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Web 3.0: The Next Evolution of the Internet

Web 3.0 represents a paradigm shift for the internet — towards a decentralized, user-focused, and immersive online experience.

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Summary

Web 3.0 is an overarching concept that refers to the next phase of the internet’s evolution. This new internet is being deliberately designed to address prevalent, potentially problematic issues inherent in today’s internet, and will establish an online ecosystem in which human-centric and highly personalized interactions are the norm. While the details of Web 3.0’s underlying architecture have yet to be established, it is increasingly likely that Web 3.0’s main features will be connected and enabled through decentralized technology.

A Brief History of the Internet

Ever since the internet became widely adopted in the late 1990s, the web has intertwined ever more deeply with our daily lives. But, the complex and often invisible ecosystem of technologies, protocols, and networks that allows the internet to function is in a constant state of flux. Similarly, users’ experience with the internet is also ever changing. Web 3.0 is an overarching concept that refers to the next phase of the internet’s evolution, one that’s defined by decentralization and user sovereignty, along with an incredible deepening of the experiences and utility that humans derive from the online world.

In order to better understand Web 3.0 and its exciting implications, it helps to view it within the context of the internet’s evolutionary trajectory — and the limitations of our current internet model.

  • Web 1.0: The first iteration of the internet was mainly populated with static HTML web pages displaying non-interactive, centrally sourced data. As a result, the vast majority of web users were simple consumers of web content, and digital communications were largely limited to emails and basic one-way messaging. Despite these limitations, after launching in the 1990’s, Web 1.0 rapidly revolutionized the way people connect and exchange information and introduced a new digital world with which humanity has been captivated ever since.

  • Web 2.0: In the 2000’s, the original internet gradually evolved into the more interactive, digital landscape we frequent today. This stage of the internet’s development, Web 2.0, enabled the facilitation of more engaging and social online experiences, and gave rise to new business models enabled by network effects, crowdsourced content, and multidirectional data flows. In short, while Web 1.0 enabled data to be more effectively presented and consumed by users, Web 2.0 opened the floodgates to a more personalized internet via multi-channel user interactions and more dynamic, responsive algorithms.

While Web 2.0 enables more users to interact and participate in the creation of web content, this current model is embedded with several persistent issues. The internet is currently dominated by a handful of tech conglomerates who serve as the gatekeepers and curators of information access. And even though the internet may feel relatively open at times, our personal information is constantly being tracked and stored by these companies and other web applications — particularly with the rise of programmatic advertising.

Additionally, the current internet model largely relies on centralized servers and protocols to operate, which provides centralized points of failure that can be targeted by malicious actors – oftentimes resulting in massive data breaches or widespread economic destruction. With concerns over internet privacy, data portability, and self-sovereign identity rapidly becoming mainstream issues, there has been a more concerted effort to accelerate the next paradigm shift in internet applications.

The Gradual Shift to Web 3.0

Web 3.0 is being deliberately designed to address the prevalent, potentially problematic issues inherent in today’s internet ecosystem. However, there is no centralized authority overseeing the development of this new and open internet. Instead, progress is being made through the efforts of a loosely aligned assortment of private businesses, non-profit organizations, and individuals. These disparate entities are approaching Web 3.0’s development in a variety of ways, with organizations like the Web3 Foundation mainly focused on establishing guidelines for the overall Web 3.0 system while businesses like ConsenSys Labs are helping entrepreneurs build the decentralized applications (dApps) that may eventually populate Web 3.0’s digital landscape.

While the various teams and independent developers working on Web 3.0 features vary in strategy and approach, most attempts to create working frameworks or applications for the new internet center on the use of blockchain, whose Distributed Ledger Technology effectively resolves many of the underlying issues inherent in Web 2.0 and can be deployed in a way that augments and connects other cutting-edge technologies. More specifically, blockchain is essential to the formation of Web 3.0 because it is:

  • Open: Ever since the concept of blockchain was introduced in Satoshi Nakamoto's Bitcoin whitepaper, the technology has been defined by a collaborative, open-source ethos that converts the concepts of accessibility, equitability, and community governance into actual web services and protocols. And, while there may be specific use cases for private blockchains, most blockchain proponents believe that the technology’s true potential lies in ubiquitous public blockchains that feature transparent transactions and data records.

