A "Web3" logo in front of a globe.
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A new buzzword has taken over the internet: Web3, also known as Web 3.0 or web3. People say it’s the future—but what does that really mean? Let’s take a look at what Web3 is and what it may have in store for us.

What Is Web 3.0?

Web3 is a pretty nebulous term that means different things to different people. It promises an internet that relies a lot less on large companies like Google or Facebook and more on decentralized networks. The idea behind it is democratization of the internet rather than the corporatization that we see today, where these massive conglomerates more or less run the web.

Web 3.0 would rely on blockchain technology, as well as artificial intelligence, to break big tech companies’ stranglehold on the internet and return it to regular people. Though it’s a bit of a utopia, still, since much of the technology needed for Web3 is in its infancy, it’s an attractive vision for anybody that is concerned about the dominance of huge companies like Meta and their desire to control how people experience the internet.

To understand a little better where the internet is headed, though, we need to first look at where it came from.

Web 1.0 and Web 2.0

Web 1.0 was the first publicly available web—we’ll leave forerunners like ARPANET out of consideration—and was very basic in many ways. In this period, the internet was mostly just a collection of read-only pages, without any real interactivity. Also, the vast majority of sites were operated by individuals or small companies. Internet giants didn’t exist yet—not really, anyway.

That changed with Web 2.0, which started from around 2004—like many large movements like this it’s hard to date exactly. Not only did sites become interactive—social media and the like—but large companies took over the internet. Sure, regular people still operate their own sites, but they’re in the minority now.

In fact, plenty of businesses, like Facebook and Google, operate purely as websites. That would have been unthinkable before 2004.

Web 2.0 vs. Web 3.0

What sets Web 3.0 apart from its ancestors is that it’s decentralized, more or less like Web 1.0 was, but is interactive like Web 2.0 is. It’s a web 2.0 where Big Tech has a lot less control—or maybe has been gotten rid of altogether. How that’s supposed to work gets pretty complicated.

How Web3 Works

As we mentioned before, the technology at the core of Web 3.0 is blockchain, the same tech which underpins cryptocurrency and NFTs. As such, in some circles, Web3 has become synonymous with everything crypto. You will occasionally see it referenced as a catch-all for anything to do with Bitcoin and the like. Many Web3 projects are decentralized apps (dApps) that run on the Ethereum blockchain.

The idea is that data would be kept in decentralized storage, so spread out over the internet as a whole rather than in a set amount of server farms as is the case now. How this data is moved about would be registered in a digital ledger—the blockchain—making the flow of data very transparent, while also preventing misuse.

This decentralization would be a boon for many people, as you could more easily access the internet from anywhere, perhaps opening up the web to the one-third of the world population that has never used the internet. At the same time, the promise is that artificial intelligence would limit abuse of the system by bots and click farms.

The promise is that this combination of transparency and AI would make it much harder for companies like Meta or Google to take control of the web like they have now and would, on paper at least, give people much more equal access to the web.

Objections to Web3

One massive downside to Web 3.0, however, would be the loss of anonymity. In a fully transparent system, you could always be identified, much the same way that cryptocurrency like Bitcoin isn’t anonymous. In fact, secrecy would be out of the window entirely, which may not be something everybody wants.

However, the biggest objection to Web 3.0 is that, in most ways, it’s entirely theoretical. While the idea of a decentralized internet without Meta and Google is great—wonderful even—it relies very strongly on technologies that haven’t been developed yet.

For example, blockchain is great, but it also badly slows down any process it’s a part of. Also, the kind of machine learning you’d need to create advanced networks just isn’t around yet. Still, though, the vision of a much freer internet is attractive enough that, even if Web 3.0 doesn’t turn out this way, it’ll be around in another.

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