Another new buzzword that has the internet excited, but what exactly is Web3? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is Web3?
At its core, the idea behind Web3 is to take the World Wide Web as we know it and add blockchains – the technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin – to everything.
Why would you want to do that?
The Web was once seen as a utopia where anyone could do anything, but Web3 proponents say it’s now dominated by big corporations and proprietary algorithms. Blockchains could give people equitable ownership of their internet presence. “Web3 is a way to deal with the trauma of losing a once possible great future for the internet,” says Niels Ten Oever of the University of Amsterdam.
Wait, what about Webs 1 and 2?
The first web was just the world wide web, launched by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, which allowed people with technical know-how to put information online in a decentralized way. Web 2.0, first named in a 1999 magazine article, has seen the development of easy-to-use tools that allow anyone to create content online, not just experts, but at the cost of centralization in the tech giants we have today, like Facebook. and Google.
Web3 sets its own typographic trend by ditching the “.0” and a space, and will allow the best of both worlds, say its proponents: easy-to-use decentralized tools.
So what does this actually entail?
At the heart of Web3 are distributed applications (or dapps) built using the Ethereum blockchain, which pays users who help keep its network online.
Dapps will play a similar role for Web3 that the App Store played in unlocking the potential of the iPhone, says Zoe Scaman, founder of London-based strategy studio Bodacious and a supporter of Web3. “We need friction to be removed and large-scale use cases to be created, which will happen when more third-party developers start releasing more dapps built on top of blockchains,” Scaman says.
What are the dapps at the moment?
Among the top five dapps right now, the most popular is one that allows users to trade cryptocurrencies, while another is for non-fungible token (NFT) trading. The other three are games, similar to the early App Store hits, but with one key difference: you can get paid in cryptocurrency to play them.
I still don’t know how the way I use the internet will change.
Proponents say this is a bold new future designed to wrest control from big tech platforms and put power in the hands of ordinary citizens: a decentralized internet, where the power of people prevails on individual businesses. The same concept was behind a failed bid to buy a copy of the US Constitution last month.
It looks like a headache.
Some people are skeptical of the Web3 utopia. “Web3 introduces friction, without solving any real problem,” says Ten Oever. Many of the claims behind Web3 – such as distributed architecture and decentralization – are best achieved without blockchains, skeptics argue.
“If you’re building a distributed architecture on top of a centralized infrastructure, you’re not suddenly decentralizing the infrastructure,” says Ten Oever. While web infrastructure is theoretically decentralized, in practice much of the internet runs on servers hosted by a handful of companies, such as Amazon – and the same is true with Web3, he says, because people are running dapps hosted by a few providers.
So, are the skeptics right?
The flaws have yet to be eliminated from the Web3 promise, and the word has been held back by those trying to make a quick buck. Even its boosters, like Scaman, have warned of scams and the pump and dump patterns allied to the word. “There will always be people trying to make money,” she says, “but there are also incredibly talented people building amazing things.”
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