  • Trustless: In addition to being transparent, blockchain records are also censorship-resistant and immutable. The rules governing how transactions are executed and stored on a blockchain ledger are dictated by smart contracts and other hard-coded protocols, meaning that users can rely on the validity of the network’s performance or output without the need to trust anyone else on the network. As a result, blockchain technology mitigates the risks of operational opacity, selectively enforced rules, and other forms of obfuscation orbias, and provides a decentralized means of securing transactions and data.

  • Permissionless: The decentralized web — Web 3.0 — will only succeed if it allows users to interact with one another without the need for centralized authorities and other third-party intermediaries. To this end, blockchain technology’s decentralized consensus mechanisms and cryptography enable the secure yet flexible transfer of information and value without the need for external authorization.

There are a number of promising blockchain projects that are working towards the establishment of Web 3.0, with Ethereum currently leading the pack in terms of user adoption and breadth of scope. However, since the goal of Web 3.0 is to enable a more decentralized, collaborative internet, the various blockchain projects working to create Web 3.0 should be viewed as a collective endeavor rather than a race in which only one winner will be crowned. 

The Architecture of Web 3.0: The Decentralized Web

While the entirety of Web 3.0’s underlying architecture has yet to be established, there is a broad consensus on some of the general characteristics this new version of the internet will feature:

  • Semantic Web: As part of its underlying operational model, Web 3.0 is expected to be able to analyze and act on a broad ecosystem of digital content by forming complex associations between web services, user behavior, and other contextual data. This breakthrough will enable an unprecedented level of data connectivity and mark a significant departure from the current internet model, which focuses on keywords and structured numerical values. The goal of the Semantic Web in many ways is to make Internet data machine-readable, increasing its overall efficiency and effectiveness on a far-reaching scale.

  • Artificial Intelligence: Web 3.0’s semantic web will be enabled by advanced artificial intelligence (AI) software capable of decrypting natural language and understanding user intention. As a result, the new internet is expected to provide more intuitive, user-centric interactions relative to the current internet, which is still largely reliant on direct user inputs. These AI processes will also play a central role in maintaining the integrity of Web 3.0’s content ecosystem by separating reliable information from low quality or fraudulent posts.

  • Visual Immersion: Present-day technology already offers an impressive array of virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR)-enabled experiences. However, Web 3.0 is expected to expand the use of 3D graphics and VR technologies in a way that blurs the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds. With Web 3.0 enabling the rendering of physical objects in the digital realm and vice versa, this immersive technology will enable new ways to interact with products and services and display or retrieve information.

  • Secure, Ubiquitous Data: While Web 3.0 will harken a new era of interconnected Internet of Things (IoT) devices and multiplatform interoperability, the data stored and shared on this new internet will also be more secure and flexibly applied than current web data. This will be made possible through Web 3.0’s decentralized network infrastructure, which helps eliminate non-value-adding middlemen, eliminate the risk of centralized server failures, and enable users to fully own their own data. Web 3.0 may also enable applications to be more device-agnostic, allowing different types of hardware and software platforms to interact with one another without any operational friction or added development costs.

As such, Web 3.0 marks a new online paradigm that encapsulates a vast array of cutting-edge decentralized web applications, built around cutting-edge technologies such as AI, IoT devices, and VR/AR. These key innovations will be connected and enabled through Web 3.0 blockchain technology, which provides the decentralized yet secure network infrastructure necessary to bring Web 3.0 to fruition.

Web 3.0 Puts Humanity First

The Agricultural Revolution allowed humanity to proliferate and create complex social structures, but also led to more widespread inequality, destabilized ecosystems, and the rise of global pandemics. Likewise, the first iterations of the internet brought innumerable benefits to mankind, but at the cost of personal privacy, social harmony, and a relinquishment of control over our digital selves.

Web 3.0 is a technological revolution unlike many others in that it is specifically engineered to empower individuals and local communities rather than amplify the hierarchies that have long dictated society’s trajectory. At the same time, this new internet is not intended to be an anti-establishment creation, given that this transparent and secure online ecosystem will give rise to exciting new business models and participatory governance structures.

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