From decentralization and blockchain, to NFTs and DAOs, the internet is overflowing with lingo about Web3. But what is the decentralized internet and what does it mean for the future of internet use? While we are excited to hear from plenty of speakers on the topic in June at VivaTech, we wanted a deeper look into what the future of the internet might look like. To explore Web3 further, let’s go back in time to better understand the foundations of the internet we use today. Keep calm and start the DeLorean!
In the beginning
Great Scott! It’s 2002 and you have a project to do for school about dinosaurs. You head to your local library, but instead of reading through a dozen books and encyclopedias, the librarian shows you to a computer where you can search for the same information in a matter of minutes – incredible! The websites you are most likely to stumble upon are single-page, informational sites about the history of dinosaurs. These read-only pages are part of Web 1.0, or the first version of the internet.
Now, jump forward 20 years to see where we’ve advanced since Web 1.0. It’s 2022 and a student has to do the same project on dinosaurs. She can get out her personal laptop at home and search thousands of websites on the subject, but she can also go onto her favorite social media platform and poll her classmates on which dinosaur is their favorite or read a forum arguing which museum has the best dinosaur fossil collection. This version of the internet is Web 2.0 and it allows users to not only read the information on websites, but to contribute to them as well, making the internet much more interactive.
A change on the horizon
Yet what if users weren’t simply consumers who participate in the internet, but rather creators and managers of what happens there. This is where the next wave of the internet, Web3, is heading. As it stands, most of the information on the internet passes through just a handful of large tech companies such as Apple, Meta or Google. While these centralized platforms have their benefits – they provide valuable services and have been core innovators for the tech scene – the issues of trust and privacy of data remain. It’s like having all our eggs in just a few baskets.
Hence the notion of decentralizing the internet – taking out the intermediaries and handing control to users. Platforms and apps built on Web3 won’t be owned by a central gatekeeper, but rather by users, who will earn their ownership stake by helping to develop and maintain those services (Wired). While Web3 remains mostly an aspiration at this point, let’s see what the internet on Web3 could look like. Jumping back into our (purely speculative) time machine, fast forward ten years to 2032.
The future internet
The interface of the future internet probably won’t look extremely different from what it looks like today. It’s rather where the information for websites is stored – on the blockchain versus a centralized database – that makes the difference.
Thanks to the blockchain, there will be some pretty intriguing solutions in Web3 that can’t exist in Web2. You’ll be able to make instantaneous payments between friends (or internet strangers if you want) without the need for a bank or platform to complete the transaction, an advantage for people who don’t have access to a bank or can’t open an account. Also, when entering a new website or app, no more accepting cookies – you don’t have to feel like you are selling your soul to a website that wants to collect your data – because you own your data, encrypted on the blockchain, and you decide what to share!
In this future web, you could also be a part owner of apps, platforms, metaverses, games or even own a dinosaur NFT, and vote on what happens to them. A prime example of this style of governance, which has already been implemented, is Decentraland – the first fully decentralized virtual world.
Web3: impactful or harmful
So, users have more control on the internet, no soul-selling required, and they have access to some pretty cool applications in Web3. Not too shabby. How do we access it though, and what will its influence be? Unfortunately, most Web3 applications require some sort of capital to take part in the communities, be that through buying NFTs or land in a virtual world, or through offering your own server space. As it remains, Web3 is more a space for either the ultra wealthy or for techies who understand all the details of blockchain technology and programming.
We also can’t ignore the negative impact that blockchain technology has on the environment. While an internet built on blockchain will lead us closer to user-controlled platforms, most of the blockchain is built using proof of work, which consumes enormous amounts of energy to verify work done on the blockchain, leading to even more carbon emissions. To combat this, specialists are pushing towards proof of stake verification, which reduces the amount of computational work needed to verify blocks and transactions that keep the blockchain secure, therefore reducing carbon emissions as well (Investopedia).
So, we’re better off with what we have then? Not necessarily. There simply needs to be more research into Web3. As stated in the Tech Trends 2022 report, the current state of blockchain and other platforms “is not unlike that of the Internet in 1997: clunky, with an inadequate user interface, but with lots of possibility for enterprise applications.” Imagine the possibilities of where Web3 could take us, once we find the right applications. As Doc said, “Your future is whatever you make it. So, make it a good one.” To the drawing board!
We can’t wait to hear even more about the topics surrounding Web3 at VivaTech and what solutions might push us towards the future of the internet. Join us from June 15 to listen to top speakers on the subject like John Karp, CEO of NFT Factory; Tami Bhaumik, VP of Civility and Partnerships at Roblox; and Alex de Vries, Data Scientist and Blockchain Specialist. See you there!