What is Web 3.0?

What is Web 3.0 and Why should you care?

If you follow the trends in technology like we do, you have likely heard the terms Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and lately Web 3.0.

Having grown up in the 80s and the 90s, we find the history of the web (and Internet) interesting. So, we will spend a bit of time going over the Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 eras.  If you prefer to skip right to the Web 3.0 stuff, click here.  Each of these terms refers to a distinct era of the web (or internet).

Web 3.0 is a term that has been going around for close to 15 years. While there have been many Web 3.0 predictions and thoughts, nothing really evolved into a true Web 3.0 by today’s standards. We feel we skipped a step in web versioning. What we call Web 2.0 today should really have been Web 3.0 – with 2010 as the approximate baseline when mobile devices and social media started becoming mainstream –and the current Web 3.0 should be Web 4.0.

When you look at Web 3.0 predictions from 10+ years ago, they largely focused on mobile, personalization, and penetration of video content. Here we are closing in on 2022, and everything is already personalized; video usage is heavy and most consumers’ primary devices are mobile devices compared to laptop or desktop devices. We predict that desktop and laptop usage for personal use will continue to dip.

Irrespective of whether you want to call this evolution Web 3.0 or Web 4.0, the future is going to be exciting.

Web 1.0

Back in the early days of the Internet, Web 1.0 web pages were largely static, ugly, and unwieldy, with hacky ways of doing things. This was the start of the browser wars; and every browser treated websites differently. The largest contenders at the time were Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. While doing research for this article we found that Opera Browser also existed in the 1990s. Though, we do not think many people used it back then.

Web 1.0 - CNN Homepage from August 15 2000
CNN Homepage from archive.org – August 15, 2000

CSS and JavaScript in the 1990s was very basic, and most web pages got built using

layouts. Back then, you only had to contend with one view port, or device – a 4:3 800×600 CRT monitor. JavaScript and CSS both came on the scene in the mid- to-late 90s.In the Web 1.0 days, different platforms or content types had different apps to use them. For example, you had your browser for web content; ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger, or MSN Messenger for chat; and specific news programs or file programs like Gopher and BBS apps, protocols like IRC, and apps like mIRC, FTP apps, and others. The internet and the web in the Web 1.0 days were very archaic and fragmented. This started changing around the early 2000s.

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 saw rapid growth and development of internet infrastructure, consolidation of technologies, and deployment of high speed and mobile internet across the globe. Web 2.0 saw the explosive and rapid development of technologies supporting the web, both from the front-end and back-end perspectives. On the front-end, we saw the alignment of browser standards, where Microsoft finally decided to make Internet Explorer standards-compliant; in the late 2000s, HTML Shiv and other JavaScript hacks to make IE compliant were less important. Browsers became largely based on one of the two frameworks ­- WebKit or Chromium.

CNN’s homepage from archive.org from February 2010
CNN’s homepage from archive.org from February 2010

This standardization made for a better user experience by allowing developers to focus on quality user interfaces versus trying to hold their sites together with duct tape.

Web 2.0 brought a lot of changes with it, including mobile responsive design, social media, streaming and media services, and more. Early and mid Web 2.0 days also saw the usage of some now defunct browser-based extensions like Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, Java, and insecure Active-X add-ons (sorry Internet Explorer). Those days are long gone, and so are the security nightmares that came with them. It was a great attempt at making the web more interactive, but it created a vendor-specific lock-in and largely alienated non-Windows users, with the exception of Java and Flash (to an extent). These days, features provided by these plugins get built-in natively to mainstream web browsers with functionality like WebGL and access to USB devices embedded directly into the browser itself.

Early Decentralization

This era also rang in the era of decentralization with BitTorrent hitting the scene 20 years ago (July 2001), allowing for decentralized file sharing. We are sure any Millennial reading this article will remember apps like Gnutella, Napster, Vuze, and Shareaza as a source of everything pirated from music, video clips, and movies to full apps. The decentralization of file hosting played an important role in the future architecture design of the internet, and, in our opinion, likely paved the way for decentralized, cloud-based hosting. This decentralized file hosting is also the precursor to the decentralization we are seeing today with cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.

