The Internet went through massive shifts, starting in the ’90s, where some innovations were adopted by enough of its users and developers that they eventually became standards. Sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit all represent what we now call Web 2.0.
The definitions can get a little fuzzy, but looking in the broad strokes helps us understand what kicked off the transition between Web 1.0 and the next iteration. This will also help us understand how the emergence of Web3 will work.
The Arrival of Web 2.0
When the Internet was just starting to enter homes around the world, servers and bandwidth were expensive commodities. Getting a site up and running that could handle large amounts of traffic required a large upfront investment. One way to mitigate this was to minimize the amount of assets you displayed to the visitor. That’s why sites from the ’90s have a reputation for being quirky and aesthetically unremarkable. There are still relics of this era around today.
Around the early to mid 2000s, the market around bandwidth and storage started loosening a bit. Startups that came with the “Dot-com Bubble” and survived the devastating blow kept adopting new ideas on how visitors can interact with their sites, transforming them into creators. This is how sites like YouTube and MySpace got their starts. The latter eventually collapsed, but the idea was picked up by Facebook. Behold, the Web 2.0 era.
Web 2.0 was designed by two crucial things:
- Sites were more asset-rich, leading to significant aesthetic improvements that made themselves more navigable and pointed visitors in the proper direction without having to read the entire menu. Notice how sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter attempt to minimize UI clutter by avoiding large menus and even going as far as to keep each item down to one single word (i.e., Home, Subscriptions, History, Tweet, Messages, Bookmarks, etc.). Items are emphasized by variations on one color scheme (like the Follow/Like buttons on social networks).
- Most Internet traffic started to consolidate around sites that allowed user-generated content (tweets, videos, blogs, status updates, etc.).
Whereas the majority of people were consumers in Web 1.0, the next iteration saw websites that encouraged people to produce their own content and share it with the world.
As the 2010s approached, the websites we use to consume our media and socialize today began to take off and usher in this new era of the Internet.
What Is Web3?
One of the biggest problems with the Web 2.0 model is that it allowed for a significant amount of consolidation of the infrastructure of the Internet. Facebook, YouTube, and Google became quasi-monopolies, controlling a huge chunk of all Internet traffic. Because of this, both developers and their users have been put in an awkward position, as the former engages in activities that led to widespread accusations of censorship.
Since about 2015 (though it’s very difficult to pinpoint an exact year), some people have been thinking of decentralizing services on the Internet to solve this issue.
Put simply, the Web3 principle is focused entirely on using something known as a blockchain to decentralize certain aspects of the Web.
What Are Blockchains?
We have already written a detailed explanation about it, but in short, blockchains are just like databases, except that you can only use it to store and record – not delete. They’re generally immutable (you cannot delete something once it’s created) and redundant. (A large number of machines distributed around the world voluntarily hold th contents.)
Digital currencies like Bitcoin use blockchains because they provide a perfect platform with which to make an immutable ledger that cannot be “seized.” (You’re going to have a tough time seizing thousands or millions of personal machines around the world).
Blockchains usually come in two flavors:
- Permissionless: A permissionless blockchain has no barriers to entry, no restrictions on who can view the ledger, and operates on a public, open platform. Bitcoin is a great example of this. Want to make new coins for yourself? Go ahead and mine them! Want to buy and sell Bitcoin? Sure! Want to check out the transactions in a wallet to see if there has been doing any shady activity? It’s all out in the open! As long as you have a wallet (which can be created in numerous ways for free), you can interact with the blockchain in any way you wish.
- Permissioned: A permissioned blockchain will restrict certain aspects of it. A video sharing site might not want everyone to write a comment on a video, so it will restrict access in such a way that it only allows people with an account to do so – like on every other site. The back-end transaction model might also not be visible.
Why Blockchains Are Important in Web3
Because blockchains are capable of being decentralized and hosted on numerous systems at the same time, they’re also incredibly resilient. At this moment, the technology is getting a bad reputation because of all the scams in the cryptocurrency and digital token world. However, as more mature implementations appear, and it stops being a “wild west,” we’ll likely see this become an integral part of Internet services, in the same way Facebook and Google became integral parts of Web 2.0.
