Web3, eh? What’s that all about? In short, it’s about taking back power online, with a bit of help from blockchain technology.
In the ’90s, we had read-only Web1. Then 2004 marked the start of the interactive Web2 era we still live in. But now… well, soon… it’s Web3 O’Clock. Always changing, this tech stuff. We get more updates than Fast and Furious films. But if you haven’t a clue about what Web3 actually is and have already muted the term on socials, don’t worry: here’s a handy primer.
I didn’t even know we had a Web1 and a Web2
Fair enough, really. Let’s start from the beginning. Web1 was first coined by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. Back then, you’d simply have a load of web pages online that you could read. You might have had hyperlinks helping you navigate to another page (for example, clicking from a Wiki page about “Desire Paths” to another on “Urban Design”). But essentially it was a digital place where you could read things.
Here’s the oldest known website link, just to give you an idea of how it looked. This is what people would spend the 1990s and early 2000s mocking, in the same way people on Twitter moan about NFTs now.
Then, some 15 years later, Web2 came around. This allowed people to not only read information online but to write their own things, too. The internet became an interactive space, eventually giving birth to things like social media, cloud storage and online shopping. All of that relies on information being uploaded by someone and then responded to by us.
Web2 is also where data-sharing became commonplace, with us giving our data to companies who fed it to advertisers (because capitalism) and content providers (which is why we have “algorithms”).
Got it. So what makes Web3 so special?
Sometimes it’s used as a bit of an overarching term for crypto stuff that isn’t specifically cryptocurrency related (like “the metaverse”). But actually, Web3 is just an evolution of Web2.
The main takeaway is that it allows people to use online platforms with complete authority, so you’ll have full control of your data and own the things you post. This contrasts with what happens now – for example, Twitter technically owns and has control of your tweets, and can serve you ads based on the data it gets from the content you engage with.
Uh-huh. And why do people care?
It’s a trust thing mainly, especially for crypto bros and decentralisation advocates, who just so happen to be the people who are most excited about Web3 at the moment.
However, many people have trust issues when it comes to using Web2. This is especially true around companies using data to learn everything about us, from our ovulation cycles to our preferred order at our favourite coffee shop that we pop into en route home from a certain place, at a certain time.
If the whole Web3 thing becomes more accessible, though, there’s a real chance many people will want to use its services to put an end to their data being compromised. The ownership aspect extends to the content you post, too. On Web3, it’d be very hard for anything to censor your content or flag it as inappropriate.
In addition to that: you’d also be able to detach your real self from your online self (a little bit) when it comes to things like online shopping. This is because blockchain technology will mean that companies won’t be able to see who is buying their goods. In the nearer future, though, it’ll probably mean that most e‑commerce sites will accept crypto and that we can interact on social with more anonymity. For example, we might be able to tweet anonymously, or to use a crypto token to leave a like on a post without the user knowing who liked it.
Any deeper crypto connections?
For sure. It’s linked to crypto because a big aspect of Web3’s USP is around privacy and ownership of content, and this will most probably be achieved through blockchain technology. Blockchain‑y things like DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation) will also be a big part of how this “web” operates.
Let’s use a “Web3 social media platform” as a hypothetical example. If the people launching a social media platform on Web3 agree to add a DAO into the code that runs the platform, its users could get voting rights on whether certain features are added or removed, and many other updates. When a vote happens, the code is then updated. Humans are removed from the process beyond voting.
But you could argue this raises questions about democracy. When you set up a DAO, users will be given a limited amount of tokens to start with (let’s say a million), but they can then buy more. The more tokens a person owns, the bigger their vote. This also means that it’s basically impossible for a DAO to be shut down (not even by the police or government) without there being a fair vote involving the people who hold the tokens.
Which crypto will be part of Web3?
Anything built for Web3 will likely happen on a blockchain. That blockchain’s native coin (for example, Ether with Ethereum) will be used for processing costs and transaction fees, if not more. Crypto tokens (also generated on blockchains) will likely be used for things like subscription fees and engaging with content.
So, if Web3 goes mainstream, some cryptocurrencies could go up in value.
Ethereum and Solana are the blockchains that currently have the most Web3 action. But Polkadot is also a big player within Web3, as it proposes to be a “layer 0 solution” which would connect all of these separate blockchains together. Web3 will need this in order to actually be a worldwide web, as opposed to a bunch of different blockchains in isolation.
Confused? Think of a “layer 0 solution” as like having a plane to take you from one island to the next for the first time.
Are there any risks?
Absolutely. It’s the world wide web as we all know and use, only more interactive and “owned by the people”. This means more censoring of things we don’t want to share (good) but also less censoring of the things we do share (potentially bad).
See, if a person happened to have a damaging theory about something, on Web3 it would be very hard to stop them from spreading that misinformation, because a central body can’t just delete the post and all its shares unless it’s agreed beforehand within that DAO we mentioned. “No censorship” works both ways.
Also, as a DAO is usually open-sourced (anyone can look at the code), it has a higher chance of being hacked.
Makes sense! Are there an examples of Web3 that exist already?
There’s not really any Web3 social media just yet. But there are Web3 spaces cropping up that let people consume content using blockchain and crypto, and they’re working on ways to let users create content on the platforms, too. Channel.xyz is an example, created by artist Mat Dryhurst and musician Holly Herndon (also of the “accidental $5 grad school/podcast” Interdependence), along with Joshua Citarella and New Models.
All three parties currently monetise their individual work on Patreon with a subscription model. According to Coindesk, Channel is their combined effort “to bundle their businesses with a digital membership card that’s distinctly Web 3: an NFT”.
On their website, it says that Channel allows people to “bundle their streamable content while maintaining distinct communities”. It’s kind of the same as how different shows can run on one TV station, but the shows will maintain their own distinct audiences. Some people might use BBC iPlayer to watch I May Destroy You, others Antiques Roadshow, for instance. And, as opposed to a paying licence fee, there’s an RSS feed for which you get the details by purchasing an NFT or crypto tokens.
According to their website, Channel says that: “Today’s creator communities remain precariously dependent on centralised platforms, which reap profits while holding audiences captive.” They’re looking to build a place where everyone’s content is collective and not competitive. Eventually, it wants to become a “decentralised media organisation”, which presumably means the content will be hosted on their own decentralised Web3 website, using crypto and blockchain technology.
They’ve also created a crypto-token which will essentially be a NFT. By purchasing this, people will gain access to the content on an RSS feed (currently it’s podcasts from each of the three co-founders), along with access to the “devs” (AKA developers). Typically in blockchain spaces, this happens via a private Discord link. As far as Channel is concerned, you can think of your NFT as a sort of unique card that is also a key to unlocking a world of content – all super secure.
It’s confusing watching the web as you know it change, isn’t it? Some might also say it’s exciting or terrifying. Either way, it’s a bit new and fresh to us all. If you’re still wrapping your head around it all, don’t worry. The jump to a fully-fledged, blockchain-based web is a little way off yet.
But least now you’re primed, right?