The IT industry loves to talk about the future, and if you’ve been paying attention to recent industry headlines, you’ve probably seen the term “Web3” used. Web3 isn’t a new phrase, but it’s getting a lot more attention as the hoopla around bitcoin, NFTs, and the “metaverse” grows. While Web3 is intimately linked to those fashionable buzzwords, the proposed new web standard is about more than monkey JPGs and crypto mining—it may also make the internet more open, anonymous, and reliable.
Web3 intends to address the flaws in both Web 1.0 and 2.0 by establishing a decentralized internet that is easily accessible to everyone while maintaining their privacy and anonymity. Decentralization and internet anonymity are two things that the majority of people desire. It’s why some people are already doing everything they can to avoid Google, Facebook, and Apple, opting instead for open source alternatives to the products these behemoths possess.
But how will Web3 get us to this more open, egalitarian internet?
Much of the Web3 vision is based on blockchain technology, as is the case with most current computer advancements. The blockchain is a peer-to-peer network that is completely decentralized. Every device on the network is responsible for a little fraction of the network’s computation and communication, resulting in a server-less online network.
Peer-to-peer connections can also be used to decentralize internet content. Rather of connecting to a server where websites are housed, each user’s computer saves a portion of the data locally. This works in a similar way to how bittorrent downloads operate, and some browsers are already experimenting with it. If applied on a worldwide scale, the need for centralized servers may possibly be eliminated entirely.
The “metaverse” concept is the most ambitious Web3 effort. The metaverse is envisioned as a virtual arena in which people will ostensibly engage with internet content and each other in real-time, frequently in virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) surroundings. The concept has been around in speculative fiction for decades, and it is currently being pushed hard by Mark Zuckerberg (thus the corporate name change), but there are a slew of companies working to make the metaverse a reality.
It’s simple to get enthusiastic about the on-paper promise of Web3 technology, but keep in mind that these ideas are only aspirational at this point. Rather than being objective spectators seeing a revolutionary new standard, many Web3 enthusiasts have a financial stake in its success.
The difficulty is that the hype around Web3 is based on promises - what blockchain computing “might” enable, and how NFTs “could” be used. Much of the promised technology doesn’t exist yet, or if it does, it hasn’t been implemented correctly.
Blockchain technology was originally envisioned as a way to create a decentralized “world computer” that would connect everyone to a massive, server-less network, but has now pivoted to mostly powering cryptocurrency and NFT transactions.
The NFT/crypto rush is also arguably playing a major role in the current chip shortage plaguing the consumer hardware industry.
Despite these difficulties, Web3 continues to gain traction.
Blockchain, NFT, crypto, and even metaverse-adjacent functionalities are likely to make their way into the browsers, apps, and devices we use every day at some point. When that happens, we’ll be well into the “Web3” era, with potentially more freedom, privacy, and control over our online lives than we have now—though how much more remains to be seen.