The internet keeps changing, with new technologies coming onto the scene that aim to improve our user experiences. Since 1992, the world wide web has transitioned from one generation of technology (the first) into another - different and more powerful than the other. And now, we're readying ourselves for a third generation of the internet - Web 3.0! The future is imminent and likely revolutionary, with several new technologies that will transform our digital landscape forevermore (or at least until Web 4.0 comes along).
So, what is Web 3.0? Simply put, Web 3.0 is the third generation of the internet. Blockchain-based, decentralised internet characterises it with user-friendly frameworks, higher security, greater individual control, and a better-connected internet. In the third generation world wide web, where we say everything will be decentralised, the internet is controlled by everyone, not one particular actor.
While many will define Web 3.0 in different ways, one thing remains common - it's the next internet ecosystem that will eventually replace the present Web 2.0. The evolution of the internet is divided into first-generation (Web 1.0), second-generation (Web 2.0), and the emerging decentralised web, Web 3.0.
Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 vs. Web 3.0
To understand Web 3.0, you need to understand the evolution of the internet. To understand what web 3.0 is and why it matters, here's a brief history of the world wide web:
Web 1.0 was the first phase or first generation of the internet (from 1990 to 2005). In 1990, Berner-Lee was the pioneer of the early development of the internet. Some key technologies that formed the foundation of the web were developed during the first generation: fundamental technologies like HTTP, HTML, and URI/URL were developed by Berners-Lee in the 90's.
Key Features & Technologies of Web 1.0
- Static Web Pages: The first web pages were created in this era. They were pretty basic, with little or no features for user interaction.
- HTML: Stands for HyperText Markup Language, and the formatting language of the web.
- URL: Stands for Uniform Resource Locator - a unique identifier/address assigned to each web resource or site.
- HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol - enables the retrieval of resources from the internet.
- ISPs: The first internet service providers that enabled users to connect to the internet through dial-up were founded.
- Web Browsers: First web browsers were built during this time, like Netscape Navigator.
- Content Creation: At this time, content creation was still at its early stage, and web pages were not as interactive as they are today.
In 1999, Darcy DiNucci coined web 2.0, and it is the second generation internet (from 2006 to the present day), characterised by social networking platforms, widespread internet access, and more. In this era of the web, there was a massive shift from the internet Web 1.0 in terms of web technologies and how users interact online.
Key Features & Technologies of Web 2.0
- Static Pages to Interactive Pages: Web 2.0 led to a shift from bland, static pages to pages with features that allow users to interact and perform actions beyond just reading content, like clicking a ‘buy’ button on static e-commerce pages.
- Increased Internet Access: Widespread accessibility due to the proliferation of technologies like mobile phones (like iPhones & Android devices), enabling many across the globe to access the internet. There were 1 billion internet users in 2005, but today, there are over 4.5 billion users - thanks to advancements in web 2.0. Widespread mobile internet access is one of the major differences between web 1.0 and web 2.0.
- Proliferation of Apps: Users have hundreds of apps accessible via app stores. These applications have significantly extended the functionalities of the web and enabled the ability to perform various tasks effortlessly on mobiles.
- Social Networking Platforms: The second generation internet is driving the current social media growth, with the likes of Meta (Facebook), Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, and many others gaining mainstream adoption. The adoption and advancement of social platform technologies have revolutionised how people interact and share content.
- User-Generated Content: The presence of social media and other types of apps has made it easy for every user to create and share content 24/7. User-centred content creation is a key feature of web 2.0.
- Big Tech &. Data: Large centralised organisations manage the personal data of users. They make money by selling user data to advertisers who use the insights for targeted advertising.
- Rise of the Gig Economy: Web 2.0 applications have accelerated the growth of the gig economy. This has enabled people to earn a living by driving (e.g. Uber), home renting (Airbnb), digital marketing, delivery services, and more.
Web 3.0 is the third generation internet and an upgrade of web 2.0. In web 3.0, applications and sites will be decentralised (compared to centralised apps in 2.0), more immersive, permissionless, and trustless. This generation of the internet will include semantic web (artificial intelligence), blockchain technology, and other disruptive technologies.
Key Features & Technologies of Web 3.0
- Decentralisation: Applications and websites will be decentralised ("dApps"). They will not be under the control of a single big corporation, as seen today. dApps will replace the type of applications currently available.
- Permissionless & Trustless: Decentralisation eliminates centralised control and censorship, as seen with large companies. Web 3.0 will be permissionless and trustless, giving users the freedom they need to make the most of their online activities.
- Blockchain Technology: Internet 3.0 will partly be powered by blockchain technology. Decentralisation, smart contracts, digital ownership (NFTs), etc., require the implementation of blockchain technology.
- Semantic Web: The semantic web envisioned by Berners-Lee is not web 3.0, but will be part of it. He spoke of a digital space where machines can perform super-intelligent tasks using artificial intelligence. The semantic web (artificial intelligence), blockchain, and other state-of-the-art technologies will drive the emergence of the next generation of the internet.
- Creators Have Control: Unlike the present generation, where the big techs own users’ data and content, users will retain ownership of their content on decentralised platforms. NFTs will be used to maintain ownership of digital assets, thereby making monetisation of digital properties easy.
- Immersive Platforms: There will be a shift from the present 2D platforms to immersive 3D experiences - just like the metaverse. The re-branding of Facebook to the more immersive Meta shows that web 3.0 is actually closer than expected.
- Higher Connectivity: With web 3.0, data, content, and devices will be more connected, and there will also be greater ease of access.
Why Web 3.0 Matters
Next-generation internet technology has the power to revolutionise how we create content and interact. The present problems (like exploitative advertising) with web 2.0 can be solved, thus creating an enjoyable digital place for all users! Here are some benefits of web 3.0:
- Greater Utility: It will provide greater utility for users. dApps will enable people to perform activities beyond what web 2.0 currently offers - shopping, streaming, etc.
- Control Over Security & Privacy of Personal Data: Users will own their personal data, and they will have a say in the privacy and security of personal information. Unlike web 2.0, where tech giants monetise people’s data without their consent, users can decide whether they want to sell their data to advertisers or not.
- Reward for Participation: Web 3.0 will encourage participation by monetising it. Content creators could monetise their personal data and content. There is already a rise in play-to-earn games, which is a model where players earn money while playing. Many more creators could earn cryptocurrency from their content.
- More Freedom: There will be no central governing body. Consequently, users can exert ownership control and share content freely without oppressive censorship, as seen today.
- End of Exploitative Advertising: Exploitative advertising is still possible because tech companies still control users’ data. In the emerging world wide web, users will have control over their data, and they might share advertising revenue.
- Need for New Business Models: How users share content and interact on the internet will change. Many organisations, if not all, with a digital presence, will have to find new business models to thrive. Any company that wants to stay ahead of the curve must invest in gathering insights on how to do business in the next phase of the internet.
Web 3.0 is a revolution that will change the way we use technology. It has so much in store for us with new features and incentives, but organisations do need to make some changes too if they want their business models to keep up-to date through this hurricane of innovation. And it’s not just organisations that need to be mindful of change, as a society it’s important to recognise that decentralisation can lead to fake news and disinformation, cybercrime, hate speech, and so on. In short, Web 3.0 comes with its own set of challenges that must be tackled head on by us all together rather than being ignored or dismissed out of fear or ignorance about what might happen next when everything becomes decentralised and autonomous.