While Web 2.0 slowly embraced the concepts of decentralization, it took nearly 20 years for it to receive wide-scale adoption.

Death of Legacy Technology

Web 2.0 saw the sun setting on older protocols and technologies like Gopher, AOL, and instant messaging platforms like AIM, ICQ, and MSN. It also, to a lesser extent, contributed to the slow death of music and movie piracy within the past 10 years. These got replaced by social media sites like Facebook by Meta, streaming services like Netflix, and music subscription services like Spotify.

Personalization

Late Web 2.0 (or what should have been Web 3.0) also brought with it the idea of personalized experience. Google was a pioneer in personalization well back into its early days through advertising by using complex algorithms to serve ads of interest to you, based on your purchase intent. They also served you news based on topics they felt you would find interesting. Social media, such as Facebook, extended the personalization even further by customizing your news feed with content they felt you would be most likely to engage with.

Of course, this personalization comes at a cost; confirmation bias by reinforcing a world view that you want to see, and personalization gets done by giving these behemoths your data to analyze and understand how to best target you. As Late Web 2.0 progressed, we saw the explosion of mobile devices, apps and services, including data integration, location, and position tracking, and much more.

Web 3.0

Web 3.0 (or 4.0 if you feel the same way we do) – the next iteration of the web, or colloquially the Internet – builds on the groundwork of the pioneers of Web 2.0 and brings a larger focus on decentralization and openness. Think of public blockchains like Ethereum, which are holding more than just financial information, and pure crypto blockchains like Bitcoin. These databases or ledgers exist on thousands or millions of users’ devices, simultaneously. An update to one ledger updates all ledgers through a consensus process.

This, in theory, can be disastrous. This is much like anyone having permission to edit on Wikipedia. Any user can change any page whenever they want. But, much like Wikipedia, blockchain relies on consensus and proof of work/citation. For example, if we change something on Wikipedia, it’s likely that within minutes an editor, a group of editors, or an AI Bot would see our change and determine if it is accurate, or whether they should revert the article to its original state. If we do these several times, we are likely to get banned from making any further edits to Wikipedia.

Similar to Wikipedia, most blockchains require consensus for changes. Without getting into the technical “how”, it basically prevents someone from saying “Paul sent Anita $500” without consensus; this way, Anita cannot get $500 from Paul without any accountability or verification from others. Much like Wikipedia, blockchain does not require a user to have an account or register to make changes. Anyone is free to make changes anonymously as long as there is consensus within the protocol.

Immersive Experiences

In Web 3.0, we will likely see a more immersive experience.  Web 1.0 was static, Web 2.0 was interactive, and Web 3.0 will be immersive, with the adoption and growth of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other integrated services like DroppTV. The Metaverses will continue to grow and people will start spending a lot more time in pure VR worlds or living their life with augmentation such as AR glasses, heads-up displays, or another wearable tech. This would not be an overnight change, but would likely be a growing trend over the next 3 to 5 years as the technology matures and becomes more accessible.

This, of course, may come at a cost of mental health and social experience. If you think going out with friends today is annoying when everyone has their phones out, imagine how bad it will be when everyone has AR glasses on and can read messages without pulling out their phones!

Personalization & Data Sovereignty

Personalization will mature and plateau in Web 3.0 and a shift of power will begin. Savvy internet users have realized that if you are not paying for the service, then you are the product. That trading of personal information, browsing history, chat messages, and physical location comes at a cost. Web 3.0 will see a user regain some control of their personal information in the early days and over the next 10 years or so, we will likely see a complete shift in control, with the user owning and controlling 100% of their data whether centralized or decentralized as mentioned previously.

Development of NFT’s

Interestingly, Web3.0 has got a leg-up by the rise of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. If you are not familiar with NFTs, think of it as buying in-game collectibles, skins, or other goods within a video game. The goods you buy are usually pure virtual assets and may or may not have any real-world value. Once you own the NFT, you can sell it or trade it with others as if it were a physical item.

What Does This Mean for Business?

The adoption curve is something most businesses will need to continue chasing. Even in 2021, a lot of businesses still do not have websites; many are not on social media; several businesses that should have apps still do not, while many that do not need apps, have them.  These laggard businesses will not thrive in the Web 3.0 era, as they will likely be unable to compete as more agile and technology-savvy businesses emerge.