We’re already seeing examples of blockchain implementations growing into decently healthy projects like Odysee and DTube. Both are video-sharing sites that take different approaches to how they use their blockchains. While Odysee hosts everything entirely on the blockchain platform, DTube uses the chain to pull videos from other sites, storing only the comments associated with those videos.
The former has a hybrid permissioned blockchain, while the latter uses a fully permissionless implementation.
At this moment, Odysee pulls in millions of viewers from all over the world, demonstrating that this model is actually viable for the future of the Web.
You may think that a decentralized Web for platforms is a silly pipe dream, but the concept of decentralization is actually rather old. In fact, things like BitTorrent (a decentralized file-sharing protocol that makes use of trackers and other discovery layers) have been around since 2001!
The point is that decentralization was wildly successful with file sharing in the past and there’s no reason blockchains can’t help reinforce this in other areas, like social media and search engines.
The Pros and Cons
Before we hop on the hype train, it’s important to reassess exactly what we’re getting into with this shift in the Internet’s arterial structure:
- A blockchain’s redundancy makes it extremely resistant to outages, breaches, state censorship (unless you shut the international pipelines down), and database corruption (nodes with the correct version will override corrupted ones).
- The technology is more resistant to private censorship than the current Web 2.0 model.
- Users don’t have to adapt to the change.
- Once a site using the blockchain becomes derelict, a new one that revives it can be created with minimal infrastructure investment using the preexisting blockchain and building on top of it.
- Immutability means it’s there forever. If you upload something embarrassing, you’ll never be able to delete it. The site in question can ignore the entry in the blockchain, but the data is still on the chain, allowing someone to just pick it up and host it elsewhere. This has serious implications for malicious actors uploading revenge porn or other illicit materials.
- To add to the above point, getting rid of something on a blockchain involves forking the entire thing into a divergent one with the record removed. Even then, as long as someone is willing to keep the original chain alive, you’ve accomplished very little.
It’s very clear that the only real challenge that Web 3.0 providers will have to overcome is the issue of immutability. Yes, censorship resistance is great and all, but what about when it’s dealing with something truly criminal or vile in nature? This is where blockchain technology becomes a double-edged sword, and so far the discussion around it has been too small. It’s probably time we start to examine how we are going to be able to operate in this new paradigm.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What does this mean for content creators?
For people who make content, nothing will really change on the surface. But since blockchains are immutable, nothing can truly be censored. Although websites can still ignore a particular block containing your content, there’s nothing stopping someone else from making a site that doesn’t do that.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. This new hypothetical site can use the same exact ledger and display it completely uncensored if they want to.
Web3 will not necessarily bring an end to censorship, but it will make it uncompetitive due to how little investment is required to make an uncensored version of a blockchain that already contains all the material it needs to populate its content.
2. Does Web 3.0 address data harvesting?
The question surrounding data harvesting/mining on the Internet can’t be answered by technology. It is in fact the infiltration of new tech into our lives that created this issue in the first place.
In theory, the same blockchain created by someone who collects data on its front end can be used to create another front end that doesn’t do this. It’s possible that the very existence of a public blockchain would put competitive pressure on sites to stop data mining.
The painful reality of the situation is that the only real pressure that can conceivably change anything has to come from the users themselves through their refusal to share data. Consent laws like GDPR and newer standards adopted by websites to let visitors manage how their data is collected have made some progress in mending this issue, but ultimately, the only real solution is to educate people until they become more conscious about how they use the Web.
3. How hard is Web 3.0 to implement?
The hardest part of Web 3.0 is the development effort required to make the backbone itself. However, there are many open-source blockchains people can just rip off to make derivatives. A huge amount of blockchain projects available today practically copy/paste the code from other projects. The uniqueness is in what data they store.
In the end, with the sheer amount of effort being put into making excellent open-source implementations of blockchain technology, it isn’t inconceivable for Web 3.0 projects that don’t focus on cryptocurrencies (which is still the flavor of the year at the time writing) to pop up everywhere like daisies at some point.
Image credit: Pete Linforth – Pixabay
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