What Is Web3 And How Did It Start?

11-04-2022
#tech
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I hate buzzwords. I always have and always will. I don’t want to hear you are looking for an analytics “rockstar”, “superstar” or “ninja”. I don’t want to hear about your “AI powered solution” or how you are “making the world a better place” with your £9 organic juices. 

I mainly hate buzzwords because there is no regulation. What exactly constitutes “data driven”? What exactly are you referring to when you say your organisation “is like a family”? It’s ripe for at worst abuse and snake oil salesmanship, and at best, a complete lack of effort. But there is a new word that has been floating about the zeitgeist recently that has regrettably been adopted heavily by the LinkedIn flimflammers who are always trying to get you to buy their stupidly named crypto or telling you to just hustle your way out of poverty and that you have the same 24 hours in the day as they do. This word however is different, and has real implications you should be aware of. 

And that word is Web3.

Understandably, you are now probably asking your computer screen : 

“But Matt, you just did two paragraphs where you sounded like a cantankerous old man who hates technology, why would you be interested in Web3?” 

To which I would first answer, stop talking to a static webpage. And secondly, I would say that I actually love technology. I am one of the suckers who thinks that technology can solve most of the world's problems. But I am also acutely aware that this is a new frontier. And much like new frontiers of the past, it’s full of dangers. So I wrote this in a quite frankly arrogant attempt to clarify some of the misconceptions around Web3, and take you through the differences in the 3 very blurred stages of the Internet. So let’s start at the start, because that’s always the best place in my experience.

What were the characteristics of Web1?

Key characteristics : 

“I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them”. The word “Web1” was actually coined as a way to describe “Web2” but essentially this was the first iteration of the internet and can be essentially described with one word, “static”. The transitory period between the different stages of the web are inherently blurry as new technologies and frameworks take time to install and become widespread, but largely, Web1 is considered to have been from the early 1990’s to the early 2000s.

What are the characteristics of Web2?

Key characteristics :

As computers became cheaper and more widely used, the internet started to shift and mould to the changing climate. In the mid 2000s, pioneers saw that as the world spent more and more time online, the internet needed to become personalised and interactive. Current social media giants were founded during this time on the premise of the defining characteristic of web2 : “user generated content”. This means that you could upload your own content to sites for the first time, and huge communities gathered on sites geared towards interactivity. 

But this explosion of activity required monumental and expensive infrastructure, meaning that the web backed more and more centralised between a handful of giants. And as we interacted with the web more and more, this interaction was captured and monetised. Online advertising ballooned to a multi-billion dollar industry, and regulation struggled to contain the data that behemoths were collecting on their users. And that’s where we are at now, with a small cabal of companies essentially deciding our world’s future. But like some kind of Greek myth with more ramen and RSI, technological behemoths are always challenged by the next generation…

What will be the characteristics of Web3?

Key characteristics:

The future.

As is a concurrent theme with technology, Web3 is often defined by its differences to its predecessor. And much like Web2 was a reaction to Web1, Web3 is a direct reaction to the centralisation and privacy issues of Web2. Web3’s defining characteristic is one of decentralisation. 

By examining the huge monopolies that were developed in the early 2000s, organisations like the Ethereum Foundation and those involved with early-stage blockchain technology realised that with the amount of computing power that was present around the world, a decentralised network could be feasibly established that democratised internet access and take control away from one centralised entity. And, like web2 with UGC and interactivity, the core of Web3 was born. 

We are seeing an explosion of activity of decentralised apps and infrastructure, some good, some would give Bernie Madoff an orgasm. It’s important to remember that the switch to Web2 was by no means a seamless process. Computer viruses, the widespread propagation of online hate speech and frauds too innumerable to mention were born from Web2 interactivity, and cryptocurrency rug pulls, dubious NFT projects and climate concerns are a big part of Web3’s early beginnings. I am hopeful for the future of Web3 though, and I think the core premise of taking the internet back to its decentralised, free-to-all roots are the kind of thinking we need in this quite frankly dismal climate. But again, Web3 is a hazy term which is bandied about on a whim, but at it’s core, the mission is admirable and one that aims to serve the 99% rather than the 1, who have been on one hell of a hot streak for the past 500 years.

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