- How the Web started out.
- The evolution to Web2.
- The first mentions of Web3.
- The vision and the issues of Web3.
- The future.
Imagine this; it’s the 2000’s and you’re booting up your ‘PC’, your very own Personal Computer.
A nifty device, you even got one of the more powerful versions with high-end specifications, even your friends are jealous. Sporting a lightning fast page load of mere 3 minutes to open “www.Pets.com”.
Jokes aside, despite its crude nature, Web1 was an era defined by decentralized, open protocols. The earliest platforms ran on the internet were powered by open-source code, shared through forums, bulletin board systems and early versions of instant messengers. Most of it was unpatented and free.
“The Web we know now, which loads into a browser window in essentially static screenfuls, is only an embryo of the Web to come.” — Darcy DiNucci
In her article “Fragmented Future” published in 1999, the first vision of Web2 was being created.
Darcy mentioned how in the future, you would be able to use the internet on multiple devices. They will sync up, talk to each other, appear on your computer screen and TV at the same time etc.
Web1 was immobile, static, read-only with little to no user interaction, utility or adaptability.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the dot-com crash (circa 2000), Pets.com filed for bankruptcy as they burned through $82.5 million in funding mere 9 months after IPO. With this monumental event behind us, a new breed of online services emerged.
Together with the rise of internet speeds, streaming sites like YouTube and Netflix started to become more prominent. Alongside this, social media came into being and soon, the ability to link experiences to media via sharing videos or livestreaming became commonplace. This era also saw the rise of the mobile internet, granting even more access to these platforms thanks to cell phones and tablets.
Web2 transformed the Internet from a read-only to a read/write environment. Users were suddenly able to submit a variety of information into web forms and transmit it back to the servers, allowing them to connect with hosting servers in real-time.
However, these new platforms emerged from businesses and corporations. And the once open-source code and platforms that defined Web1 turned proprietary. Nobody could copy and modify these models without anticipating serious legal ramifications. Additionally, the emergence of such platforms corralled users into centralized hubs, ultimately controlled by big tech firms such as Facebook and Google. Before long, collecting user data became standard practice — often veiled behind ostensibly “free” services.
This is, unfortunately, the foundational landscape of Web2.
Gavin Wood, one of the co-founders of the Ethereum cryptocurrency, proposed the phrase Web3 in 2014. Since then, it’s become a catch-all phrase for everything relating to the future generation of the internet being a decentralized digital infrastructure.
Web3 is a concept that is still in the works.
- Web1 hosted mainly content created by commercial businesses, interaction was minimal.
- Web2 introduced and expanded upon social media, gave the average person the ability to create and profit from their content on the web. Although any such plans still required the involvement of a Big Tech company such as YouTube (owned by Google), Facebook, Twitter, or any of the major social networks that influencers — and individuals — rely on to reach their audiences.
Web3 proponents argue that by entirely decentralizing the web, they can cut out the Big Tech intermediaries, just as bitcoin is aiming to seize control of global money from huge financial organizations and governments.
The shortcomings of Web3’s vision
Despite the overwhelming array of possible use cases, there are still some major issues holding back this vision of Web3. For one, many self-described decentralized apps are far from being genuinely decentralized. It is not uncommon for the front end of these services to be running on cloud servers, meaning that access to them is still dependent on legacy infrastructure, and the blockchain is only occasionally tapped to send or receive data.
Even blockchain networks themselves, designed to be decentralized, lose that distinction if the majority of them run on Amazon Web Services or similar centralized corporate clouds. This is increasingly the case, even in the instance of Ethereum.
34% of all Ethereum nodes are hosted in the United States because cloud computing providers have concentrated their infrastructure in the country. They include AWS, Microsoft Azure, Alibaba Cloud, Google Cloud, Digital Ocean, and Hetzner.
Such centralization, as with AWS dominance in the running ETH nodes, highlights a need for Data Center Diversity. A lack of which can cripple the Ethereum network due to outages as witnessed on December 8th, 2021. The additional centralization of cloud service providers located mainly in the United States highlights another concern for Geographic diversity.
Many basic issues still plague Web3
Today, a great deal of learning and experimentation is a necessary part of the average user’s Web3 journey. The lack of user-friendly design doesn’t do us any favors and makes the journey arduous and the learning curve long. In truth, it is a significant barrier to entry for most.
However, when code exploits and downtime are at the forefront of every developer’s mind, as they very much are today, user experience is far from a top priority.
It does make many Web3 platforms finicky and very tough to use, but that’s only because things are so new that most developers are still focused on the underlying technologies.
That said, there are more serious concerns with Web3.
To start off, with significant changes comes significant risk. One of the best parts about Web3 is having full ownership of your data. It’s also the worst part as losing funds on your wallet is met with no customer support and no chance of retrieval.
This means there is never a possibility of letting your guard down and feeling true safety.
The Web3 space is still very much a Wild West, filled with bad actors. Without reliance on a centralized authority, you are fully responsible for keeping your data and currency safe. Even the most trusted Web3 protocols and platforms have been hacked and exposed, so it’s crucial always to have your guard up.
In short, trustlessness isn’t a universal truth in Web3. You need to trust yourself.
How we’ll get there
Everything considered, it would be premature to say we’ve made it to Web3 just yet. But that doesn’t mean the groundwork isn’t being laid.
For the vision of Web3 to come to reality it demands every part of an online service, from front end to back end, to be hosted on-chain. There is no need for legacy infrastructure, meaning no gatekeepers and minimum downtime. This will make for 100% authentic Web3 experiences all while providing noticeably better performance.
One of the most essential elements of this new technological epoch however, is that it is built correctly from the ground up.
Web3 is not a direct upgrade to Web2. It’s a chance to reimagine the internet and what’s important is to make sure that it is done in the interests of end-users rather than corporations.