tokens could offer users advantages or benefits, including ownership stakes in content platforms or voting rights in online communities.

To better understand Web3, it’s helpful to take a step back and see how the Internet developed into what it is today.

Web 1.0: the read-only web

Computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the world wide web in 1989, which allowed people to link to static pages of information on websites accessed via internet browsers.

Berners-Lee was exploring more efficient ways for researchers from different institutions to share information. In 1991, he launched the world’s first website, which provides instructions on using the Internet.

A middle-aged man in a business suit sits in an armchair and speaks into a microphone
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, speaks at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Ottawa in May 2019.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

These basic read-only websites were run by webmasters who were responsible for updating users and managing information. In 1992, there were 10 websites. In 1994, after the web fell into the public domain, there were 3,000 of them.

When Google arrived in 1996 there were two million. Last year there were about 1.2 billion websites, although it is estimated that only 17% are still active.

Web 2.0: the social web

The next big change for the internet saw it develop from a read-only web to where we currently are a read-write web. Websites have become more dynamic and interactive. People have become mass participants in content generation through hosted services like Wikipedia, Blogger, Flickr, and Tumblr.

The Web 2.0 idea caught on after technology editor Tim OReilly popularized the term in 2004.

Subsequently, social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram and the growth of mobile apps have led to unparalleled connectivity, albeit across distinct platforms. These platforms are known as walled gardens because their parent companies heavily regulate what users are able to do and there is no exchange of information between competing services.

Tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple are deeply ingrained in every aspect of our lives, from how we store and pay for our content to the personal data we give away (sometimes without our knowledge) to use their products.

Web3 versus Web 3.0

This brings us to the next phase of the Internet, in which many wish to regain control from the entities that have come to dominate it.

The terms Web3 and Web 3.0 are often used interchangeably, but they are different concepts.

Web3 is the shift to a decentralized blockchain-based internet. Web 3.0, on the other hand, dates back to Berners-Lees’ original vision for the Internet as a collection of websites that link everything together at the data level.

Our current Internet can be considered as a gigantic repository of documents. Computers are able to retrieve information for us when we ask them to, but they are unable to understand the deeper meaning behind our requests.

A hand holding a cellphone showing a group of social media platform icons
In a Web 3.0 world, users would be able to link personal information across social media platforms.
(Shutterstock)

The information is also isolated on separate servers. Advances in programming, natural language processing, machine learning and artificial intelligence would allow computers to more humanly discern and process information, leading to more efficient and effective content discovery, sharing and analysis of data. This is known as the semantic web or the read-write-execute web.

In Berners-Lees’ Web 3.0 world, information would be stored in databases called Solid Pods, which would be owned by individual users. While this is a more centralized approach than Web3’s use of blockchain, it would allow data to change more quickly because it wouldn’t be distributed in multiple places.

It would, for example, allow one user’s social media profiles to be linked so that updating the personal information on one automatically updates the rest.

The coming age of the internet

Web3 and Web 3.0 are often confused because the next Internet age will likely feature elements of both movements, semantic web applications, linked data and a blockchain economy. It’s not hard to see why there is significant investment in this space.

But we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to logistical issues and legal implications. Governments must develop new regulations for everything from taxing the sales of digital assets and protecting consumers to complex privacy concerns and related data piracy.

There are also critics who argue that Web3, in particular, is simply an adversarial rebranding of cryptocurrency that will not democratize the internet. While it’s clear that we’ve arrived on the threshold of a new age of the internet, no one can guess what happens when we walk through that door.

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Image Source : theconversation.com

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