Data Sovereignty & Right to Be Forgotten

Businesses, regardless of industries, should start thinking about how they compete and stay relevant in the Web 3.0 era, and pay special attention to things like should you store data on a public blockchain? Storing information on a public blockchain makes the right to be forgotten impossible. Even if the creator chooses to remove their data, there is no way to guarantee that it would actually get removed, or that someone has not made a copy of the ledger as a backup somewhere. This is similar to web-based content today. Sites like archive.org scan popular sites and download pages regularly, so even if you remove a Facebook post or a Tweet, it does not mean it does not exist on some public archive. Data sovereignty will be an important consideration in Web 3.0.

Centralization vs. Decentralization

What could be the takeaway from the centralization versus decentralization debate, and what are the risks of either option? Data and Security Engineers will need to pay close attention to what they develop to make sure it meets regulatory, legislative, and user requirements. While we are on the topic of decentralization, cloud infrastructure in the Web 3.0 future will become even more decentralized than it is today. With companies like Cloudflare offering serverless edge computing services, your code runs natively and locally across their global network, ensuring low latency and high reliability.

Companies like Amazon offer similar products in Lambda, and Microsoft has Azure Functions, but while similar, they are not the same. The big difference between Cloudflare’s solution and something like Lambda is that the latter is still tied to an AWS region where Cloudflare’s solution is region agnostic. Software Engineers of the future will code differently than they do today. Microservices will continue to grow and code will continue to become more compact and function-specific.

We will likely see open-source hosted serverless functions that other developers can tap into as needed. Similar to how we have content CDNs today for common libraries like jQuery, we will see “Execution CDNs” becoming common with publicly-available worker functions, instead of every developer trying to reinvent the wheel. Languages like JavaScript & Rust will continue to grow in popularity in these decentralized code environments due to the flexibility and the ease of use compared to other scripted languages, or compiled languages.

Integration & Interoperability in the Metaverse

Integration and interoperability will also be something to keep an eye out for. Facebook’s plan for their Metaverse is to make things portable – meaning an avatar you create on their platform could interact with avatars on a platform from someone like Microsoft or Sony on a game console.  When you design your Web 3.0 technology, you should consider how you interface with other providers. Are you intending on building a walled garden ecosystem, or something your users can take with them? Planning for robust internal and external APIs will be important for rapid integration with other providers, as will following and adhering to open interoperability standards.

It seems that everyone from celebrities to 12 year-olds down the street is creating NFTs these days. Some companies like L’Oreal Paris – a consumer packaged goods company – have created their own NFTs by female digital artists, while marketing thought leaders like Gary Vaynerchuck have created their own NFT marketplaces.  A lot of creators publish NFTs for rare collectibles – for example, a limited number of downloads of a song from an artist, artwork, and even domain names.  If your business could create an NFT, what would your unique selling proposition be? And why should anyone care? If you decide to get involved with NFTs, are you going to launch your own marketplace or participate in someone else’s?

VR & AR Experiences

Lastly, how will your business plan for the inevitable AR/VR take over? Will your business build a VR storefront or office? Will you have a VR boardroom full of people scattered around the world? What will those experiences look like? And how will you manage them? How will those experiences integrate with legacy platforms and Web 2.0 experiences?

Final Thoughts

Web 3.0 is set to be a ground-breaking shift in how humans interact with each other and businesses. The technology groundwork is still fresh and subject to change often. Savvy businesses should be keeping a close eye on what is evolving and work with their solutions integrators, development partners, and other subject matter experts to understand how to best position themselves and set themselves up for success in the next era of communication integration.

Some Gurus and subject matter experts have publicly stated that Web 3.0 is vapourware or overhyped nonsense. The reality is it could be. 3D TVs were to be the next big thing in entertainment, but we know how that fizzled out before it ever gained traction. Similar things were often said about the Internet.

In an article published in February 1995’s issue of Newsweek, Clifford Stoll said. “The truth is that no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.” Yet, here we are in 2021 and most people born in the last 25 years have likely never burned a CD, newspapers are dying, and every government, business, and people rely on computer networks for everything from watching TV, making a phone call, or even starting their car.

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