As we sift through the zillion new ideas that emerge every day, one term that we’ll likely cross paths with many times over is Web3. Almost every second article on the internet related to technology is debating if the term is a fad or the future. Technology, and specifically the internet, is an integral part of work and life. Not knowing what Web3 is could be the difference between transforming how work is done or being left behind; or maybe just the difference between sounding smart or not. Thus, I am taking on the responsibility of introducing you to Web3 a.k.a the cooler way of saying Web 3.0.
What is web3?
In the most simplistic of terms, it is the next iteration of the world wide web. Web 1.0 was a static conversion of what we saw in print translated onto the web. It then grew to incorporate dynamic HTMP, an interactive space allowing anyone to build a website and social networks. Most of our experience on the web today, is web 2.0. It has a database, frontend, servers and the like. The biggest complaint against web2.0 has been the centralization of data in the hands of the big tech companies.
Enter Web3. While many world leaders (think Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey) are touting cryptocurrency to be the future of the web, there is more to it than just Bitcoin or Dogecoin. Nor is it just a combination of blockchain, metaverse and crypto. It is likely a brand-new decentralized web where every individual has control of their own data and its destiny.
For many, Web3 is just a catchy name; a term that helps spark decision. Maybe for something to exist, it must have a name (remember trauma informed workspace?) or maybe it’s a little too early for us to know.
Top 3 features of Web3
First a disclaimer: I am not an expert in technology or Web3. What you read here is a layman’s version of what Web3 is. Think of this as a starter guide that is open to being shred apart. I take some solace in knowing that everyone is still figuring what web3 really is. Now, while there are many features of what web3 should be, here are the big 3:
Decentralization: The greatest expectation from Web3 is decentralization that is delivered on the back of blockchain technology—a technology that creates a secure, shared repository of transactions that no single entity controls. This takes control from the hands of big tech and put it squarely into the hands of the user. A large part of this is considered important because in web 2.0 an individual has almost no control over their data and are reliant on firms that are run on profit; profit usually gained by selling personal data. Does this mean that no single server or database will host/store all the information? Yes. Does everyone’s personal computer host the gazillion data bytes? I don’t know. Imagine being able to accept payments (likely in crypto) directly from the consumer without having to go via payment gateways such as Square, Stripe and others. You could create your own payment gateway using standard protocols. While it all sounds great, for someone like me, it gets a tad complicated to entirely understand.
Privacy: What’s the point of decentralization if not privacy? The biggest advantage of decentralization is control over one’s data. An individual on web3 can now choose which data they want to share, with who and for how long. No one gets to monetize our data without permission which is great but it also means that while in web2.0 we paid for access to applications with our data, we now need to pay with another currency. Will I still be able to tweet or share a photograph on Instagram for free? Likely not. Unless we give them access to – you got it – our data. Web3 is touted to be a trustless web. While blockchain may need many layers of permission for anyone to access my data, it also means that the world of social media may undergo some transformation. If you want a slight glimpse of what social media on web3 might look like, take a look at Mastodon where you’d send out toots instead of a tweet. This open source owned micro blogging site focuses on privacy and limiting abusive speech. How? Maybe along the lines of Wikipedia which is self-moderated. #notanexpert
Open Protocols: As you can tell, for all of this to work, we need protocols that everyone is willing to follow. In simplistic terms, think of it as HTML. As stated in this article, ‘The magic of the original web was that everybody agreed to run their sites on a common, open-source protocol—HTML. Everybody could use it and nobody owned it.’ Today, there are no commonly agreed upon protocols on how to build the metaverse on in simplistic terms, how nasty I can be to someone on social media. Web3 in its best form build these protocols for everyone to use thus making it a better place for all.
For all the airtime that web3 consumes, it is still the least understood version of the web. It is expected to consume a vast amount of energy (cryptocurrency is destroying the environment in its current state) and other resources (time, effort) to exist. It is however, a sign of the times. Even if it takes another 10 years to come to life (if it ever does), it is important to understand why the concept exists and is loved. Decentralization, privacy and shared protocols are the future of the web. However, the same principles can be used to design how work gets done. Think about it. Who wouldn’t want a decentralized chain of command, increased privacy and open protocols on how to work, interact with colleagues and get ahead? Same principles, different fields.