A difference in approach that will define the future of what we now call the net.
Why do we talk about a third version of the web?
Because until now we have had two phases. The first version of the www is commonly indicated between 1991 and 2004 with very simple sites managed directly with computers of individuals or companies directly connected to the network. The phase two is started in the second half of 2000 with a much more centralized web managed largely by multinational companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft that handle much of the traffic through their servers. It’s the web we are using now, the one that is more interactive and rich in contents of different types but still quite “stupid”, where Google and other search engine try to understand the contents of the pages with their algorithms, often successfully but just as often failing if the pages are not properly structured “by hand” by those who made them.
Web 3.0 vs Web3
It would seem a simple semantic difference but in fact behind there is a substantially opposite vision. The first is Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the WWW who is now the president of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the self-governance and standardization body of the web. He and his team are proposing a solution to “stupid” pages with what he calls Web 3.0, or a semantic web. It’s about getting a better understanding of what’s on a page using a framework that allows you to define basic concepts, relationships and categories just to put it simple. So for him and the W3C this is a technical vision, as it has always been for them, without any commercial implications.
Web3 is instead based on changing the current situation based on centralized systems that is controlled by few companies. Web3 promises to change that by giving power back to the people and decentralizing the Internet using blockchain by including new protocols like Ethereum and IPFS, as well as other next generation technologies like zero-knowledge proofs (see video on this topic here) that have yet to be developed in full form but have been theorized in academic papers for years. Web3 is designed to make it less vulnerable to manipulation by centralized entities such as governments and corporations. This is because no single entity controls the system or owns it.
What will happen?
At the moment, it still seems all to be determined and no one really knows how this third version of the web will develop but it is likely that the more technical vision of Beners-Lee will not be able to prevail over the more anarchic-commercial vision of the blockchain “prophets”. There may even be a merger between the two.
What is certain for now is the money invested on blockchain-based startups – cryptocurrencies, which has increased out of all proportion. In addition, many CEOs of important (now) Silicon Valley companies have resigned to go work for unknown (for now) companies with a development perspective on Web3. We know that these people are visionaries who can see at least ten years ahead so they are a good reference. According to PitchBook that deals with market analysis, in 2021 venture capitalists invested on cryptocurrency startups for a total of about 24 billion euros, more than all the investments made in the previous 10 years combined.
It is therefore only a matter of time before we are in full Web3, it will be a gradual thing, by now many have heard of the explosion in 2021 of NFTs, someone has understood (more or less) what the blockchain is and things will continue shipped in this direction.
Opportunities and risks
On the one hand there are the techno-enthusiasts and big investors on the other hand there are those who think of Web3 as a big scam or at best as a system to make already rich people even richer.
Web3 should be the model that through consensus mechanisms such as blockchain, will allow to do any operation online without the need to use centralized services and infrastructures such as governments, notaries, banks, credit card operators or in general large companies based on the internet. That is, it will use a technology based on a network of computers that communicate with each other and validate and record transactions without human intervention and without centralized supervision, what is called blockchain. This would allow a single digital identity to make purchases, sign contracts, license digital objects and many other applications.
However, opponents of this approach think that it is precisely the absence of centralized management that is a danger because there would be no guarantee of consumer protection since, at least at the moment, it is easy to use fake identities. This is one of the current problems with NFT, it is estimated that over 70% has been put up for sale not by the original author but by someone who has taken the identity making its value zero. Even the creation of cryptocurrencies without control is a risk, there are now thousands of them, everyone can easily create their own but many have disappeared just as easily, taking away real money.
Those who do not believe in decentralization see the presence of large investors as “predators” increasing a concern of speculative bubble, a situation similar to that which led to the collapse of the .com between 2000 and 2001.
Moreover it is undoubted that despite the talk of decentralization in reality there are already companies that centralize the management of cryptocurrency portfolios such as MetaMask and NFTs such as OpenSea. So true decentralization seems a pure utopia.
The direction seems marked, blockchain, cryptocurrency, NFT, metaverse, are here to stay but the road is still uncertain, no one at the moment still knows how these technologies will evolve and how they will interact with each other. If there will be the explosion of the speculative bubble, as many believe, the risk is that this may bring with it many innocents but in any case, as happened between 2000 and 2001, it will leave a technological base certainly different from the current one.